Common Brittonic (Old English: Brytisċ; Welsh: Brythoneg; Cornish: Brythonek; Breton: Predeneg) was a Celtic language spoken in Britain and Brittany. It is also variously known as Old Brittonic, and Common or Old Brythonic.
|Era||c. 6th century BC to mid-6th century AD|
Developed into Old Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton and probably Pictish
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 during the Roman period, especially in terms related to the church and Christianity. By the sixth century AD, the tongues of the Celtic Britons were more rapidly splitting into "Neo-Brittonic": Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton and possibly the Pictish language.
Over the next three centuries it was replaced in most of Scotland by Scottish Gaelic and by Old English (from which descend Modern English 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 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 (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: "Adixoui Deuina Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamenai". (Sometimes the final word has been rendered cuamiinai.) This text is often seen as: "The affixed – Deuina, Deieda, Andagin [and] Uindiorix – I have bound." else, at the opposite extreme, 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 [or "summon to justice"] the worthless woman, [oh] divine Deieda."
Local Roman Britain 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.
Pictish and Pritenic
Pictish, which became extinct around 1000 years ago, was the spoken language of the Picts 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 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. /ɨ/ and /ʉ/ have not developed yet.
- The central mid vowels /ə/ and /ɵ̞/ were allophonic developments of /i/ and /u/, respectively.
Through comparative linguistics, it is possible to reconstruct the declension paradigms of Common Brittonic:
|Du||Nom. acc. voc.||*tōtī||—||túaithL||*tewteh2h1e|
- The dative dual and plural represent the inherited instrumental forms, which replaced the inherited dative dual and plural, from Proto-Celtic *toutābom, *toutābos.
|Du||Nom. acc. voc.||*wirō||wirō||ferL||*wiHroh1|
|Pl||Nom. voc.||*wirī||wirī||gwŷr||firL (nom.), firuH (voc.)||*wiHroy|
- Neuter 2nd declension stems deviate from the paradigm as such:
|Sg||Nom. Voc. Acc.||*cradion|
|Pl||Nom. Voc. Acc.||*cradiā|
- Dual is same as singular
- All other declensions same as regular 2nd declension paradigm
|Abl. Ins. Loc.||*carrecī||—|
|Abl. Ins. Loc.||*carrecī||—|
|Pl||Nom. Voc. Acc.||*carrecīs||—||cerrig|
|Abl. Ins. Loc.||*carrecibi||—|
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 aβon[a], "river" (transcribed into Welsh as afon, Cornish avon, Irish and Scottish Gaelic abhainn, Manx awin, Breton aven; the Latin cognate is amnis). When river is preceded by the word, in the modern vein, it is tautological.
Examples of place names derived from the Brittonic languages
- Avon from abonā = "river" (cf. Welsh afon, Cornish avon, Breton aven)
- Britain cognate with Pritani = (possibly) "People of the Forms" (cf. Welsh Prydain "Britain", pryd "appearance, form, image, resemblance"; Irish cruth "appearance, shape", Old Irish Cruithin "Picts")
- Cheviot from *cev- = "ridge" and -ed, a noun suffix
- Dover, as pre-medieval-Latin could did not distinguish a Spanish-style mixed b/v sound, the phonetic standard way of reading Dubrīs is as dʊβriːs. It means water(s) (cognate with old Welsh dwfr, plural phon. //, Cornish dowr, Breton dour, Irish dobhar, its orthography "bh" denoting v or β phonetically)
- Kent from canto- = "border" (becoming in Welsh cant(el) "rim, brim", in Breton, kant)
- Leeds in Old English Loidis, from an earlier *Lǭtẹses, from *lǭd meaning "rut,[which?] heat, ardour" (c.f. Welsh llawd)
- Lothian (Lleuddiniawn in medieval Welsh) from *Lugudũn(iãnon) "Fort of Lugus"
- Severn from Sabrīna, perhaps the name of a goddess (modern Welsh, Hafren)
- Thames from Tamesis = "dark" (likely cognate with Welsh tywyll "darkness", Cornish tewal, Breton teñval Irish teimheal, pointing to a Brittonic approximate word temeselo-)
- Thanet (headland) from tan-eto- = "bonfire/aflame" (cf. Welsh tân "fire", Cornish tanses, Old Breton tanet "aflame")
- York from Ebur-ākon = "yew tree stand/group" (cognate with Welsh Efrog, from efwr "cow parsnip, hogweed" + -og "abundant in", Breton evor "alder buckthorn", Scottish Gaelic iubhar "yew", iùbhrach "stand/grove of yew trees"; cognate with Évreux in France and Évora in Portugal) via Latin Eburacum > OE Eoforwīc (re-analysed by the Anglo-Saxons as eofor 'boar' with Old English wic appended at the end) > ON Jórvík
- Derwentwater (for Celtic: Brittonic part see Dover above)
- Chetwood, (cognate with Welsh coed, Breton koad)
- Bredon Hill
Footnotes and references
- Common Brittonic at MultiTree on the Linguist List
- Rhys, Guto. "Approaching the Pictish language: historiography, early evidence and the question of Pritenic" (PDF). University of Glasgow. University of Glasgow.
- Henderson, Jon C. (2007). The Atlantic Iron Age: Settlement and Identity in the First Millennium BC. Routledge. pp. 292–295.
- Sims-Williams, Patrick (2007). Studies on Celtic Languages before the Year 1000. CMCS. p. 1.
- Koch, John (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 1455.
- Eska, Joseph (2008). "Continental Celtic". In Roger Woodard (ed.). The Ancient Languages of Europe. Cambridge.
- Forsyth, Katherine (2006). John Koch (ed.). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 1444, 1447.
- Forsyth, Katherine, Language in Pictland : the case against "non-Indo-European Pictish" (Utrecht: de Keltische Draak, 1997), 27.
- Jackson, Kenneth (1955). "The Pictish Language". In F. T. Wainwright (ed.). The Problem of the Picts. Edinburgh: Nelson. pp. 129–166.
- Lewis, H. (1943). Yr Elfen Ladin yn yr Iaith Gymraeg. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
- Nicolaisen, W. F. H. Scottish Place Names p. 131
- Tanner, Marcus (2004). The last of the Celts. Yale University Press. p. 225. ISBN 0300104642.
- Ferdinand, Siarl (2018). "The Promotion of Cornish in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly: Attitudes towards the Language and Recommendations for Policy". Studia Celtica Fennica. 19: 107–130. doi:10.33353/scf.79496.
- O'Rahilly, Thomas. Early Irish history and mythology. School of Celtic Studies, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. ISBN 0-901282-29-4.
- Philip Freeman (2001). Ireland and the Classical World. University of Texas Press.
- 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.
- Mees, Bernard (2009). Celtic Curses. Boydell & Brewer. p. 35.
- 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.
- Tomlin, 1987.
- Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise, éditions errance 1994. p. 17.
- Burns Mcarthur, Thomas (2005). Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192806376. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
- "Cornish language no longer extinct, says UN". BBC News Online. 7 November 2010. Retrieved 30 April 2021.
- "Dictionaries of the Scots Language". Retrieved 30 April 2021.
- James, Alan. "The Brittonic Language in the Old North - A Guide to the Place-Name Evidence" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 August 2017. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
- James, Alan. "The Brittonic Language in the Old North - A Guide to the Place-Name Evidence" (PDF). Scottish Place Name Society. Retrieved 2 September 2020.
- Gover, Mawer and Stenton: Place-Names of Devon, 1932
- Green, Terry (2003). "The Archaeology of some North Devon Place-Names". North Devon Archaeological Society. Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- 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 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.