Celtic, semitic, etc.
|Date:||Thursday, April 27, 2000, 17:10|
Ave, Ray! Quomodo vadis?
>>Why the smiley? Is the notion of there being a Semitic substrate beneath
>>insular Celtic so daft?
>In a word - yes.
A far as I know, there are very few scholars left who support evan a "Semitic
influence" theory, much less a "pre-Celtic substrate" theory.
>One thing I've never been able to find the answer to is whether these
>'Semitic' features of insular Celtic are strictly "insular" (i.e. peculiar
>to the Celtic of Ireland & Britain) or were they features of continental
>Celtic? Did the Galatians, e.g. take these features with them into Asia
>Minor? Were they always part of Celtic ever since its development in the
>upper Danube region?
I'm no expert on Continental Celtic (my degree was in modern, i.e. Insular
Celtic languages) but AFAIK the distinguishing features we think of today as
"Celtic", e.g. VSO word order, initial consonant mutations, conjugated
prepositions, etc., are strictly insular. I know that at least Gaulish (as it
appears in the inscriptions we know of, anyway) has SOV word order, no
orthographical evidence for mutations, no attested conjugated prepositions, a
full array of case endings -- grammatically very much like Latin. I'm can't
remember now if there's enough information in other Celtic inscriptions from
the continent (eg. Celtiberian, Lepontic) to reveal that much about the
structure of the languages. Basically, the similarities are between
Continental and Insular Celtic are mostly confined to lexicon; grammar and
syntax appear to differ significantly.
Here's something I find very interesting: in university, we learned the
"standard" history of the "waves" of Celtic speakers migrating from the
continent to the British Isles probably somewhere between 800BC and 200BC.
But recently I've been seeing an increasing number of writings by
archaeologists saying that there is little to no archaeological evidence to
support this theory of waves of immigrants from the continent; instead the
archaeological record apparently points a continuity of population -- i.e.
the "Celts" of the British Isles did not come from the continent in waves
during the millenium before Christ, but have been there since many centuries
(even millenia) before that time. This would imply that either (a) the
languages we call "Insular Celtic" and "Continental Celtic" are not branches
of the same family as we currently classify them, but are much more distantly
related, or possibly unrelated, to each other, having instead influenced
each other in lexicon, etc. through centuries/millenia of mutual contact; or
(b) that they are still
branches of the same family but the split goes much, much further back than
the traditional dating, since the archaeological record indicates that any
migrations from the continent must have happened thousands of years earlier
than we originally thought. I know that some scholars consider it significant
that the Classical writers never, ever equate the peoples of the British
Isles and the peoples of the continent; the peoples of the Isles are always
referred to by different names, and only certain peoples on the continent are
ever called "Celtoi/Celtae". The labelling of the non-English peoples of the
British Isles as "Celts" goes back only to the 18th century, and is based
upon the perceived linguistic similarities, which led to the "migration from
the continent" theory which some archaeologists are now disputing. Needless
to say this has caused something of an uproar in some circles, especially in
the so-called "Celtic countries" (a rather contentious and debatable
designation, IMO!) where being decended from one of the great, ancient
peoples of Europe (and having an older, more distinguished lineage than the
English) forms such an integral part of nationalist and political ideology.
Whew, that was a huge paragraph! Can you tell I'm following this debate with
>I have seen it suggested that a Semitic-based trade jargon developed in the
Interesting... I hadn't heard of this!
>and that this was responsible for the subsequent move of
>insular Celtic (a) to VSO, post-posited adjectives, conjagated
>prepositions, use of definite article only, the 'construct state' to
>express the genitive & other 'Semitic features', and (b) towards analytic
>rather than synthetic structures. But I find it difficult to see how such
>a trade jargon would sequently effect the Celtic languages of Ireland & the
>whole of Britain.
Me too... even more so when you consider that Cornish and Breton (and Middle
Welsh) show a strong tendency toward SVO word order, at least in affirmative
sentences, from the earliest literary records. If such a Semitic-based
language did develop in Cornwall, and was resopnsible for all those changes,
I would expect Cornish and Breton to display those features more prominently
than the other Celtic languages, when in fact it's the other way round.
>I think that's the idea. What I'd been taught is that there was some
>kind of substrate influence on the Celtic that went from Europe to the
>British Isles. But not Semitic; the influenceing language(s) would be
>those of the pre-IE Europeans.
Picts! Picts! ;-)
>The substrate is then considered to be Hamito-Semitic rather
>than Semitic in the narrow sense and the be
>most closely related to modern Berber, i.e. an 'Iberian' substrate
>spreading from north west Africa, up through the Iberian peninsular,
>western Gaul, Britain & Ireland. This is held to account for the short,
>swarthy types still much in evidence in south Wales and parts of Ireland.
And the Western Isles of Scotland, notably Harris and Barra. While I have
seen that physical type attributed to the Pre-IE inhabitants of the isles, I
haven't ever heard of those inhabitants being Hamito-Semitic-Berber types
before. Though why not?
>But things are not so simple. The Basques don't fit in here. Their
>language shows no affinity to the Hamito-Semitic group nor does it exhibit
>any of these "traditional" Celtic traits;
This is true, of course, but only a few centuries ago the Basques were widely
thought of as being related to the Gaels and speaking Gaelic! (You can still
find references to this in historical writings.)
>yet their language is
>unquestionably of ancient origin, as are the Basque peoples. Another area
>was called Iberia for many centuries - Georgia (the one in the Caucasus -
>not in the US :)
>Those I've met who've visited Georgia have remarked on that the people they
>see there are similar to many one sees in south Wales & Ireland.
This is interesting too! I'll have to go to Georgia someday and check it out
for myself :)
> The most plausible (or least daft) links with Basque that I've seen made dosuggest
> some ultimate connexion with Georgian & the Kartvelian languages.
Really? This I've never seen. That would be interesting.