DEVELOPMENT & SPREAD OF CELTIC LANGUAGES
BY: Bards Joy and Chris Dunkerley (President and Secretary of CANSW)
AFTER: Cunliffe, 2012
The Newsletter of the Cornish Association of NSW (CANSW)
Newsletter No. 384 ISSN 1321-3199 December 2013 - January 2014
Indo-European develops around Anatolia and the SE shores of the
Black Sea c.7000 BC. Its westward spread along the Mediterranean
basin, evolves into Celto-Italic c.5500 BC; this being confined
to the northern shores of the Mediterranean, from Italy, through
southern Gaul and southern Iberia by c.5000 BC.
Further evolution into proto-Celtic takes place in a region centred
on the Tagus estuary in southern Portugal c.4500 BC, and spreads
northward with Passage Grave tradition. This spread of Atlantic
Celtic complete by c.3000 BC, covers western Iberia, Brittany,
Ireland, and the western half of Britain, west of an approximate
line from Southampton Water to the Orkneys, indicating a high degree
of maritime connectivity and the need for a lingua franca to facilitate
From the same region around the Tagus estuary, Celtic also spreads
northward and eastward, along coastal and river routes. This coincides
with the spread of metallurgy and Beaker 'ideologies' between 2700-2400
BC. By c.2000 BC, this phase of language spread had developed a
'Continental accent'. By that time, Celtic had spread across the
northern two-thirds of Iberia, the eastern half of Britain, the
whole of Gaul and to those areas of central Europe where Celtic
was previously thought to have originated (first mooted in C17),
thus paving the way to the later Hallstatt and La Tène cultures.
The Atlantic accent continues in the west, evolving through the
spread of Corded Ware-Single Grave communities.
At some stage, perhaps by the Middle Bronze Age, c.1500-1200 BC,
Continental Celtic (P-Celtic) becomes dominant across
Britain, restricting Atlantic Celtic (Q-Celtic) to Ireland,
[from where it is infused into the Isle of Man and western Scotland
in the early post-Roman period, probably from the 4th century AD].
With the coming of Rome to large parts of the Island of Britain
Latin is spoken widely among noble classes, towns, and around military
outposts. British (Brythonic) Celtic is still the main speech but
is influenced during the occupation in the eastern zones. Far north
of the Antonine Wall and free of Roman influence it is thought to
have developed into Pictish. With the breakdown of Romanised administration
between 380AD and 500AD, the resurgence of the 'old' Celtic speaking
tribal identities and cultures, and the coming of competitive Germanic
ruling classes in the east; other than in the Christian church Latin
slowly gives way to a fast changing British Celtic, spoken by all,
and written among the literate.
The land isolation of the 'old north' (Cumbria and Strathclyde)
by 700AD and West Wales/Dumnonia 600AD from the area of Wales leads
to divergence in the Celtic british language. British speakers for
centuries in hill country to the east and north influence the development,
but not the vocabulary, of old english dialects. Welsh develops
in its own direction, Cumbric was lost eventually by c. 1,100 AD,
and South Brythonic is also lost over much of what becomes south
western England. It developes though between 650-800AD into Old
Cornish, west of the River Exe; and into closely related Old Breton
(in Armorica / Brittany) where britons had crossed into 'vacant'
lands from 360AD on).
(After Cunliffe, 2012)