Gaulish is an ancient Celtic language that was spoken in parts of
Europe as late as the Roman Empire. In the narrow sense, Gaulish was
the language spoken by the Celtic inhabitants of
Gaul (modern France,
Belgium and Northern Italy). In a wider sense, it also comprises
varieties of Celtic that were spoken across much of central Europe
("Noric"), parts of the Balkans, and Asia Minor ("Galatian"), which
are thought to have been closely related. The more divergent
Northern Italy has also sometimes been subsumed under
Together with Lepontic and the
Celtiberian language spoken in the
Iberian Peninsula, Gaulish forms the geographic group of Continental
Celtic languages. The precise linguistic relationships among them, as
well as between them and the modern Insular Celtic languages, are
uncertain and a matter of ongoing debate because of their sparse
Gaulish is found in some 800, often fragmentary, inscriptions
including calendars, pottery accounts, funeral monuments, short
dedications to gods, coin inscriptions, statements of ownership, and
other texts, possibly curse tablets. Gaulish texts were first written
Greek alphabet in southern
France and in a variety of the Old
Italic script in northern Italy. After the Roman conquest of those
regions, writing shifted to the use of the
Gaulish was supplanted by Vulgar Latin and various Germanic
languages from around the
5th century AD onwards.
2 External evidence
2.1 Early period
2.2 Roman period
2.3 Medieval period
3.1 Summary of sources
4.2 Sound laws
5.1 Noun cases
6.1 Word order
7 Modern usage
8 See also
10 External links
It is estimated that during the Bronze Age, Proto-Celtic started
fragmenting into distinct languages, including Celtiberian and
Gaulish. As a result of the expansion of Celtic tribes during the
4th and 3rd centuries BC, closely related varieties of Celtic came to
be spoken in a vast arc extending from present-day Britain and France
through the Alpine region and
Pannonia in central Europe, and into
parts of the
Balkans and Anatolia. Their precise linguistic
relationships are uncertain because of the fragmentary nature of the
The Gaulish varieties of central and eastern Europe and of Anatolia
(known as Noric and Galatian, respectively) are barely attested, but
from what little is known of them it appears that they were still
quite similar to those of
Gaul and can be considered dialects of a
single language. Among those regions where substantial
inscriptional evidence exists, three varieties are usually
Lepontic language, attested from a small area on the southern slopes
of the Alps, around the present-day Swiss town of Lugano, is the
oldest Celtic language known to have been written, with inscriptions
in a variant of the
Old Italic script
Old Italic script appearing around c.600 BC. It
has been described either as an "early dialect of an outlying form of
Gaulish", or else as a separate Continental Celtic language.
Attestations of Gaulish proper in present-day
France are known as
"Transalpine Gaulish". Its written record begins in the 3rd century BC
with inscriptions in the Greek alphabet, found mainly in the Rhône
area of southern
France (where Greek cultural influence was present
via the colony of Massilia, founded c. 600 BC). After the Roman
Gaul (58-50 BC), the writing of Gaulish shifted to the
Finally, there are a small number of inscriptions from the second and
first centuries BC in Cisalpine
Gaul (modern northern Italy), which
share the same archaic alphabet as the Lepontic inscriptions but are
found outside the Lepontic area proper. As they were written after the
time of the Gaulish conquest of Cisalpine Gaul, they are usually
identified as "Cisalpine Gaulish". They share some linguistic features
both with Lepontic and with Transalpine Gaulish; for instance, both
Cisalpine Gaulish simplify the consonant clusters -nd-
and -χs- to -nn- and -ss- respectively, while both Cisalpine and
Transalpine Gaulish replace inherited word-final -m with -n.
Scholars have debated to what extent the distinctive features of
Lepontic reflect merely its earlier origin or a genuine genealogical
split, and to what extent
Cisalpine Gaulish should be seen as a
continuation of Lepontic or an independent offshoot of mainstream
The relationship between Gaulish and the other
Celtic languages is
also subject to debate. Most scholars today agree that Celtiberian was
the first to branch off from the remaining Celtic languages.
Gaulish, situated in the centre of the Celtic language area, shares
with the neighbouring
Brittonic languages of Great Britain, the change
of the Indo-European labialized voiceless velar stop /kʷ/ > /p/,
whereas both Celtiberian in the south and Goidelic in Ireland retain
/kʷ/. Taking this as the primary genealogical isogloss, some scholars
Celtic languages to be divided into a "q-Celtic" and a
"p-Celtic" group, in which the p-
Celtic languages Gaulish and
Brittonic form a common "Gallo-Brittonic" branch. Other scholars place
more emphasis on shared innovations between Brittonic and Goidelic,
and group these together as an Insular Celtic branch. Sims-Williams
(2007) discusses a composite model, in which the Continental and
Insular varieties are seen as part of a dialect continuum, with
genealogical splits and areal innovations intersecting.
At least 13 references to Gaulish speech and Gaulish writing can be
found in Greek and
Latin writers of antiquity. The word "Gaulish"
(gallicum) as a language term is first explicitly used in the Appendix
Vergiliana in a poem referring to Gaulish letters of the alphabet.
Julius Caesar reported in his
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
Commentarii de Bello Gallico of 58 BC
that the Celts/
Gauls and their language are separated from the
neighboring Aquitanians and
Belgae by the rivers
Seine/Marne, respectively. Caesar relates that census accounts
written in the
Greek alphabet were found among the Helvetii. He
also notes that as of 53 BC the Gaulish druids used the Greek alphabet
for private and public transactions, with the important exception of
druidic doctrines, which could only be memorised and were not allowed
to be written down. According to the Recueil des Inscriptions
Gauloises, nearly three quarters of Gaulish inscriptions (disregarding
coins) are in the Greek alphabet. Later inscriptions dating to Roman
Gaul are mostly in the
Latin alphabet and have been found principally
in central France.
Latin was quickly adopted by the Gaulish aristocracy after the Roman
conquest to maintain their elite power and influence,
trilingualism in southern
Gaul being noted as early as the 1st century
Early references to Gaulish in
Gaul tend to be made in the context of
problems with Greek or
Latin fluency until around 400, whereas after
c. 450, Gaulish begins to be mentioned in contexts where
replaced "Gaulish" or "Celtic" (whatever the authors meant by those
Galatia (Anatolia), there is no source explicitly
5th century language replacement:
During the last quarter of the 2nd century, Irenaeus, bishop of
Lugdunum (present-day Lyon), apologises for his inadequate Greek,
being "resident among the Keltae and accustomed for the most part to
use a barbarous dialect".
According to the Vita Sancti Symphoriani, Symphorian of Augustodunum
(present-day Autun) was executed on 22 August 178 for his Christian
faith. While he was being led to his execution, "his venerable mother
admonished him from the wall assiduously and notable to all (?),
saying in the Gaulish speech: Son, son, Symphorianus, think of your
God!" (uenerabilis mater sua de muro sedula et nota illum uoce Gallica
monuit dicens: 'nate, nate Synforiane, mentobeto to diuo' ). The
Gaulish sentence has been transmitted in a corrupt state in the
various manuscripts; as it stands, it has been reconstructed by
Thurneysen. According to David Stifter (2012), *mentobeto looks like a
Proto-Romance verb derived from
Latin mens, mentis ‘mind’ and
habere ‘to have’, and it cannot be excluded that the whole
utterance is an early variant of Romance, or a mixture of Romance and
Gaulish, instead of being an instance of pure Gaulish. On the other
hand, nate is attested in Gaulish (for example in Endlicher's
Glossary), and the author of the Vita Sancti Symphoriani, whether
or not fluent in Gaulish, evidently expects a non-
Latin language to
have been spoken at the time.
Aulus Gellius (c. 180) mentions Gaulish alongside the
Etruscan language in one anecdote, indicating that (North Italian?)
Gaulish is alive at the time of writing.
The Roman History by
Cassius Dio (written AD 207-229) may imply that
Cis- and Transalpine
Gauls spoke the same language, as can be deduced
from the following passages: (1) Book XIII mentions the principle that
named tribes have a common government and a common speech, otherwise
the population of a region is summarised by a geographic term, as in
the case of the Spanish/Iberians. (2) In Books XII and XIV, Gauls
between the Pyrenees and the River Po are stated to consider
themselves kinsmen. (3) In Book XLVI,
Cassius Dio explains
that the defining difference between Cis- and Transalpine
Gauls is the
length of hair and the style of clothes (i.e., he does not mention any
language difference), the Cisalpine
Gauls having adopted shorter hair
and the Roman toga at an early date (Gallia Togata). Potentially
in contrast, Caesar described the river Rhone as a frontier between
the Celts and provincia nostra.
In the Digesta XXXII, 11 of Ulpian (AD 222–228) it is decreed that
fideicommissa (testamentary provisions) may also be composed in
Writing at some point between c. AD 378 and AD 395, the
Latin poet and
scholar Decimus Magnus Ausonius, from Burdigala (present-day
Bordeaux), characterizes his deceased father Iulius's ability to speak
Latin as inpromptus, "halting, not fluent"; in Attic Greek, Iulius
felt sufficiently eloquent. This remark is sometimes taken as an
indication that the first language of Iulius
Ausonius (c. AD 290-378)
was Gaulish, but may alternatively mean that his first language
was Greek. As a physician, he would have cultivated Greek as part of
his professional proficiency.
In the Dialogi de Vita Martini I, 26 by Sulpicius Seuerus (AD
363–425), one of the partners in the dialogue utters the rhetorical
commonplace that his deficient
Latin might insult the ears of his
partners. One of them answers: uel Celtice aut si mauis Gallice
loquere dummodo Martinum loquaris ‘speak Celtic or, if you prefer,
Gaulish, as long as you speak about Martin’.
Jerome (writing in AD 386/387) remarked in a commentary on St.
Epistle to the Galatians
Epistle to the Galatians that the Belgic
Treveri spoke almost
the same language as the Galatians, rather than Latin. This agrees
with an earlier report in AD
180 by Lucian.
In a letter of AD 474 to his brother-in-law, Sidonius Apollinaris,
bishop of Clermont in the Auvergne, states that in his younger years,
"our nobles... resolved to forsake the barbarous Celtic dialect",
evidently in favour of eloquent Latin.
Cassiodorus (ca. 490–585) cites in his book Variae VIII, 12, 7
(dated 526) from a letter to king Athalaric: Romanum denique eloquium
non suis regionibus inuenisti et ibi te Tulliana lectio disertum
reddidit, ubi quondam Gallica lingua resonauit ‘Finally you found
Roman eloquence in regions that were not originally its own; and there
the reading of Cicero rendered you eloquent where once the Gaulish
Cyril of Scythopolis (AD 525-559) tells a story
about a Galatian monk who was possessed by an evil spirit and was
unable to speak, but if forced to, could speak only in Galatian.
Gregory of Tours
Gregory of Tours wrote in the
6th century that a shrine in the
Auvergne "is called Vasso Galatae in the Gallic tongue", which
could mean that Gaulish was still spoken in the region at the time he
was writing (c. 560-575). However, his remark may refer to the
linguistic origin of the name of the shrine, not necessarily to the
survival of the language.
The exact time of the final extinction of Gaulish is unknown, but it
is estimated to have been around or shortly after the middle of the
Summary of sources
According to the Recueil des Inscriptions Gauloises, more than 760
Gaulish inscriptions have been found throughout present-day France,
with the notable exception of Aquitaine, and in northern Italy.
Inscriptions include short dedications, funerary monuments,
proprietary statements, and expressions of human sentiments, but the
Gauls also left some longer documents of a legal or magical-religious
nature, the three longest being the Larzac tablet, the Chamalières
tablet and the Lezoux dish. The most famous Gaulish record is the
Coligny calendar, a fragmented bronze tablet dating from the 2nd
century AD and providing the names of Celtic months over a five-year
span; it is a lunisolar calendar attempting to synchronize the solar
year and the lunar month by inserting a thirteenth month every two and
a half years.
Many inscriptions consist of only a few words (often names) in rote
phrases, and many are fragmentary. They provide some evidence
for morphology and better evidence for personal and mythological
names. Occasionally, marked surface clausal configurations provide
some evidence of a more formal, or poetic, register. It is clear from
the subject matter of the records that the language was in use at all
levels of society.
Other sources also contribute to knowledge of Gaulish: Greek and Latin
authors mention Gaulish words, personal and tribal names, and
toponyms. A short Gaulish-
Latin vocabulary (about 20 entries headed De
nominib[us] Gallicis) called "Endlicher's Glossary", is preserved in a
9th century manuscript (Öst. Nationalbibliothek, MS 89 fol.
French language offers some Gaulish loanwords. Today,
French contains approximately 150 to
180 words known to be of Gaulish
origin, most of which concern pastoral or daily activity. If
dialectal and derived words are included, the total is approximately
400 words, the largest stock of Celtic words in any Romance
Curse tablet from L'Hospitalet-du-Larzac, Musée de Millau.
Gaulish inscriptions are edited in the Recueil des Inscriptions
Gauloises (R.I.G.), in four volumes:
Volume 1: Inscriptions in the Greek alphabet, edited by Michel Lejeune
(items G-1 –G-281)
Volume 2.1: Inscriptions in the Etruscan alphabet (Lepontic, items E-1
– E-6), and inscriptions in the
Latin alphabet in stone (items l. 1
– l. 16), edited by Michel Lejeune
Volume 2.2: inscriptions in the
Latin alphabet on instruments
(ceramic, lead, glass etc.), edited by Pierre-Yves Lambert (items l.
18 – l. 139)
Volume 3: The
Coligny calendar (73 fragments) and that of
Villards-d'Héria (8 fragments), edited by Paul-Marie Duval and
Volume 4: inscriptions on Celtic coinage, edited by Jean-Baptiste
Colbert de Beaulieu and Brigitte Fischer (338 items)
The longest known Gaulish text is the Larzac tablet, found in 1983 in
l'Hospitalet-du-Larzac, France. It is inscribed in
Roman cursive on
both sides of two small sheets of lead. Probably a curse tablet
(defixio), it clearly mentions relationships between female names, for
example aia duxtir adiegias [...] adiega matir aiias (Aia, daughter of
Adiega... Adiega, mother of Aia) and seems to contain incantations
regarding one Severa Tertionicna and a group of women (often thought
to be a rival group of witches), but the exact meaning of the text
Coligny calendar was found in 1897 in Coligny, France, with a
statue identified as Mars. The calendar contains Gaulish words but
Roman numerals, permitting translations such as lat evidently meaning
days, and mid month. Months of 30 days were marked matus, "lucky",
months of 29 days anmatus, "unlucky", based on comparison with Middle
Welsh mad and anfad, but the meaning could here also be merely
descriptive, "complete" and "incomplete".
The pottery at La Graufesenque is our most important source for
Gaulish numerals. Potters shared furnaces and kept tallies inscribed
Latin cursive on ceramic plates, referring to kiln loads numbered 1
1st cintus, cintuxos (Welsh cynt "before", cyntaf "first", Breton kent
"in front" kentañ "first", Cornish kynsa "first",
Old Irish céta,
Irish céad "first")
2nd allos, alos (W ail, Br eil, OIr aile "other", Ir eile)
3rd tri[tios] (W trydydd, Br trede, OIr treide)
4th petuar[ios] (W pedwerydd, Br pevare)
5th pinpetos (W pumed, Br pempet, OIr cóiced)
6th suexos (possibly mistaken for suextos, but see Rezé inscription
below; W chweched, Br c'hwec'hved, OIr seissed)
7th sextametos (W seithfed, Br seizhved, OIr sechtmad)
8th oxtumeto[s] (W wythfed, Br eizhved, OIr ochtmad)
9th namet[os] (W nawfed, Br naved, OIr nómad)
10th decametos, decometos (CIb dekametam, W degfed, Br degvet, OIr
The lead inscription from Rezé (dated to the 2nd century, at the
mouth of the Loire,
450 kilometres (280 mi) northwest of La
Graufesenque) is evidently an account or a calculation and contains
quite different ordinals:
6th suexxe, etc.
Other Gaulish numerals attested in
Latin inscriptions include
*petrudecametos "fourteenth" (rendered as petrudecameto, with
Latinized dative-ablative singular ending) and *triconts "thirty"
(rendered as tricontis, with a Latinized ablative plural ending;
compare Irish tríocha). A Latinized phrase for a "ten-night festival
of (Apollo) Grannus", decamnoctiacis Granni, is mentioned in a Latin
inscription from Limoges. A similar formation is to be found in the
Coligny calendar, in which mention is made of a trinox[...] Samoni
"three-night (festival?) of (the month of) Samonios". As is to be
expected, the ancient
Gaulish language was more similar to
Celtic languages are to modern Romance languages. The ordinal
Latin are prīmus/prior, secundus/alter (the first form
when more than two objects are counted, the second form only when two,
note also that alius, like alter means "the other", the former used
when more than two and the latter when only two), tertius, quārtus,
quīntus, sextus, septimus, octāvus, nōnus, and decimus.
A number of short inscriptions are found on spindle whorls and are
among the most recent finds in the Gaulish language. Spindle whorls
were apparently given to girls by their suitors and bear such
moni gnatha gabi / buððutton imon (RIG l. 119) "my girl, take my
geneta imi / daga uimpi (RIG l. 120) '"I am a young girl, good (and)
Inscriptions found in
Switzerland are rare. The most notable
inscription found in Helvetic parts is the Bern zinc tablet, inscribed
ΔΟΒΝΟΡΗΔΟ ΓΟΒΑΝΟ ΒΡΕΝΟΔΩΡ ΝΑΝΤΑΡΩΡ
(Dobnorēdo gobano brenodōr nantarōr) and apparently dedicated to
Gobannus, the Celtic god of metalwork. Furthermore, there is a statue
of a seated goddess with a bear, Artio, found in Muri bei Bern, with a
Latin inscription DEAE ARTIONI LIVINIA SABILLINA, suggesting a Gaulish
Some coins with Gaulish inscriptions in the
Greek alphabet have also
been found in Switzerland, e.g. RIG IV Nos. 92 (Lingones) and 267
(Leuci). A sword, dating to the La Tène period, was found in Port,
near Biel/Bienne, with its blade inscribed with KORICIOC (Korisos),
probably the name of the smith.
Vowel phonemes of Gaulish
short: a, e, i, o u
long: ā, ē, ī, (ō), ū
diphthongs: ai, ei, oi, au, eu, ou
Consonant phonemes of Gaulish
[x] is an allophone of /k/ before /t/.
voiceless: p, t, k
voiced: b, d, g
nasals: m, n
liquids r, l
semi-vowels: w, y
The diphthongs all transformed over the historical period. Ai and oi
changed into long ī and eu merged with ou, both becoming long ō. Ei
became long ē. In general, long diphthongs became short diphthongs
and then long vowels. Long vowels shortened before nasals in coda.
Other transformations include unstressed i became e, ln became ll, a
stop + s became ss, and a nasal + velar became /ŋ/ + velar.
The occlusives also seem to have been both lenis, unlike Latin, which
distinguished voiced occlusives with a lenis realization from
voiceless occlusives with a fortis realization, which caused
confusions like Glanum for Clanum, vergobretos for vercobreto,
Britannia for Pritannia.
RIG G-172 Gallo-Greek inscription ϹΕΓΟΜΑΡΟϹ
ΟΥΙΛΛΟΝΕΟϹ ΤΟΟΥΤΙΟΥϹ ΝΑΜΑΥϹΑΤΙϹ
ΕΙωΡΟΥ ΒΗΛΗϹΑΜΙ ϹΟϹΙΝ ΝΕΜΗΤΟΝ (Segomaros
Uilloneos toutius Namausatis eiōru Bēlēsami sosin nemēton)
"Segomaros, son of Uillū, citizen (toutious) of Namausos,
dedicated this sanctuary to Belesama"
The name ARAÐÐOVNA on a Gaulish tomb, illustrating the use of the
tau gallicum (in this case doubled).
The alphabet of
Lugano used in Cisalpine
Gaul for Lepontic:
The alphabet of
Lugano does not distinguish voicing in stops: P
represents /b/ or /p/, T is for /d/ or /t/, K for /g/ or /k/. Z is
probably for /ts/. U /u/ and V /w/ are distinguished in only one early
inscription. Θ is probably for /t/ and X for /g/ (Lejeune 1971,
Greek alphabet used in southern Gallia Narbonensis:
Χ is used for [x], θ for /ts/, ου for /u/, /ū/, /w/, η and ω
for both long and short /e/, /ē/ and /o/, /ō/ while ι is for short
/i/ and ει for /ī/. Note that the sigma, in the Eastern Greek
alphabet, looks like a C (lunate sigma). All Greek letters were used
except phi and psi.
Latin alphabet (monumental and cursive) in use in Roman Gaul:
G and K are sometimes used interchangeably (especially after R).
Ð/ð, ds and s may represent /ts/ and/or /dz/. X, x is for [x] or
/ks/. Q is only used rarely (Sequanni, Equos) and may represent an
archaism (a retained *kw) or, as in Latin, an alternate spelling of
-cu- (for original /kuu/, /kou/, or /kom-u/). Ð and ð are used
to represent the letter (tau gallicum, the Gaulish dental affricate).
Gaulish changed the PIE voiceless labiovelar kʷ to p, a development
also observed in the
Brittonic languages (as well as Greek and some
Italic languages like the Osco-Umbrian languages), while other Celtic
languages retained the labiovelar. Thus, the Gaulish word for "son"
was mapos, contrasting with
Primitive Irish *maq(q)os (attested
genitive case maq(q)i), which became mac (gen. mic) in modern Irish.
In modern Welsh the word map, mab (or its contracted form ap, ab) is
found in surnames. Similarly one Gaulish word for "horse" was epos (in
Old Breton eb and modern Breton keneb "pregnant mare") while Old Irish
has ech, the modern
Irish language and
Scottish Gaelic each, and Manx
egh, all derived from proto-Indo-European *h₁eḱwos. The
retention or innovation of this sound does not necessarily signify a
close genetic relationship between the languages; Goidelic and
Brittonic are, for example, both Insular
Celtic languages and quite
The Proto-Celtic voiced labiovelar *gʷ (From PIE *gʷʰ) became w:
*gʷediūmi → uediiumi "I pray" (but
Old Irish guidim, Welsh gweddi
PIE ds, dz became /tˢ/, spelled ð: *neds-samo → neððamon (cf.
Irish nesamh "nearest", Welsh nesaf "next"). Modern Breton nes and
PIE eu became ou, and later ō: *teutā → touta → tōta "tribe"
(cf. Irish tuath, Welsh tud "people").
Additionally, intervocalic /st/ became the affricate [tˢ] (alveolar
stop + voiceless alveolar stop) and intervocalic /sr/ became [ðr] and
/str/ became [θr]. Finally, when a labial or velar stop came before
/t/ or /s/, the two sounds merged into the fricative [χ].
There was some areal (or genetic, see Italo-Celtic) similarity to
Latin grammar, and the French historian
Ferdinand Lot argued that it
helped the rapid adoption of
Vulgar Latin in Roman Gaul.
Gaulish had six or seven cases. Like Latin, Gaulish had
nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, and dative cases; however,
Latin had an ablative, Gaulish had an instrumental and may have
had also a locative case. Greater epigraphical evidence attests common
cases (nominative and accusative) and common stems (-o- and -a- stems)
than for cases less frequently used in inscriptions or rarer -i-, -n-
and -r- stems. The following table summarises the reconstructed
*mapoi > *mapī
*mapoi > *mapī
*toṷtan > *toṷtin
toṷtās > *toṷtiās
*toṷtai > *toṷtī
*mapūi > *mapū
*doroṷei > doroṷ
*toṷtai > *toṷtī
In some cases, a historical evolution is attested; for example, the
dative singular of a-stems is -āi in the oldest inscriptions,
becoming first *-ăi and finally -ī as in Irish a-stem nouns with
attenuated (slender) consonants: nom. lámh "hand, arm" (cf. Gaul.
lāmā) and dat. láimh (< *lāmi; cf. Gaul. lāmāi > *lāmăi
> lāmī). Further, the plural instrumental had begun to encroach
on the dative plural (dative atrebo and matrebo vs. instrumental
gobedbi and suiorebe), and in the modern Insular languages, the
instrumental form is known to have completely replaced the dative.
For o-stems, Gaulish also innovated the pronominal ending for the
nominative plural -oi and genitive singular -ī in place of expected
-ōs and -os still present in Celtiberian (-oś, -o). In a-stems, the
inherited genitive singular -as is attested but was subsequently
replaced by -ias as in Insular Celtic. The expected genitive plural
-a-om appears innovated as -anom (vs. Celtiberian -aum).
Gaulish verbs have present and future tenses; indicative, subjunctive,
and imperative moods; and active and passive voices. Verbs show a
number of innovations as well. The Indo-European s-aorist evolved into
the Gaulish t-preterit, formed by merging an old 3rd personal singular
imperfect ending -t- to a 3rd personal singular perfect ending -u or
-e and subsequent affixation to all forms of the t-preterit tense.
Similarly, the s-preterit is formed from the extension of -ss
(originally from the third person singular) and the affixation of -it
to the third person singular (to distinguish it as such). Third-person
plurals are also marked by the addition of -s in the preterit system.
Most Gaulish sentences seem to consist of a subject–verb–object
Martialis, son of Dannotalos, dedicated this edifice to Ucuetis
Some, however, have patterns such as verb–subject–object (as in
living Insular Celtic languages) or with the verb last. The latter can
be seen as a survival from an earlier stage in the language, very much
like the more archaic Celtiberian language.
Sentences with the verb first can be interpreted, however, as
indicating a special purpose, such as an imperative, emphasis,
contrast, and so on. Also, the verb may contain or be next to an
enclitic pronoun or with "and" or "but", etc. According to J. F. Eska,
Gaulish was certainly not a verb-second language, as the following
Frontus Tarbetisonios dedicated the board of the bridge.
Whenever there is a pronoun object element, it is next to the verb, as
per Vendryes' Restriction. The general Celtic grammar shows
Wackernagel's Rule, so putting the verb at the beginning of the clause
or sentence. As in Old Irish and traditional literary Welsh,
the verb can be preceded by a particle with no real meaning by itself
but originally used to make the utterance easier.
Albanos added them, vessels beyond the allotment (in the amount of)
Obalda, (their) dear daughter, set me up.
According to Eska's model, Vendryes' Restriction is believed to have
played a large role in the development of Insular Celtic
verb-subject-object word order. Other authorities such as John T.
Koch, dispute that interpretation.
Considering that Gaulish is not a verb-final language, it is not
surprising to find other "head-initial" features:
Genitives follow their head nouns:
The border of gods and men.
The unmarked position for adjectives is after their head nouns:
citizen of Nîmes
Prepositional phrases have the preposition, naturally, first:
uatiounui so nemetos commu escengilu
To Vatiounos this shrine (was dedicated) by Commos Escengilos
Subordinate clauses follow the main clause and have an uninflected
element (jo) to show the subordinate clause. This is attached to the
first verb of the subordinate clause.
to the smiths who serve Ucuetis in Alisia
Jo is also used in relative clauses and to construct the equivalent of
I wish that I spit
This element is found residually in the Insular
Celtic languages and
appears as an independent inflected relative pronoun in Celtiberian,
modern sydd "which is" ←
Middle Welsh yssyd ← *esti-jo
vs. Welsh ys "is" ← *esti
Old Irish relative cartae "they love" ← *caront-jo
masc. nom. sing. ioś, masc. dat. sing. iomui, fem. acc. plural iaś
Gaulish had object pronouns that infixed inside a word:
- V.3rd Sg
he gave it
Disjunctive pronouns also occur as clitics: mi, tu, id. They act like
the emphasizing particles known as notae augentes in the Insular
I prepare them
it should be
Clitic doubling is also found (along with left dislocation), when a
noun antecedent referring to an inanimate object is nonetheless
grammatically animate. (There is a similar construction in Old Irish.)
In an interview, folk metal band
Eluveitie said that some of their
songs are written in a reconstructed form of Gaulish. The band asks
scientists for help in writing songs in the language. The name of
the band comes from graffiti on a vessel from
Mantua (c. 300 BC).
The inscription in Etruscan letters reads eluveitie, which has been
interpreted as the Etruscan form of the Celtic (h)elvetios ("the
Helvetian"), presumably referring to a man of Helvetian descent
living in Mantua.
Languages of France
List of English words of Gaulish origin
List of French words of Gaulish origin
^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds.
(2017). "Transalpine–Galatian Celtic".
Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany:
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
^ a b Stifter 2012, p. 107
^ a b Eska 2008a, p. 166
^ Eska (2008a, 2008b); cf. Watkins 1999, p. 6
^ McCone, Kim, Towards a relative chronology of ancient and medieval
Celtic sound change, Maynooth, 1996
^ Eska 2008a, pp. 167–168
^ for the early development of
Vulgar Latin (the conventional term for
what could more adequately be named "spoken Latin") see Mohl,
Introduction à la chronologie du latin vulgaire (1899) and Wagner,
Introduction à la linguistique française, avec supplément
bibliographique (1965), p. 41 for a bibliography.
^ Forster 2003.
^ Eska 2012, p. 534.
^ Stifter 2012, p. 27
^ Eska 2008a, p. 165.
^ Cited after (Stifter 2012, p. 12)
^ Corinthiorum amator iste uerborum, iste iste rhetor, namque quatenus
totus Thucydides, tyrannus Atticae febris: tau Gallicum, min et sphin
ut male illisit, ita omnia ista uerba miscuit fratri. — Virgil,
Catalepton II: "THAT lover of Corinthian words or obsolete,
That--well, that spouter, for that all of Thucydides, a tyrant of
Attic fever: that he wrongly fixed on the Gallic tau and min and spin,
thus he mixed all those words for [his] brother".
^ a b "The Internet Classics Archive - The
Gallic Wars by Julius
^ BG I 29,1 In castris Helvetiorum tabulae repertae sunt litteris
Graecis confectae et ad Caesarem relatae, quibus in tabulis nominatim
ratio confecta erat, qui numerus domo exisset eorum qui arma ferre
possent, et item separatim, quot pueri, senes mulieresque. "In the
camp of the Helvetii, lists were found, drawn up in Greek characters,
and were brought to Caesar, in which an estimate had been drawn up,
name by name, of the number who had gone forth from their country who
were able to bear arms; and likewise the numbers of boys, old men, and
^ BG VI 6,14 Magnum ibi numerum versuum ediscere dicuntur. Itaque
annos nonnulli vicenos in disciplina permanent. Neque fas esse
existimant ea litteris mandare, cum in reliquis fere rebus, publicis
privatisque rationibus Graecis litteris utantur. Id mihi duabus de
causis instituisse videntur, quod neque in vulgum disciplinam efferri
velint neque eos, qui discunt, litteris confisos minus memoriae
studere: quod fere plerisque accidit, ut praesidio litterarum
diligentiam in perdiscendo ac memoriam remittant. "They are said there
to learn by heart a great number of verses; accordingly some remain in
the course of training twenty years. Nor do they regard it divinely
lawful to commit these to writing, though in almost all other matters,
in their public and private transactions, they use Greek letters. That
practice they seem to me to have adopted for two reasons: because they
neither desire their doctrines to be divulged among the mass of the
people, nor those who learn, to devote themselves the less to the
efforts of memory, relying on writing; since it generally occurs to
most men, that, in their dependence on writing, they relax their
diligence in learning thoroughly, and their employment of the memory."
^ a b Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise, éditions errance 1994.
^ Bruno Rochette, "Language Policies in the Roman Republic and
Empire," translated by James Clackson, in A Companion to the Latin
Language (Blackwell, 2011), p. 550; Stefan Zimmer, "Indo-European," in
Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia (ABC-Clio, 2006), p. 961;
Leonard A. Curchin, "Literacy in the Roman Provinces: Qualitative and
Quantitative Data from Central Spain," American Journal of Philology
116.3 (1995), p. 464; Richard Miles, "Communicating Culture, Identity,
and Power," in Experiencing Rome: Culture, Identity and Power in the
Roman Empire (Routledge, 2000), pp. 58–59.
^ Alex Mullen, Southern
Gaul and the Mediterranean: Multilingualism
and Multiple Identities in the Iron Age and Roman Periods (Cambridge
University Press, 2013), p. 269 (note 19) and p. 300 on trilingualism.
^ On the Detection and Overthrow of the So-Called Gnosis; Adv. haer.,
book I, praef. 3 "You will not expect from me, as a resident among the
Keltae, and accustomed for the most part to use a barbarous dialect,
any display of rhetoric"
^ R. Thurneysen, "Irisches und Gallisches," in: Zeitschrift für
Celtische Philologie 14 (1923) 1-17.
^ a b
^ Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, Extract: ueluti Romae nobis
praesentibus uetus celebratusque homo in causis, sed repentina et
quasi tumultuaria doctrina praeditus, cum apud praefectum urbi uerba
faceret et dicere uellet inopi quendam miseroque uictu uiuere et
furfureum panem esitare uinumque eructum et feditum potare. "hic",
inquit,"eques Romanus apludam edit et flocces bibit". aspexerunt omnes
qui aderant alius alium, primo tristiores turbato et requirente uoltu
quidnam illud utriusque uerbi foret: post deinde, quasi nescio quid
Tusce aut Gallice dixisset, uniuersi riserunt. "For instance in Rome
in our presence, a man experienced and celebrated as a pleader, but
furnished with a sudden and, as it were, hasty education, was speaking
to the Prefect of the City, and wished to say that a certain man with
a poor and wretched way of life ate bread from bran and drank bad and
spoiled wine. 'This Roman knight', he said, 'eats apluda and drinks
flocces.' All who were present looked at each other, first seriously
and with an inquiring expression, wondering what the two words meant;
thereupon, as if he might have said something in, I don’t know,
Gaulish or Etruscan, all of them burst out laughing."(based on BLOM
Cassius Dio Roman History XIII, cited in Zonaras 8, 21 "Spain, in
which the Saguntines dwell, and all the adjoining land is in the
western part of Europe. It extends for a great distance along the
inner sea, past the Pillars of Hercules, and along the Ocean itself;
furthermore, it includes the regions inland for a very great distance,
even to the Pyrenees. This range, beginning at the sea called
anciently the sea of the Bebryces, but later the sea of the
Narbonenses, reaches to the great outer sea, and contains many diverse
nationalities; it also separates the whole of Spain from the
neighbouring land of Gaul. The tribes were neither of one speech, nor
did they have a common government. As a result, they were not known by
one name: the Romans called them Spaniards, but the Greeks Iberians,
from the river Iberus [Ebro]."
Cassius Dio Roman History XII,20 "The Insubres, a Gallic tribe,
after securing allies from among their kinsmen beyond the Alps, turned
their arms against the Romans"
Cassius Dio Roman History XIV, cited in Zonoras 8 "Hannibal,
desiring to invade
Italy with all possible speed, marched on
hurriedly, and traversed without a conflict the whole of
between the Pyrenees and the Rhone. Then Hannibal, in haste to set out
for Italy, but suspicious of the more direct roads, turned aside from
them and followed another, on which he met with grievous hardships.
For the mountains there are exceedingly precipitous, and the snow,
which had fallen in great quantities, was driven by the winds and
filled the chasms, and the ice was frozen very hard. ... For this
reason, then, he did not turn back, but suddenly appearing from the
Alps, spread astonishment and fear among the Romans. Hannibal ...
proceeded to the Po, and when he found there neither rafts nor boats
— for they had been burned by Scipio — he ordered his brother Mago
to swim across with the cavalry and pursue the Romans, whereas he
himself marched up toward the sources of the river, and then ordered
that the elephants should cross down stream. In this manner, while the
water was temporarily dammed and spread out by the animals' bulk, he
effected a crossing more easily below them. [...] Of the captives
taken he killed the Romans, but released the rest. This he did also in
the case of all those taken alive, hoping to conciliate the cities by
their influence. And, indeed, many of the other
Gauls as well as
Ligurians and Etruscans either murdered the Romans dwelling within
their borders, or surrendered them and then transferred their
Cassius Dio Roman History XLVI,55,4-5 "Individually, however, in
order that they should not be thought to be appropriating the entire
government, they arranged that both Africas, Sardinia, and Sicily
should be given to Caesar to rule, all of Spain and Gallia Narbonensis
to Lepidus, and the rest of Gaul, both south and north of the Alps, to
Antony. The former was called Gallia Togata, as I have stated,
[evidently in a lost portion of Cassius Dio's work] because it seemed
to be more peaceful than the other divisions of Gaul, and because the
inhabitants already employed the Roman citizen-garb; the other was
termed Gallia Comata because the
Gauls there for the most part let
their hair grow long, and were in this way distinguished from the
^ Fideicommissa quocumque sermone relinqui possunt, non solum Latina
uel Graeca, sed etiam Punica uel Gallicana uel alterius cuiuscumque
genti Fideicommissa may be left in any language, not only in
Greek, but also in Punic or Gallicanian or of whatever other people.
David Stifter, ‘Old Celtic Languages’, 2012, p110
^ Ausonius, Epicedion in patrem 9–10 (a first-person poem written in
the voice of his father), "
Latin did not flow easily, but the language
of Athens provided me with sufficient words of polished eloquence"
(sermone inpromptus Latio, verum Attica lingua suffecit culti vocibus
eloquii); J.N. Adams, Bilingualism and the
Latin Language (Cambridge
University Press, 2003), pp. 356–357, especially note 109, citing
R.P.H. Green, The Works of
Ausonius (Oxford: Clarendon Press, p.
1991), p. 276 on the view that Gaulish was the native language of
Bordeaux [Burdigala] was a Gaulish enclave in Aquitania according to
Strabo's Geographia IV, 2,1
^ David Stifter, ‘Old Celtic Languages’, 2012, p110
Jerome (Latin: Hieronymus), writing in AD 386-7, Commentarii in
Epistulam ad Galatas II, 3 =Patrologia Latina 26, 357, cited after
David Stifter, Old Celtic Languages, 2012, p.110. Galatas excepto
sermone Graeco, quo omnis oriens loquitur, propriam linguam eandem
paene habere quam Treuiros "Apart from the Greek language, which is
spoken throughout the entire East, the Galatians have their own
language, almost the same as the Treveri".
^ Lucian, Pamphlet against the pseudo-prophet Alexandros, cited after
Eugenio Luján, The Galatian Place Names in Ptolemy, in: Javier de
Hoz, Eugenio R. Luján, Patrick Sims-Williams (eds.), New Approaches
to Celtic Place-Names in Ptolemy's Geography, Madrid: Ediciones
Clásicas 2005, 263. Lucian, an eye-witness, reports on Alexandros
(around AD 180) using interpreters in Paphlagonia (northeast of
Galatia): ἀλλὰ καὶ βαρβάροις πολλάκις
ἔρχησεν, εἴ τις τῇ πατρίῳ ἔροιτο
φωνῇ, Συριστὶ ἢ Κελτιστὶ, ῥᾳδίως
ἐξευρίσκων τινὰς ἐπιδημοῦντας
ὁμοεθνεῖς τοῖς δεδωκόσιν. "But he
[Alexandros] gave oracles to barbarians many times, given that if
someone asked a question in his [the questioner's] native language, in
Syrian or in Celtic, he [Alexandros] easily found residents of the
same people as the questioners"
Sidonius Apollinaris (Letters, III.3.2) mitto istic ob gratiam
pueritiae tuae undique gentium confluxisse studia litterarum tuaeque
personae quondam debitum, quod sermonis Celtici squamam depositura
nobilitas nunc oratorio stilo, nunc etiam Camenalibus modis
imbuebatur. I will forget that your schooldays brought us a veritable
confluence of learners and the learned from all quarters, and that if
our nobles were imbued with the love of eloquence and poetry, if they
resolved to forsake the barbarous Celtic dialect, it was to your
personality that they owed all. Alternative translation according to
David Stifter: ...sermonis Celtici squamam depositura nobilitas nunc
oratorio stilo, nunc etiam Camenalibus modis imbuebatur ‘...the
(Arvernian) nobility, wishing to cast off the scales of Celtic speech,
will now be imbued (by him = brother-in-law Ecdicius) with oratorial
style, even with tunes of the Muses’.
^ after BLOM 2007:188, cited from David Stifter, ‘Old Celtic
Languages’, 2012, p110
^ εἰ δὲ πάνυ ἐβιάζετο, Γαλατιστὶ
ἐφθέγγετο. ‘If he was forced to, he spoke in Galatian’
(Vita S. Euthymii 55; after Eugenio Luján, ‘The Galatian Place
Names in Ptolemy’, in: Javier de Hoz, Eugenio R. Luján, Patrick
Sims-Williams (eds.), New Approaches to Celtic Place-Names in
Ptolemy's Geography, Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas 2005, 264).
^ Hist. Franc., book I, 32 Veniens vero Arvernos, delubrum illud, quod
Gallica lingua Vasso Galatæ vocant, incendit, diruit, atque
subvertit. And coming to Clermont [to the Arverni] he set on fire,
overthrew and destroyed that shrine which they call Vasso Galatæ in
the Gallic tongue.
^ Stifter 2012, p. 109.
^ Peter Schrijver, "Gaulish", in Encyclopedia of the Languages of
Europe, ed. Glanville Price (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 192.
^ Schmidt, Karl Horst, "The Celtic Languages of Continental Europe"
in: Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies volume XXVIII. 1980.
University of Wales Press.
^ Article by Lambert, Pierre-Yves, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic
Studies volume XXXIV. 1987. University of Wales Press.
^ C. Iulius Caesar, "Commentarii de Bello Gallico"
^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise, éditions errance 1994. p.
^ M. H. Offord, French words: past, present, and future, pp. 36-37
^ W. Meyer-Lübke, Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, Heidelberg,
3rd edition 1935.
^ Lambert 185
^ Koch 2005, p. 1106
^ Lejeune, Michel; Fleuriot, L.; Lambert, P. Y.; Marichal, R.;
Vernhet, A. (1985), Le plomb magique du Larzac et les sorcières
gauloises, CNRS, ISBN 2-222-03667-4
^ Inscriptions and French translations on the lead tablets from Larzac
^ Bernhard Maier: Lexikon der keltischen Religion und Kultur.
S. 81 f.
^ "la graufesenque". ac-toulouse.fr.
^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, David Stifter ‘Le texte gaulois de Rezé’,
Études Celtiques 38:139-164 (2012)
^ Delamarre 2008, p. 92-93
^ Paul Russell, An Introduction to the Celtic Languages, (London:
Longman, 1995), 206-7.
^ Delamarre, Xavier. Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Editions
Errance, Paris, 2008, p. 299
^ Greg Woolf (2007). Ancient civilizations: the illustrated guide to
belief, mythology, and art. Barnes & Noble. p. 415.
^ Stifter, David. (Recension of) Helmut Birkhan, Kelten. Celts. Bilder
ihrer Kultur. Images of their Culture, Wien 1999, in: Die Sprache,
43/2, 2002-2003, pp. 237-243
^ Delamarre 2008, p. 215-216
^ Delamarre 2008, p. 163
^ La Gaule (1947); for the relevance of the question of the transition
from Gaulish to
Latin in French national identity, see also Nos
ancêtres les Gaulois.
^ Lambert 2003 pp.51–67
^ Thurneysen, Rudolf (1993). A Grammar of Old Irish. School of Celtic
Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
^ Williams, Stephen J., Elfennau Gramadeg Cymraeg. Gwasg Prifysgol
Cymru, Caerdydd. 1959.
^ "Interview With Eluveiti". Headbangers India.
^ Reproduction in Raffaele Carlo De Marinis, Gli Etruschi a nord del
Po, Mantova, 1986.
^ Stifter, David. "MN·2 – Lexicon Leponticum". An Interactive
Online Etymological Dictionary of Lepontic. University of Vienna.
Retrieved 9 July 2014.
Delamarre, Xavier (2003), Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise (2nd
ed.), Paris: Editions Errance
Delamarre, Xavier (2012), Noms de lieux celtiques de l'Europe
Ancienne. -500 +500, Arles: Errance
Eska, Joseph F. (2004), "Celtic Languages", in Woodard, Roger D.,
Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages, Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, pp. 857–880
Eska, Joseph F. (2008a), "Continental Celtic", in Woodard, Roger D.,
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Eska, Joseph F, "The linguistic position of Lepontic", Proceedings of
the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 24 (2): 2–11
Eska, Joseph F. (2010), "The emergence of the Celtic languages", in
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London: Routledge, pp. 22–27
Eska, Joseph F. (2012), "Lepontic", in Koch, John T.; Minard, Antoine,
The Celts: History, Life, and Culture, Santa Barbara: ABC Clio,
Eska, Joseph F.; Evans, D. Ellis (2010), "Continental Celtic", in
Ball, Martin J.; Müller, Nicole, The Celtic Languages (2nd ed.),
London: Routledge, pp. 28–54
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glossaire, Paris: C. Klincksieck
Forster, Peter; Toth, Alfred (2003), "Toward a phylogenetic chronology
of ancient Gaulish, Celtic, and Indo-European", Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 100 (15): 9079–9084,
doi:10.1073/pnas.1331158100, PMC 166441 ,
Koch, John T. (2005), Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia,
ABC-CLIO, ISBN 1-85109-440-7 .
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Lejeune, Michel (1971), Lepontica, Paris: Belles Lettres
Meid, Wolfgang (1994), Gaulish Inscriptions, Archaeolingua
Recueil des inscriptions gauloises (XLVe supplément à «GALLIA»).
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"Merde à César", Paris: Éditions de la Différence
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celtique continental, Genève: Librairie Droz,
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pp. 3–25 CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
For a list of words relating to Gaulish language, see the Gaulish
language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
L.A. Curchin, "Gaulish language"
(in French) Langues et écriture en Gaule Romaine by Hélène Chew of
the Musée des Antiquités Nationales
two sample inscriptions on TITUS
Y Fro Gymraeg
Cape Breton Island
Irish medium education
Gaelic medium education
Manx medium education
Welsh medium education
Breton medium education
Cornish medium nursery
Italics indicate extinct or ancestor languages