Skip to comments.Celtic Found to Have Ancient Roots
Posted on 07/01/2003 5:48:39 AM PDT by Pharmboy
In November 1897, in a field near the village of Coligny in eastern France, a local inhabitant unearthed two strange objects.
One was an imposing statue of Mars, the Roman god of war. The other was an ancient bronze tablet, 5 feet wide and 3.5 feet high. It bore numerals in Roman but the words were in Gaulish, the extinct version of Celtic spoken by the inhabitants of France before the Roman conquest in the first century B.C.
The tablet, now known as the Coligny calendar, turned out to record the Celtic system of measuring time, as well as being one of the most important sources of Gaulish words.
Two researchers, Dr. Peter Forster of the University of Cambridge in England and Dr. Alfred Toth of the University of Zurich, have now used the calendar and other Celtic inscriptions to reconstruct the history of Celtic and its position in the Indo-European family of languages.
They say that Celtic became a distinct language and entered the British Isles much earlier than supposed.
Though the Gauls were strong enough to sack Rome in 390 B.C., eventually the empire struck back. The Romans defeated the Celts, both in France and in Britain, so decisively that Latin and its successor languages displaced Celtic over much of its former territory. In the British Isles, Celtic speakers survived in two main groups: the Goidelic branch of Celtic, which includes Irish and Scots Gaelic, and the Brythonic branch, formed of Welsh and Breton, a Celtic tongue carried to Brittany in France by emigrants from Cornwall.
Because languages change so fast, historical linguists distrust language trees that go back more than a few thousand years. Dr. Forster, a geneticist, has developed a new method for relating a group of languages, basing it on the tree-drawing techniques used to trace the evolutionary relationships among genes. His method works on just a handful of words, a fortunate circumstance since only some 30 Gaulish words have known counterparts in all the other languages under study.
Dr. Forster and his linguist colleague Dr. Toth have used the method to draw up a tree relating the various branches of Celtic to one another and to other Indo-European languages like English, French, Spanish, Latin and Greek. In an article in today's issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they say that soon after the ancestral Indo-European language arrived in Europe it split into different branches leading to Celtic, Latin, Greek and English.
Within Celtic, their tree shows that Gaulish the continental version of the language separated from its Goidelic and Brythonic cousins, much as might be expected from the facts of geography.
The researchers' method even dates the fork points in their language tree, although the dates have a wide range of possibility. The initial splitting of Indo-European in Europe occurred around 8100 B.C., give or take 1,900 years, and the divergence between the continental and British versions of Gaelic took place in 3200 B.C., plus or minus 1,500 years, they calculate.
These dates are much earlier than previously estimated. "The traditional date of the Indo-European family has been 4000 BC for some time," Dr. Merritt Ruhlen of Stanford University said. Dr. Ruhlen said the new method "seems pretty reasonable" and should be useful in tracing back the earlier history of the Indo-European language.
Specialists have long debated which country was the homeland of the Indo-Europeans and whether their language was spread by conquest or because its speakers were the first farmers whose methods and tongue were adopted by other populations. The second theory, that of spread by agriculture, has been advocated by Dr. Colin Renfrew, a Cambridge archaeologist.
Dr. Forster, who works in Dr. Renfrew's institute, said in an interview that the suggested date 8100 B.C. for the arrival of Indo-European in Europe "does seem to vindicate Renfrew's archaeological idea that the Indo-European languages were spread by farmers."
Agriculture started to arrive in Europe from the Near East around 6000 B.C., much earlier than the traditional date proposed by linguists for the spread of Indo-European. This timing would fit with the lower end of Dr. Forster's range of dates.
Dr. Forster said that his estimated date of 3200 B.C. for the arrival of Celtic speakers in England and Ireland was also much earlier than the usual date, 600 B.C., posited on the basis of archaeological evidence.
Dr. Forster said his method of comparing groups of languages was unfamiliar to historical linguists, many of whom study how words in a single language have changed over time. Asked what linguists thought of his method he said: "To be honest, they don't understand it, most of them. They don't even know what I'm talking about."
The method has two parts. One is to draw a tree on the basis of carefully chosen words; the second is to date the splits in the tree by calibrating them with known historical events. This is similar to the way geneticists date their evolutionary trees by tying one or more branch points to known dates from the fossil record.
Dr. April McMahon, a linguist at the University of Sheffield in England, said that Dr. Forster's method "seems to me to be a good start" and that it was reasonable to base a language family tree on just a handful of well-chosen words. She had less confidence in the dating method, she said, because language changes in an irregular way based on social factors like the size of the speaker's group and its degree of contact with others.
Geneticists often assume that the rate of mutation will average out over time, so that if one or two branch points in a tree can be dated by fossil evidence, the timing of the other branch points can be inferred.
Dr. Forster says he assumes that the rate of language change can also be averaged over time. But Dr. McMahon says she thinks that historical time, being much shorter than evolutionary time, is less friendly to averaging and that linguists should not even try, at least yet, to put dates on language trees.
Celtic Ping list!
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You are evil.
[I like that in a person]....;))
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or even more curiously, the romans conquered britain started about a century after caesar's conquest of gaul, yet the brytonic branch of gaelic survived as the british language in non-saxon areas, not the provincial latin that must have been spoken by some in towns.
The only possible contribution I have read about the Franks to provincial latin was that their population density might account for the distinct pronunciation of french in the nothern part of france compared to the signature sound of other roman tongues (spanish/italian/romanish/portugues/catalan).
that and the absolute disinterest in what remains of writings in antiquity of interest in philology of barbarian tongues. I think there are cases (gothic for sure) where only the need to translate the bible insured any quantity of written material survived, which obviously post-dates the era in question.
i too find the loss of most or all of the declension system and grammatical features of many western european I-E languages odd, though in the case of english it has been suggested that mercian english was so heavily influenced by norse immigration in the time of the danelaw that that alone impacted the language in favor of simplification.
As for why acc. and dative noun declensions, dual-case pronouns, gender and all adjective and adverb declension simply vanished, I do find it puzzling. Romance lang. have lost everything BUT gender, and even some west and north germanic tongues without the varied influences english have had have given up some aspects of the structure. I guess icelandic is the best remaining germanic example.
In the case of romance I wonder if having so many people learning latin as a second language in the provinces at some point, where they certainly never could grasp the myriad grammatical forms, resulted in the next generation never hearing the language declined correctly and the growth of prepositions as a tool to form sentences understandably. Not sure how much germanic immigation on a percent of population there was into italy in late empire/early dark age time on which to add to this, but it is an interesting idea, particularly for france and iberia - immigration (in an era where education was non-existent for many) would result in the langauge being rationalized if too much population displacement occured.
maybe i read your comment wrong. i also find the ingredients necessary to form such an insanely complex system as proto-indo-european grammar hard to imagine, given that it probably happened in a stone-age society.
i just saw the date on your post. these 3-year old pings do create some confusion. i have occasionally posted a response just to find i had posted something similar a couple of years before on the same thread.
i thought about this some more. granted that I do not know what ancient structures other language families had which might resemble this insane complexity, and if this is in fact common in proto-language groups.
random thoughts - case markers would greatly word usage needed to communicate, but the practical value of gender in nouns, for example, eludes me. then i think about declining adjectives to match case, person, and gender of strong or weak nouns and i cannot fathom it.
the oddest thing is that this stuff evolved in the earliest stages of proto-I-E, given that case markers are similar or identical throughout pretty much all ancient branches of the family. apparently it was very important to help that stone age people communicate ideas effectively. I do wonder if they had what we would call prepositions at all or to any degree.
Would be interesting to know the thoughts of a native-tongue speaker of a language with most or all of its declensions still in use on this topic. All I can offer is that giving up the genitive in english would be a hassle and wordy as heck, romance-style.
Damn right! He meant to say 'Merican.
I believe the Romans so detested the Carthaginians because of their practice of child sacrifice.
or most likely spanglish -- english always adapts and adds in more words, eh hombre?
Troy was 1000 BC -- way before proto-Celtic. You could call them Indo-Europeans, but then the Greeks were also Indo-Europeans. at the time of the Illiad, northwestern Anatolia would have been partially Hittitie / Mitanni
The Ironage begins 1000 BC - 750 BC in many places. This is when the sea-going Celts came to be known in the Mediterranean. According to Galician sources the last Celtic invasion of Ireland departed from the coast of Spain circa 700 BC (some sources place this at 500 BC, and all that means is the "invasion" might well have occurred over a very long span of time.
German comes from the word Germane and referred to the those tribes who originally had been known to live in the Ukraine but moved westward into Celtic territory.
Thus Germans refer to the original Scythians, not those latter known by that name because they displaced the Germane (original) peoples.
The habit of Lederhosen is a direct linkage to the Scythian horsemanship.
I see this thread has picked up again, after a hiatus of some months. I'll have to go back to the beginning and re-read the original article, before responding.
"German comes from the word Germane and referred to the those tribes who originally had been known to live in the Ukraine but moved westward into Celtic territory."
I believe German comes from the Latin word Germanus and I think it has some connection to a term meaning "brothers".
The German name for themselves was something like Teutones and the modern German word Deutsch is derived from it.
I do not believe the Germans came from Ukraine. I believe you are confusing the Goths, a Germanic tribe with "the Germans". The Goths originally came from Scandinavia, settled on the shores of the Baltic Sea for a time and controlled the lucrative amber trade with Greece and Ancient Rome. LAter they moved into Ukraine and lived there for some time before being driven west by the Huns and tribes allied with them. A portion of the Goths themselves, the later Ostrogoths, were actually forcibly recruited into the Hunnish Army along with various Turkic, Iranian and other Germanic people.
The Germans originally came from northern Europe and moved west, east and south, displacing the Celtic people from Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria until temporarily stopped by the Romans.
"Thus Germans refer to the original Scythians, not those latter known by that name because they displaced the Germane (original) peoples."
Again, I don't agree. The original Scythians were an Iranian people related to the ancient Persians and Sanskrit speaking invaders of India.
"The habit of Lederhosen is a direct linkage to the Scythian horsemanship."
Why on earth would anybody want to ride a horse in short pants? Horsehair can be very irritating. The Scythians, Mongols, Huns, Goths, Turks and other horse people always worse full pants.
I haven't got the slightest idea where Lederhosen came from. I think it means Leather Pants in German.
Why does this topic seem to interst so many people and why does it keep regurgitating itself? That's interesting in itself.
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