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Re: Celtic, semitic, etc.

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Thursday, April 27, 2000, 21:15
At 1:10 pm -0400 27/4/00, callanish wrote:
>Ave, Ray! Quomodo vadis?
Bene, gratias. Great to have you back on this list!
>>>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.
I had a feeling that 'twas so. [snip]
> >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.
This is what I thought also. Indeed, I have seen it argued that one reason Gaul took to speaking Latin so rapidly after Caesar's conquest was that Gaulish was similar enough to Latin to make it relatively easy for traders, merchants etc. to adapt. My own feeling has been that those so-called "Celtic" features of the modern languages were strictly insular developments. [....]
> >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.
Yet there were tribal grouping in Britain that existed also on the continent; the Parisii, e.g. lived in the area where Paris (named from them) now stands and in what is now eastern Yorkshire in england; the Belgae living roughly in the area of modern Belgium and in southern Britain with its 'ciuitas', Venta Belgarum, on the site of the modern Winchester.
>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".
This is right; and even the peoples of Gaul as a whole are never referred to as Celtae by the Romans. They used the term only of certain peoples in central Gaul. But the peoples of north Italy and Gaul generally are referred to generically as 'Galli'. Also the Galatae, or Gallograeci, who settled in Asia Minor are specifically said to be related to the Galli. The Greeks used Keltoi or Keltai of continental Celts, including the peoples of Gaul. There is one reference to Gaul as Keltia. Galatai occurs in Greek & seems to be more or less equivalent to Keltoi. ('galloi' were eunuch priests of the goddess Kybele :) But neither the Greeks or Romans ever called the peoples of Britain or Ireland Keltoi/Keltai/Celtae. The Greek writers of the 1st cent. BC use the form Prettanoi (cf. modern Welsh 'Prydain'). As safe-farers, unlike the land-loving Romans, the Greeks probably got the name from Britain itself via trading. In the "Geographia" of Strabo, whose life spanned the late 1st cent BC & early 1st cent AD, the name is spelled Brettanoi in book I, but the form Prettanoi appears from book II. One assumes some later editor had started to 'correct' Strabo but failed to carry the correction through. The spelling Brettanoi, however, does become standard from 1st cent. AD, but this is almost certainly due to Latin influence. Brittani is not found in Latin before the writings of Catullus and Caesar (1st cent. BC); the form Brittanni is found once in Lucretius (1st cent.), but the -tt- is likely to have been articially coined for metrical reasons (perhaps with an eye on the Greek Prettanoi). They can hardly have got the name from the Greeks, otherwise they'd have written *Prettani; the only reasonable assumption is that Catullus & Caesar were using a formed learned from the Gauls (who lived not only in modern France, but also in north Italy at that time). The form Britto (singular; pl. Brittones) is first recorded in Martial (late 1st cent. AD), and Juvenal (2nd cent. AD) uses Brittani & Brittones are interchangeably. Where does this come from? Bede always refers to the non-English inhabitants of Britain as Brettones (sing. Bretto); but this is clearly a later conflation of the two Latin forms.
>The labelling of the non-English peoples of the >British Isles as "Celts" goes back only to the 18th century,
I know - it was a time when liguists were dicovering the Indo-European connexions are getting far too over-excited.
>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!)
I wonder how many list members can name the "Six Celtic Nations" :)
>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.
I know - and misguided it is. It is obvious to any impartial observer that all the peoples who claim Celtic descent cannot all be descended from one & the same ancient people. It's quite clear to me that just as in the modern world peoples of many quite different races, cultural groups etc speak English, so way back in ancient Britain & elswhere the peoples speaking "Celtic languages" & sharing the so-called "Celtic culture" were not all descended from the same common stock.
>Whew, that was a huge paragraph! Can you tell I'm following this debate with >interest? :-)
Sort of :)
>>I have seen it suggested that a Semitic-based trade jargon developed in the >>Cornish peninsula > >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.
A good point. Breton is certainly now a V2 language (and possibly always was) and Cornish shows strong tendency in that direction. Indeed, when one remembers that north Wales came under Irish dominance for quite a time, I begin to wonder if VSO was ever a native British development or whether, rather, it arose in Welsh through Irish influence. Is it an essentially Gaelic feature in origin?
>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.
Absolutely - I think the trade jargon theory sucks.
>>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! ;-)
Nah - not the painted people ;)
>>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?
Why not indeed? Tho in the Scottish Highlands I've also met the red-haired Celtic giants who so terrified the early Romans (who called them 'Galli').
>>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.)
Oh dear - the poor Basques. Is there, I wonder, any language (apart from conlangs) to which some crank has not found a relationship with Basque. IIRC there's even a web-site where some guy purports to show that all the earths languages are descended from Basque <groan>
>>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 :)
Please do.
>> The most plausible (or least daft) links with Basque that I've seen made do >suggest >> some ultimate connexion with Georgian & the Kartvelian languages. > >Really? This I've never seen. That would be interesting.
I'll have to try & dig out my notes. It's a few years since I've looked. IIRC there were things like ergative constructions, post-posited definite article & several vocabulary items. But it's no good my just waffling; I'll have to get searching. Ray. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================