Celtic Cross

Celtic Britons

From 600 BC to 43 AD, early languages of Europe influenced the families of Celtic languages spoken across the continent.

Two main groups of languages developed in the British Isles: Goidelic in Ireland, and Brittonic in present-day Wales, England and Southern Scotland.

The majority of European languages, including Welsh, evolved from a language now called Indo-European.

Due to the effects of migration and time, Indo-European developed into nine different language groups, one of which was Celtic. In turn, Celtic developed its own family of languages.

Before the coming of the Roman empire, Celtic languages were spoken across Europe. Present day placenames indicate the extent of their influence: the town of Bala in Turkey and the city of London in England both have names with Celtic origins, as do the rivers Danube, Rhone and Rhine.

It is believed that three forms of Celtic were spoken on the continent of Europe: the Gaulish of France and northern Italy, the Celtiberian of Spain and the Galatian of central Turkey. These languages are now long extinct.

The Celtic languages that survived are those that migrated from mainland Europe to the western islands of Britain and Ireland. Labelled Insular to differentiate them from the Continental European languages, the versions of Celtic on these western islands developed into two branches.

In Ireland, Goidelic - or Q-Celtic, thanks to its characteristic kw sound - became the dominant language and gave rise to Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx. Most historians date the arrival of the Celtic language in Britain to around 600BC. This version of Celtic was to evolve into Brittonic (or Brythonic), which in turn gave rise to Welsh, Cornish and Breton.

As the kw sound of Goidelic appears as a p in Brittonic, it is also known as P-Celtic, and traces of the relation between the two languages still survive: for instance, the Irish word for head is 'eann' (pronounced cen), where as in Welsh it is 'pen'.

It appears that Brittonic was spoken by the majority of people in present-day Wales, England and southern Scotland. There is also evidence that it was understood by the Gaulish speakers of France; the Gauls and the Britons had a fair amount of contact.

Indeed, historians believe that the druids of Gaul may have trained in Anglesey, and it was because of British support for the Gaulish tribes during the Roman wars that Julius Caesar launched two punitive raids on South East England in 54 and 55 BC.

Brittonic was to be the main medium of communication on the island of Britain until the Romans returned a century later. In 43 AD, the legions returned and raised their standards on the shores of South East England.


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