Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Celtic Found to Have Ancient Roots
NY Times ^ | July 1, 2003 | NICHOLAS WADE

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.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Miscellaneous; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: alfredtoth; anthropology; archaeoastronomy; archaeology; celtic; celts; coligny; colignycalendar; epigraphyandlanguage; europe; france; french; gallic; gaulish; ggg; godsgravesglyphs; helixmakemineadouble; history; indoeuropean; indoeuropeans; irish; language; megaliths; peterforster; romanempire; switzerland; unitedkingdom; uofcambridge; uofzurich
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 181-192 next last
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."

This guy must treat his undergraduate students very well (snicker).

1 posted on 07/01/2003 5:48:40 AM PDT by Pharmboy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: PatrickHenry; aculeus; blam; jennyp; thefactor
Top-o-the-mornin' ping to ya...
2 posted on 07/01/2003 5:51:26 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Dems lie 'cause they have to...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
The article raises an interesting point: most people assume that languages spread by conquest, but that doesn't seem to hold so well.

The Romans conquered the Greeks, but the Greeks still speak Greek and probably more Romans learned Greek than Greeks learned Latin.

Likewise, the Gauls maintained their language for centuries after Caesar's conquest, but lost it after they successfully conquered back territory.

The Germanic Franks conquered Romanized Gaul, but wound up speaking a language more Roman than German.

3 posted on 07/01/2003 5:58:08 AM PDT by wideawake (God bless our brave soldiers and their Commander in Chief)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wideawake
Excellent points (as Carson used to say "I did not know that..."). I know a bit about biology, but not much on linguistics, though I find it fascinating. Any more insights or examples you can offer would always be appreciated on any of my athropology-related threads.
4 posted on 07/01/2003 6:01:53 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Dems lie 'cause they have to...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
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.

Someone is a moron. Probably the journalist. English is a Germanic language, with heavy influence from French (a Romance language, based on Latin). It is a staggering mistake to say that English is one of 4 early offshoots from the ancestral Indo-European language.

5 posted on 07/01/2003 6:03:30 AM PDT by ClearCase_guy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: wideawake
However, some languages are replaced. Celtic was largely replaced by Anglo Saxon. Aztec by Spanish. English will be replaced by Spanish in the USA.
6 posted on 07/01/2003 6:08:34 AM PDT by AEMILIUS PAULUS (Further, the statement assumed)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: ClearCase_guy
Good pick-up. I missed that completely; and, of course you are CORRECTAMUNDO!
7 posted on 07/01/2003 6:10:57 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Dems lie 'cause they have to...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
Did they find an ancient basketball? When were the Celtics in France I thought the were always in Boston? The NBA really goes back further than I thought.
8 posted on 07/01/2003 6:12:03 AM PDT by Conspiracy Guy (Read Buddy's, (the labrador retriever), new book about the Clintons, "Living Hell")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: AEMILIUS PAULUS
I know you were being a bit tongue-in-cheek to make a point, but you raise another issue: has English EVER been replaced ANYWHERE as a language?
9 posted on 07/01/2003 6:12:18 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Dems lie 'cause they have to...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: wideawake
the reason the greeks still speak greek is that they never sacked rome. The Celts and the Carthaginians did and the former were decimated and the latters were "delenda est".
10 posted on 07/01/2003 6:14:00 AM PDT by epluribus_2
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Flurry
LOL!! They must have had an ancient Euro-league with the LXXVIs!
11 posted on 07/01/2003 6:14:15 AM PDT by Pharmboy (Dems lie 'cause they have to...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: ClearCase_guy
"...It is a staggering mistake to say that English is one of 4 early offshoots from the ancestral Indo-European language...."

It is a staggering mistake to say that the author suggested that. Rather, he states that the early Indo-European language split eventually LED to English, not that English developed at the time of the split.
12 posted on 07/01/2003 6:15:09 AM PDT by irish_links
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
I guess we can no longer claim round ball to be American. Oh well so much for history.
13 posted on 07/01/2003 6:15:38 AM PDT by Conspiracy Guy (Read Buddy's, (the labrador retriever), new book about the Clintons, "Living Hell")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
Does this mean we qualify for reparations, or at least affirmative action considerations?
14 posted on 07/01/2003 6:17:37 AM PDT by Labyrinthos
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mlatinroot.html
15 posted on 07/01/2003 6:19:18 AM PDT by glock rocks (Remember -- only you can prevent fundraisers ... become a monthly donor.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
Upon closer examination, the NY Times reporter was found to have blonde roots.
16 posted on 07/01/2003 6:22:10 AM PDT by TommyDale
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
One of the reasons English has not been replaced is that it is so adaptable. It just absorbs vocabulary from people who use it instead of trying to legistate out foreign influences like the French try to do with English.
17 posted on 07/01/2003 6:22:44 AM PDT by twigs
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]

To: Prof Engineer
ping
18 posted on 07/01/2003 6:22:44 AM PDT by msdrby (I do believe the cheese slid off his cracker! - The Green Mile)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: twigs
legistate = legislate
19 posted on 07/01/2003 6:23:36 AM PDT by twigs
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: Pharmboy
>>>I know you were being a bit tongue-in-cheek to make a point, but you raise another issue: has English EVER been replaced ANYWHERE as a language? <<<

Sure lots of places, according to other threads here on FR.

Miami
New York City
South Texas
Southern California
Westmount (Anglo Suburb of Montreal)

I'm sure I've missed a few.

Adios. Vaya Con Dios. Hasta la vista.
20 posted on 07/01/2003 6:25:16 AM PDT by MalcolmS (Do Not Remove This Tagline Under Penalty Of Law!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 9 | View Replies]


Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041-6061-80 ... 181-192 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson