Celtic languages

Last updated: 12 August 2008

The Celts were not a uniform group to begin with, but they did speak a related set of languages.

Geographic separation of the different Celtic settlements allowed local dialects to evolve into distinct languages. Over time, these developed into the Celtic languages we are familiar with today, including Welsh.

Together, the Celtic languages form a separate branch of the Indo-European languages, which also include the Germanic, Italic, and Indo-Iranian branches.

Despite the encroachment of English - and French, in Celtic Brittany - six of the Celtic languages survived into the modern period. Irish, Scottish, and Manx Gaelic, which are referred to as q-Celtic or Goidelic languages, comprise one group; while Breton, Cornish, and Welsh form the p-Celtic or Brythonic group.

Each group is linguistically distinct. Welsh and Irish speakers wouldn't be able to understand each other, though the two languages are both Celtic.

Thriving and decaying languages

While Cornish and Manx Gaelic almost became extinct in the last century, the others, including Welsh, are still in use. In fact, Welsh has been revived in recent years after a serious decline in the number of speakers during the 20th century.

This trend of recovery is promising, especially since the use of Welsh was once discouraged and even suppressed. After all, not only does the language make Welsh culture unique, it also preserves a link to an ancient and remarkable history.


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