Common Brittonic



Common Brittonic ( cy, Brythoneg; kw, Brythonek; br, Predeneg), also known as British, Common Brythonic, or Proto-Brittonic, was a Celtic language spoken in Britain and
Brittany Brittany (; french: link=no, Bretagne ; br, Breizh, or ; Gallo: ''Bertaèyn'' ) is a peninsula, historical country and cultural area in the west of modern France France (), officially the French Republic ( ), is a country pri ...
. It is a form of Insular Celtic, descended from Proto-Celtic, a theorized parent tongue that, by the first half of the first millennium BC, was diverging into separate dialects or languages. Pictish is linked, likely as a sister language or a descendant branch. Evidence from early and modern Welsh shows that Common Brittonic took a significant amount of influence from
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally a dialect spoken in the lower Tiber area (then known as Latium) around present-day Rome, but through ...
during the Roman period, especially in terms related to the church and
Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. It is the Major religious groups, world's ...
. By the sixth century AD, the tongues of the
Celtic Britons The Britons ( *''Pritanī'', la, Britanni), also known as Celtic Britons or Ancient Britons, were people of Celtic language and culture who inhabited Great Britain from at least the British Iron Age and into the Middle Ages, at which point ...
were more rapidly splitting into Neo-Brittonic: Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton, and possibly the
Pictish language Pictish is the extinct Brittonic language spoken by the Picts, the people of eastern and northern Scotland Scotland (, ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. Covering the northern third of t ...
. Over the next three centuries it was replaced in most of Scotland by Scottish Gaelic and by
Old English Old English (, ), or Anglo-Saxon, is the earliest recorded form of the English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language of the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabita ...
(from which descend
Modern English Modern English (sometimes New English or NE (ME) as opposed to Middle English Middle English (abbreviated to ME) is a form of the English language that was spoken after the Norman conquest of England, Norman conquest of 1066, until the lat ...
and Scots) throughout most of modern England as well as Scotland south of the Firth of Forth. Cumbric disappeared in the 12th century and, in the far south-west, Cornish probably became extinct in the eighteenth century, though its use has since been revived. O'Rahilly's historical model suggests a Brittonic language in
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ) is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, in Northwestern Europe, north-western Europe. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel (Grea ...
before the introduction of the Goidelic languages, but this view has not found wide acceptance. Welsh and Breton are the only daughter languages that have survived fully into the modern day.



No documents in the tongue have been found, but a few inscriptions have been identified. The Bath curse tablets, found in the Roman feeder pool at
Bath, Somerset Bath () is a city in the Bath and North East Somerset unitary area in the ceremonial counties of England, county of Somerset, England, known for and named after its Roman Baths (Bath), Roman-built baths. At the 2021 Census, the population was 1 ...
( Aquae Sulis), bear about 150 names – about 50% Celtic (but not necessarily Brittonic). An inscription on a metal pendant (discovered there in 1979) seems to contain an ancient Brittonic curse: "". (Sometimes the final word has been rendered .) This text is often seen as: "The affixed – Deuina, Deieda, Andagin ndUindiorix – I have bound." else, at the opposite extreme, taking into account case-marking – "king" nominative, "worthless woman" accusative, "divine Deieda" nominative/vocative – is: "May I, Windiorix for/at Cuamena defeat r "summon to justice"the worthless woman, hdivine Deieda." A tin/lead sheet retains part of 9 text lines, damaged, with likely Brittonic names. Local
Roman Britain Roman Britain was the period in classical antiquity when large parts of the island of Great Britain were under occupation by the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίω ...
toponyms (place names) are evidentiary, recorded in Latinised forms by Ptolemy's ''Geography'' discussed by Rivet and Smith in their book of that name published in 1979. They show most names he used were from the tongue. Some place names still contain elements derived from it. Tribe names and some Brittonic personal names are also taken down by Greeks and, mainly, Romans.
Tacitus Publius Cornelius Tacitus, known simply as Tacitus ( , ; – ), was a Roman historian and politician. Tacitus is widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historiography, Roman historians by modern scholars. The surviving portions of his t ...
's ''Agricola'' says that the tongue differed little from that of
Gaul Gaul ( la, Gallia) was a region of Western Europe first described by the Romans. It was inhabited by Celts, Celtic and Aquitani tribes, encompassing present-day France, Belgium, Luxembourg, most of Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy (only dur ...
. Comparison with what is known of Gaulish confirms the similarity.

Pictish and Pritenic

Pictish, which became extinct around 1000 years ago, was the spoken language of the
Picts The Picts were a group of peoples who lived in what is now northern and eastern Scotland (north of the Firth of Forth) during Sub-Roman Britain, Late Antiquity and the Scotland in the Early Middle Ages, Early Middle Ages. Where they lived an ...
in Northern Scotland. Despite significant debate as to whether this language was Celtic, items such as geographical and personal names documented in the region gave evidence that this language was most closely aligned with the Brittonic branch of Celtic languages. The question of the extent to which this language was distinguished, and the date of divergence, from the rest of Brittonic, was historically disputed. Pritenic (also Pretanic and Prittenic) is a term coined in 1955 by Kenneth H. Jackson to describe a hypothetical Roman era (1st to 5th centuries) predecessor to the Pictish language. Jackson saw Pritenic as having diverged from Brittonic around the time of 75-100 AD. The term Pritenic is controversial. In 2015, linguist Guto Rhys concluded that most proposals that Pictish diverged from Brittonic before c. 500 AD were incorrect, questionable, or of little importance, and that a lack of evidence to distinguish Brittonic and Pictish rendered the term Prittenic "redundant".

Diversification and Neo-Brittonic

Common Brittonic vied with Latin after the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, at least in major settlements. Latin words were widely borrowed by its speakers in the Romanised towns and their descendants, and later from church use. By 500–550 AD, Common Brittonic had diverged into the Neo-Brittonic dialects: Old Welsh primarily in Wales, Old Cornish in Cornwall, Old Breton in what is now Brittany, Cumbric in Northern England and Southern Scotland, and probably Pictish in Northern Scotland. The modern forms of Breton and Welsh are the only direct descendants of Common Brittonic to have survived fully into the 21st century. Cornish fell out of use in the 1700s but has since undergone a revival. Cumbric and Pictish are extinct and today spoken only in the form of loanwords in English, Scots, and Scottish Gaelic.




The early Common Brittonic vowel inventory is effectively identical to that of Proto-Celtic. and have not developed yet. By late Common Brittonic, the New Quantity System had occurred, leading to a radical restructuring of the vowel system. Notes: * The central mid vowels and were allophonic developments of and , respectively.


Through comparative linguistics, it is possible to approximately reconstruct the declension paradigms of Common Brittonic:

First declension

Notes: * The dative dual and plural represent the inherited instrumental forms, which replaced the inherited dative dual and plural, from Proto-Celtic , .

Second declension

Notes: * Neuter 2nd declension stems deviate from the paradigm as such: Notes: * Dual is same as singular * All other declensions same as regular 2nd declension paradigm

Third declension

Place names

Brittonic-derived place names are scattered across Great Britain, with many occurring in the West Country; however, some of these may be pre-Celtic. The best example is perhaps that of each (river) Avon, which comes from the Brittonic , "river" (transcribed into Welsh as , Cornish , Irish and Scottish Gaelic , Manx , Breton ; the Latin cognate is ). When river is preceded by the word, in the modern vein, it is tautological.

Examples of place names derived from the Brittonic languages

Examples are: * '' Avon'' from = 'river' (cf. Welsh , Cornish , Breton ) * '' Britain'', cognate with = (possibly) 'People of the Forms' (cf. Welsh 'Britain', 'appearance, form, image, resemblance'; Irish 'appearance, shape', Old Irish '
Picts The Picts were a group of peoples who lived in what is now northern and eastern Scotland (north of the Firth of Forth) during Sub-Roman Britain, Late Antiquity and the Scotland in the Early Middle Ages, Early Middle Ages. Where they lived an ...
') * ''Cheviot'' from * = 'ridge' and , a noun suffix * '' Dover'': as pre-medieval Latin did not distinguish a Spanish-style mixed sound, the phonetic standard way of reading is as . It means 'water(s)' (cognate with old Welsh , plural phonetically , Cornish , Breton , and Irish , its orthography denoting or phonetically) * ''
Kent Kent is a Counties of England, county in South East England and one of the home counties. It borders Greater London to the north-west, Surrey to the west and East Sussex to the south-west, and Essex to the north across the estuary of the River ...
'' from = 'border' (becoming in Welsh 'rim, brim', in Breton, ) * '' Lothian'', ( in medieval Welsh) from * 'Fort of Lugus' * '' Severn'' from , perhaps the name of a goddess (modern Welsh, ) * '' Thames'' from = 'dark' (likely cognate with Welsh 'darkness', Cornish , Breton , Irish , pointing to a Brittonic approximate word ) * '' Thanet (headland)'' from = 'bonfire', 'aflame' (cf. Welsh 'fire', Cornish , Old Breton 'aflame') * ''
York York is a cathedral city with Roman Britain, Roman origins, sited at the confluence of the rivers River Ouse, Yorkshire, Ouse and River Foss, Foss in North Yorkshire, England. It is the historic county town of Yorkshire. The city has many hist ...
'' from = ' yew tree stand/group' (cognate with Welsh , from ' cow parsnip, hogweed' + 'abundant in', Breton ' alder buckthorn', Scottish Gaelic 'yew', 'stand/grove of yew trees'; cognate with Évreux in France and Évora in Portugal) via Latin > OE (re-analysed by English speakers as 'boar' with Old English appended at the end) >
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian, is a stage of development of North Germanic languages, North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and t ...
Basic words , , , and from Brittonic common in Devon place-names. Tautologous, two-tongue names exist in England, such as: * Derwentwater (for Brittonic part see ''Dover'' above) *Chetwood, (cognate with Welsh , Breton ) * Bredon Hill




* Filppula, M.; Klemola, J.; Pitkänen, H. (2001); ''The Celtic Roots of English'', (Studies in Languages, No. 37); University of Joensuu, Faculty of Humanities; . * Forsyth, K. (1997), ''Language in Pictland''. * Jackson, Kenneth H. (1953), ''Language and History in Early Britain''. * Jackson, Kenneth H. (1955), "The Pictish Language"; in F. T. Wainwright, ''The Problem of the Picts''; London: Nelson. * Koch, John T. (1986), "New Thought on Albion, Ieni and the 'Pretanic Isles'", ''Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium'', 6: pp. 1–28. * Lambert, Pierre-Yves d.(2002), ''Recueil des inscriptions gauloises II.2. Textes gallo-latins sur instrumentum''; Paris: CNRS Editions; pp. 304–306. * Lambert, Pierre-Yves (2003), ''La langue gauloise''; 2nd ed.; Paris: Editions Errance; p. 176. * Lockwood, W. B. (1975), ''Languages of the British Isles Past and Present''; London: Deutsch; . * Ostler, Nicholas (2005), ''Empires of the Word''; London: HarperCollins; . * Price, Glanville. (2000), ''Languages of Britain and Ireland''; Blackwell; . * Rivet, A. and Smith, C. (1979), ''The Place-names of Roman Britain'' * Sims-Williams, Patrick (2003), ''The Celtic Inscriptions of Britain: Phonology and Chronology, c. 400–1200''; Oxford, Blackwell; . * Ternes, Elmar d.(2011), ''Brythonic Celtic – Britannisches Keltisch: From Medieval British to Modern Breton''; Bremen: Hempen Verlag. * Trudgill, P. d.(1984), ''Language in the British Isles''; Cambridge University Press. * Willis, David (2009), "Old and Middle Welsh"; in ''The Celtic Languages'', 2nd ed.; eds. Martin J. Ball & Nichole Müller; New York: Routledge; ; pp. 117–160.

External links

Celtic Personal Names of Roman Britain

Alex Mullen (2007)
"Evidence for Written Celtic from Roman Britain: A Linguistic Analysis of ''Tabellae Sulis'' 14 and 18", ''Studia Celtica'' {{DEFAULTSORT:Brittonic, Common * Extinct Celtic languages History of the Welsh language Brythonic Celts Proto-languages