HOME
The Info List - Common Brittonic



Common Brittonic was an ancient Celtic language spoken in Britain. It is also variously known as Old Brittonic, British, and Common or Old Brythonic. By the Sixth century CE, this language of the Celtic Britons had split into the various Neo-Brittonic languages: Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton and perhaps also Pictish.

Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
is a form of Insular Celtic, which is descended from Proto-Celtic, a hypothetical parent language that, by the first half of the first millennium BC, was already diverging into separate dialects or languages.[2][3][4][5] There is some evidence that the Pictish language may have had close ties to Common Brittonic, and might have been either a sister language or a fifth branch.[6][7][8]

Evidence from Welsh shows a great influence from Latin on Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
during the Roman period, and especially so in terms related to the Church and Christianity, which are nearly all Latin
Latin
derivatives.[9] Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
was later replaced in most of Scotland
Scotland
by Middle Irish (which later developed into Scottish Gaelic) and south of the Firth of Forth also by Old English (which later developed into Scots).

Brittonic was gradually replaced by English throughout England; in southern Scotland
Scotland
and Cumbria, Cumbric
Cumbric
disappeared as late as the 13th century Template
Template
Template-Fact" style="white-space:nowrap;">[citation needed]
and, in the south, Cornish survived until the 19th century, although modern attempts to revitalize it have met with some success.[10] O'Rahilly's historical model suggests the possibility that there was a Brittonic (P-Celtic) language in Ireland before the arrival of Goidelic languages (Q-Celtic) there, but this view has not found wide acceptance. Template
Template
Template-Fact" style="white-space:nowrap;">[citation needed]
O'Rahilly's model seems to be supported by the presence of Belgic (P-Celtic) tribes in Ptolemy's maps.

History

Sources

Bath curse tablet featuring possible Common Brittonic

No documents written in Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
have been found, but a few inscriptions have been identified.[11] The Bath curse tablets, found in the Roman reservoir at Bath, Somerset, contain about 150 names, about half of which are undoubtedly Celtic (but not necessarily Brittonic). There is an inscription on a metal pendant discovered in 1979 in Bath, which seems to contain an ancient Brittonic curse:[12]

Adixoui Deuina Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamenai or maybe Adixoui Deiana Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamiinai

The affixed – Deuina, Deieda, Andagin, (and) Uindiorix – I have bound[13]

An alternative translation taking into account case marking (-rix "king" nominative, andagin "[worthless] woman" accusative, dewina deieda "divine Deieda" nominative/vocative) is:

May I, Windiorix for/at Cuamena defeat (alt. summon to justice) the worthless woman, oh divine Deieda.[14]

There is also a tin/lead sheet with part of 9 lines of text. This is damaged, but seems to contain Brittonic names (see Tomlin 1987).

British toponyms are another type of evidence, recorded in Latinised forms by Ptolemy's Geography. The place names of Roman Britain were discussed by Rivet and Smith in their book of that name published in 1979. They show that the majority of names used were derived from Common Brittonic. Some English place names still contain elements derived from Common Brittonic. Some Brittonic personal names are also recorded.

Tacitus' Agricola noted that the language of Britain differed little from that of Gaul. Comparison with what is known of the Gaulish language suggests a close relationship with Brittonic.

Pritenic

Pritenic (also Pretanic) is a modern term that has been coined to label the language of the inhabitants of prehistoric Scotland during Roman rule in southern Great Britain
Great Britain
(1st to 5th centuries). Within the disputed P-Celtic vs. Q-Celtic division of the Celtic languages, "Pritenic" would thus be either a sister or daughter language of Common Brittonic, both deriving from a common P-Celtic language spoken around the 1st century
1st century
BC.

The evidence for the language consists of place-names, tribal names and personal names recorded by Greek and Latin
Latin
writers in accounts of northern Britain. These names have been discussed by Kenneth H. Jackson, in The Problem of the Picts, who considered some of them to be Pritenic but had reservations about most of them. Katherine Forsyth (1997) reviewed these names and considers more of them to be Celtic, still recognizing that some names of islands and rivers may be pre-Indo-European.

The rarity of survival of Pritenic names is probably due to Dál Riatan and Norse settlement in the area.

The dialect position of Pritenic has been discussed by Jackson and by Koch (1955). Their conclusions are that Pritenic and Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
had split by the 1st century. The Roman frontier between Britannia and Pictland is likely to have increased the split. By the 8th century, Bede considered Pictish and Welsh/British to be separate languages.

Diversification

Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
was used with Latin
Latin
following the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, at least in major settlements. A number of Latin
Latin
words were borrowed by Brittonic speakers.

The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain during the 6th century
6th century
marked the beginning of a decline in the language, as it was gradually replaced by Old English. Some Brittonic speakers migrated to Armorica and Galicia. By 700, Brittonic was mainly restricted to North West England and Southern Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Devon, and Brittany. In these regions, it evolved into Cumbric, Welsh, Cornish and Breton, respectively.

Phonology

Consonants

(Late) Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
consonants
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Labial–
velar
Nasal m n (ŋ)
Stop p b t d k ɡ
Fricative ɸ β, (β̃) θ ð s x ɣ
Approximant j w, (ˠw)
Lateral l
Trill r

Vowels

(Early) Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
vowels
Front Central Back
short long short long short long
Close i ʉː u
Close-mid e o
Open-mid ɛː ɔː
Open a

The early Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
vowel inventory was still very similar to that of Proto-Celtic, with the short vowels seeing little change. The long vowels meanwhile had seen some development: earlier /uː/ having merged with /iː/, /aː/ becoming /ɔː/, and two new long vowels developed from earlier diphthongs: /ʉː/ (from /au/, /ou/, /oi/) and /ɛː/ (from /ai/). Similarly, the earlier diphthong /ei/ merged with Brittonic /eː/.

(Late) Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
vowels
Front Central Back
unrounded rounded unrounded rounded rounded
Close i y ɨ ʉ u
Close-mid e ø o
Mid (ə) (ɵ̞)
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a

Notes:

  • The central mid vowels /ə/ and /ɵ̞/ were allophonic developments of /i/ and /u/, respectively.

Grammar

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

First declension

Brittonic *tōtā "tribe" and cognates in other languages
# Case Brittonic Gaulish Old Irish PIE
Sg Nom. *tōtā Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutā
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túathᴸ
*tewteh₂
Voc. *tōtā Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutā
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túathᴸ
*tewteh₂
Acc. *tōtin Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutim
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túaithᴺ
*tewteh₂m
Gen. *tōtiās Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutiās
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túaithe
*tewteh₂s
Dat. *tōtī Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutī
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túaithᴸ
*tewteh₂eh₁
Du Nom. acc. voc. *tōtī Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túaithᴸ
*tewteh₂h₁e
Gen. *tōtous Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túathᴸ
*tewteh₂ows
Dat. *tōtābin Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túathaib
*tewteh₂bʰām
Pl Nom. voc. *tōtās Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutās
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túathaᴴ
*tewteh₂es
Acc. *tōtās Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutās
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túathaᴴ
*tewteh₂ns
Gen. *tōton Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutānon
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túathᴺ
*tewteh₂om
Dat. *tōtābi Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">toutābi
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">túathaib
*tewteh₂bʰi

Notes:

  • The dative dual and plural represent the inherited instrumental forms, which replaced the inherited dative dual and plural, from Proto-Celtic *toutābom, *toutābos.

Second declension

Brittonic *wiros "man" and cognates in other languages
# Case Brittonic Gaulish Welsh Old Irish PIE
Sg Nom. *wiros Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wiros
Welsh language
Welsh language
text" xml:lang="cy">gŵr
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">fer
*wiHros
Voc. *wire Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wire
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">firᴸ
*wiHre
Acc. *wiron Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wiron
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">ferᴺ
*wiHrom
Gen. *wirī Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wirī
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">firᴸ
*wiHrosyo
Dat. *wirū Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wirū
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">fiurᴸ
*wiHroh₁
Du Nom. acc. voc. *wirō Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wirō
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">ferᴸ
*wiHroh₁
Gen. *wirōs Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">fer
*wiHrows
Dat. *wirobin Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">feraib
*wiHrobʰām
Pl Nom. voc. *wirī Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wirī
Welsh language
Welsh language
text" xml:lang="cy">gwŷr
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">firᴸ
(nom.), Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">firuᴴ
(voc.)
*wiHroy
Acc. *wirūs Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wirūs
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">firuᴴ
*wiHrons
Gen. *wiron Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wiron
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">ferᴺ
*wiHrooHom
Dat. *wirobi Gaulish language
Gaulish language
text" xml:lang="xtg">wirobi
Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="sga">feraib
*wiHrōys

Place names

Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
survives today in a few English place names and river names. However, some of these may be pre-Celtic. The best example is perhaps that of the River(s) Avon, which comes from the Brittonic abona which translates into "river" (compare Welsh Welsh language
Welsh language
text" xml:lang="cy">afon
, Cornish Cornish language
Cornish language
text" xml:lang="kw">avon
, Irish (and Scottish Gaelic) Irish language
Irish language
text" xml:lang="ga">abhainn
, Manx Manx language
Manx language
text" xml:lang="gv">awin
, Breton Breton language
Breton language
text" xml:lang="br">aven
; the Latin
Latin
cognate is Latin
Latin
language text" xml:lang="la">amnis
).

Examples of place names derived from the Brittonic languages

Brittonic-derived place-names are scattered across Great Britain, with many occurring in the West Country; some examples are:

  • Avon from abonā = "river" (cf. Welsh Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">afon
    , Cornish Cornish language
    Cornish language
    text" xml:lang="kw">avon
    , Breton Breton language
    Breton language
    text" xml:lang="br">aven
    )
  • Britain from Pritani = (possibly) "People of the Forms" (cf. Welsh Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">Prydain
    "Britain", Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">pryd
    "appearance, form, image, resemblance"; Irish Irish language
    Irish language
    text" xml:lang="ga">cruth
    "appearance, shape", Old Irish Irish language
    Irish language
    text" xml:lang="sga">Cruithin
    "Picts")
  • Dover from Dubrīs = "waters" (cf. Welsh Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">dŵr
    , older Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">dwfr
    , plural Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">dyfroedd
    , Cornish Cornish language
    Cornish language
    text" xml:lang="kw">dowr
    , Breton Breton language
    Breton language
    text" xml:lang="br">dour
    )
  • Kent from canto- = "border" (cf. Welsh Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">cant(el)
    "rim, brim", Breton Breton language
    Breton language
    text" xml:lang="br">kant
    )
  • Lothian ( Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="wlm">Lleuddiniawn
    in medieval Welsh) from *Lugudũn(iãnon) "Fort of Lugus"
  • Severn from Sabrīna, perhaps the name of a goddess (in Welsh, Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">Hafren
    )
  • Thanet from tan-eto- = "(place of the) bonfire" (cf. Welsh Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">tân
    "fire", Cornish Cornish language
    Cornish language
    text" xml:lang="kw">tanses
    , Old Breton tanet "aflame") or more probably tann-eto = "oak grove" (tanno- "kind of oak", Breton Breton language
    Breton language
    text" xml:lang="br">tann
    "durmast oak")
  • Thames from Tamesis = "dark" (akin to Welsh Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">tywyll
    "darkness", Breton Breton language
    Breton language
    text" xml:lang="br">teñval
    , from Brittonic *temeselo-; Irish Irish language
    Irish language
    text" xml:lang="ga">teimheal
    )
  • York from Ebur-ākon = "stand of yew trees" (cf. Welsh Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">Efrog
    , from Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">efwr
    "cow parsnip, hogweed" + Welsh language
    Welsh language
    text" xml:lang="cy">-og
    "abundant in", Breton Breton language
    Breton language
    text" xml:lang="br">evor
    "alder buckthorn", Scottish Gaelic
    Scottish Gaelic
    Scottish Gaelic
    Scottish Gaelic
    language text" xml:lang="gd">iubhar
    "yew") via Latin
    Latin
    Latin
    Latin
    language text" xml:lang="la">Eburacum
    > OE Old English
    Old English
    language text" xml:lang="ang">Eoforwīc
    (re-analysed with OE roots as 'boar-village') > ON Old Norse
    Old Norse
    language text" xml:lang="non">Jórvík

Some Brittonic place names are known but are no longer used. In a charter of 682 the name of Creech St Michael, Somerset is given as "Cructan".

The words tor, combe, bere, and hele of Brittonic origin are particularly common in Devon
Devon
as elements of place-names, often combined with elements of English origin.[15] Compound names sometimes occur across England, such as "Derwentwater" or "Chetwood", (cf. Welsh Welsh language
Welsh language
text" xml:lang="cy">coed
, Breton Breton language
Breton language
text" xml:lang="br">koad
) which contain the same element translated in both languages.[16]

References

  1. ^ Common Brittonic at MultiTree on the Linguist List
  2. ^ Henderson, Jon C. (2007). The Atlantic Iron Age: Settlement and Identity in the First Millennium BC. Routledge. pp. 292–295. 
  3. ^ Sims-Williams, Patrick (2007). Studies on Celtic Languages before the Year 1000. CMCS. p. 1. 
  4. ^ Koch, John (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 1455. 
  5. ^ Eska, Joseph (2008). "Continental Celtic". In Roger Woodard. The Ancient Languages of Europe. Cambridge. 
  6. ^ Forsyth, Katherine (2006). John Koch, ed. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 1444, 1447. 
  7. ^ Forsyth, Katherine, Language in Pictland : the case against "non-Indo-European Pictish" (Utrecht: de Keltische Draak, 1997), 27.
  8. ^ Jackson, Kenneth (1955). "The Pictish Language". In F. T. Wainwright. The Problem of the Picts. Edinburgh: Nelson. pp. 129–166. 
  9. ^ Lewis, H. (1943). Yr Elfen Ladin yn yr Iaith Gymraeg. Cardiff: University of Wales
    Wales
    Press.
     
  10. ^ Cornwall
    Cornwall
    Council, 2010-12-07. UNESCO classes Cornish as a language in the ‘process of revitalization’. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
  11. ^ Philip Freeman (2001). Ireland
    Ireland
    and the Classical World
    . University of Texas Press.
     
  12. ^ Tomlin, R.S.O. (1987). "Was ancient British Celtic ever a written language? Two texts from Roman Bath". Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies. 34: 18–25. 
  13. ^ Mees, Bernard (2009). Celtic Curses. Boydell & Brewer. p. 35. 
  14. ^ Patrick Sims-Williams, "Common Celtic, Gallo-Brittonic, and Insular Celtic", Gaulois et celtique continental, eds. Pierre-Yves Lambert and Georges-Jean Pinault (Geneva: Droz, 2007), 327.
  15. ^ Gover, Mawer and Stenton: Place-Names of Devon, 1932
  16. ^ Green, Terry (2003). "The Archaeology of some North Devon
    Devon
    Place-Names". North Devon
    Devon
    Archaeological Society. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
     

Bibliography

  • Atkinson and Gray[clarification needed] (2005). “Are Accurate Dates an Intractable Problem for Historical Linguistics?”, Mapping Our Ancestors, eds. Mark Collard et al. Transaction Books
  • Filppula, M., Klemola, J. and Pitkänen, H. (2001). The Celtic Roots of English, (Studies in languages, No. 37), University of Joensuu, Faculty of Humanities, ISBN 952-458-164-7.
  • Forsyth, K. (1997) Language in Pictland.
  • Jackson, K. (1953) Language and History in Early Britain.
  • Jackson, K. (1955) "The Pictish Language" in F. T. Wainwright The Problem of the Picts. London: Nelson.
  • Koch, J. (1986) “New Thought on Albion, Ieni and the ‘Pretanic Isles’”, Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, 6 (1986): 1–28.
  • Lambert, Pierre-Yves (ed.), Recueil des inscriptions gauloises II.2. Textes gallo-latins sur instrumentum, Paris: CNRS Editions, 2002, p. 304-306.
  • Lambert, Pierre-Yves (2003). La langue gauloise. 2nd edition. Paris, Editions Errance. p. 176
  • Lockwood, W. B. (1975) Languages of the British Isles
    British Isles
    Past and Present
    , London: Deutsch ISBN 0-233-96666-8
  • Ostler, Nicholas (2005) Empires of the Word. London: HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-711870-8.
  • Price, Glanville. (2000). Languages of Britain and Ireland, Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-21581-6
  • 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. ISBN 1-4051-0903-3
  • Ternes, Elmar (ed.) (2011), Brythonic Celtic - Britannisches Keltisch: From Medieval British to Modern Breton. Bremen: Hempen Verlag, 2011.
  • Trudgill, P. (ed.) (1984) Language in the British Isles, Cambridge University Press.
  • Willis, David. 2009. “Old and Middle Welsh”, The Celtic Languages, 2nd edn, eds. Martin J. Ball & Nichole Müller. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-88248-2. pp. 117-160.

External links