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Celtic, Semitic, Galician, &c.

From:T. Leigh/M. Carchrie <callanish@...>
Date:Monday, May 1, 2000, 22:45
Azul all,

(Whoops! I should explain that "azul" is Talossan for "hi" and "bye".
I've used that word so much in Talossan fora that it's become part of my
everyday vocabulary)

Sgrìobh Ray:

> Yes, the greatest 'destroyer' of the Celtic languages was Vulgar Latin
> tho English usually gets the blame :=(
:-) This is true, though as you say I've rarely heard anyone say it. [Re: Gaelic in Nova Scotia] Ren John Cowan (ta mee smooinaghtyn) screeu:
>It does, but hard statistics are hard to come by -- which suggests to
>that they are not encouraging. It is taught as a subject in N.S.
>and there is a radio program. The clearest statement I have found is >"less than 1000".
The figure I got last summer (August, 1999) was 500-600 speakers in Cape Breton. I was given that estimate by Hector MacNeil at the Gaelic College in St. Ann's, Cape Breton, who is one of the authorities on Gaelic up there. Most if not all of the native speakers are over 50 as well. The one encouraging thing is that in Cape Breton, as in Scotland, the number of native English-speakers learning Gaelic has risen dramatically in the last decade. And many of those learners are fairly young, like myself, in their twenties and thirties. The question is, how many of them will pass the language on to their children, thus increasing the native-speaker base? Ha Ray a skrifas:
>I know Galicia is often added, tho I've never really understood why. >Galician is well & truly a Romance language and AFAIK there's no
>'Celtic' survival there?
I have read, though I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this information, that there are some archaeological remains and artefacts of some description (though nothing linguistic) found in Galicia which bear similarities to things found elsewhere in Spain and France which are identified as "Celtic", so on that basis some scholars have concluded that at some point long ago it is likely that a Celtic-speaking tribe or tribes (perhaps Celtiberians, perhaps another group) lived in at least part of what is now Galicia. This in itself, of course, does not prove any link between those ancient people and the modern Galicians, who have never AFAIK spoken a Celtic language. My personal opinion is that it comes down to politics -- in an effort to emphasise to themselves and the rest of the world their non-Spanishness, the Galicians have latched onto these pre-Spanish (and indeed ancient) people as their "true ancestors", so if those ancestors were Celts then they must be too. The main stumbling block for me, personally, here is that basically the only thing which links all the disparate modern and ancient peoples who are labelled "Celtic" is language: they all speak, spoke, or are believed by scholars to have spoken, a language which belongs to that group of languages which we call "Celtic". And the Galicians don't have that link.
> But as Thomas Leigh has pointed out the whole notion of a single
> identity is an 18th century invention. So what prompts the Galicians
> want to jump on the band-wagon and, say, the Catalonians or
Piedmontese or
> Friulians?
As I said above, IMO it's the desire to (a) emphasise their non-Spanishness and (b) give themselves an ancient pedigree, one much older than that of the Spanish. Much the same reasons as the Irish, Welsh, Cornish, etc. have viv-à-vis the English and the Bretons vis-à-vis the French. It's my understanding that the Asturians are jumping on the Celtic bandwagon now too. I have started to see them listed alongside the Galicians as the "Celtic peoples of Spain". I have no idea what would prompt the Catalans, Piemontese, or Friulans to claim "Celticness", though. Or was there supposed to be a "not" in that sentence (i.e. the Galicians but NOT the Catalans et al.)?
>Is it some supposed connexion between GALicia, GALli & GALatians?
Can't help you there; no idea. Though I'm sure more than one person has probably pointed that out! :-) I highly recommend an interesting (and short) book called "The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention?" (ISBN 0714121657) by Simon James, an archaeologist from the British Museum currently at the University of Durham. He persuasively and convincingly discredits the notion that the ancient (or medieval, for that matter) peoples of the British Isles had anything to do with the ancient Celts of the continent, and explains quite clearly the invention and subsequest spread of the idea of "Celticness" in the British Isles, based on language, in the eighteenth century. At the end, however, he takes the interesting position that the modern non-English peoples of the British Isles and other places (though he doesn't mention Galicians!) can legitimately be called Celts because so many people consider themselves Celts: they have adopted the ethnonym "Celts" for themselves, they "arise from a sense of shared difference from another group with which they are in contact", they "express their identity by attaching symbolic value to aspects of their culture deemed characteristic", and so on. He further states: "The resolution of this paradox lies in chronology: the modern Celts are not the present representatives of a people who have existed continuously for millenia, but constitute a true case of 'ethnogenesis' -- the birth of an ethnic identity -- in early modern Europe." I forgot to mention before that the delicious piece of irony that I personally relish is that if it is the case that the peoples of the British Isles are in fact not Celts at all, then I have my degree (an MA with Honours in Gaelic/Celtic Studies) in a field which doesn't exist! :-) Thomas