In historical linguistics, Italo-Celtic refers to the observation that the Italic languages and the Celtic languages share a number of common features unique to these two groups. These are usually thought of as innovations which are likely to have developed after the breakup of Proto-Indo-European, though it is also possible to argue that some of these are not innovations, but rather shared conservative features. There is therefore some controversy about the nature of the historical causes of these similarities. What is not in dispute, however, is that the shared features may usefully be thought of as Italo-Celtic forms.


The traditional interpretation of the data is that these two subgroups of the Indo European language family are generally more closely related to each other than to the other Indo European languages. This is usually taken to imply that they are descended from a common ancestor, a phylogenetic Proto-Italo-Celtic which can be partly reconstructed by the comparative method. Alternatively, the belief in a close genetic relationship can be expressed in terms of proximity on a late-PIE dialect continuum, in order to avoid the rigidity of a stemma. Since both Proto-Celtic and Proto-Italic date to the early Iron Age (say, the centuries on either side of 800 BC), a probable time frame for the assumed period of language divergence would be the late Bronze Age, the later 2nd millennium BC, perhaps some 1,500 years after the final breakup of PIE. While this hypothesis still has its adherents, it has fallen out of favour with the majority of scholars after being reexamined by Calvert Watkins in 1966. However, a paper by Ringe, Warnow, & Taylor (2002), employing computational methods as a supplement to the traditional linguistic subgrouping methodology, argues in favour of an Italo-Celtic subgroup, and in 2007 Frederik H .H. Kortlandt attempted a reconstruction of a Proto-Italo-Celtic.

The most common alternative interpretation is that a close areal proximity of Proto-Celtic and Proto-Italic over a longer period could have encouraged the parallel development of what were already quite separate languages. The assumed period of language contact could then be later, perhaps continuing well into the first millennium BC. Given the presence of Celtic settlements in Northern Italy, the attested language frontier may well have been the historical setting for cultural interaction.

If however, some of the forms really are archaisms, elements of Proto-Indo-European which have been lost in all other branches, neither model of post-PIE relationship need be postulated.


The principal Italo-Celtic forms are:

#the thematic Genitive in "i" ("dominus", "domini"). Both in Italic ("Popliosio Valesiosio", Lapis Satricanus) and in Celtic (Lepontic, Celtiberian "-o"), however, traces of the "-osyo" Genitive of Proto-Indo-European have also been discovered, which might indicate that the spread of the "i"-Genitive occurred in the two groups independently (or by areal diffusion). Calvert Watkins (1966) argues that "the community of "-" in Italic and Celtic is attributable to early contact, rather than to an original unity." The "i"-Genitive has been compared to the so-called Cvi formation in Sanskrit, but that too is probably a comparatively late development. The phenomenon is probably related to the feminine long "i" stems (see Devi inflection) and the Luwian "i"-mutation.
#the "ā"-subjunctive. Both Italic and Celtic have a subjunctive descended from an earlier optative in "-ā-". Such an optative is not known from other languages, but the suffix occurs in Balto-Slavic and Tocharian past tense formations, and possibly in Hittite "-ahh-".
#the collapsing of the PIE aorist and perfect into a single past tense. In both groups, this is a relatively late development of the proto-languages, possibly dating to the time of "Italo-Celtic" language contact.
# the assimilation of *p to a following *kʷ. [Andrew L. Sihler, "New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin", OUP 1995, p.145, §141.] This development obviously predates the Celtic loss of *p:::PIE *penkʷe 'five' → Latin "quinque"; Old Irish "cóic"::PIE *perkʷu- 'oak' → Latin "quercus"; Goidelic ethnonym Querni::PIE *pekʷ- 'cook' → Latin "coquere"; Welsh "poeth" 'hot' (Welsh p presupposes Proto-Celtic *kʷ)::PIE *ponkʷu- 'all' → Latin "cunctus"; Irish (and Old Irish) "gach", Welsh "pob" 'every'.

Other similarities include the fact that certain common words, such as the words for common metals (gold, silver, tin, etc.) are similar in Italic and Celtic but divergent from other Indo-European languages.



*cite journal | quotes = | last = Oettinger | first = Norbert | authorlink = | coauthors = | date = | year = 1984| month = | title = Zur Diskussion um den Lateinischen ā-Konjunktiv | journal = Glotta | volume = 62| issue = | pages = 187–201| publisher = Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht| location = Göttingen | issn = 0017-1298 | doi = | oclc = | id = |url = | language = German| accessdate = | quote =
*cite journal | quotes = | last = Ringe | first = Donald | authorlink = | coauthors = Warnow, Tandy; Taylor, Anne| date = | year = 2002| month = March| title = Indo-European and Computational Cladistics | journal = Transactions of the Philological Society| volume = 100|issue = 1| pages = 59–129| publisher = Blackwell Publishing| location = Oxford| issn = 0079-1636 | doi = 10.1111/1467-968X.00091| oclc = 195112762 | id = BL Shelfmark 8993.670000| url = | format = | accessdate = 2008-03-13| quote =
*Schmidt, Karl Horst, “Contributions from New Data to the Reconstruction of the Proto-Language”. In: cite book |last= Polomé|first= Edgar|authorlink= |coauthors= Winter, Werner eds. |title= Reconstructing Languages and Cultures |origyear= 1992|origmonth= |edition= 1st edition|publisher= Mouton de Gruyter|location= Berlin, New York|isbn= 3110126710|oclc= 25009339|doi= |id= |pages= 35–62 |quote=
*Watkins, Calvert, “Italo-Celtic Revisited”. In: cite book |title= Ancient Indo-European dialects |last= Birnbaum |first= Henrik |authorlink= |coauthors=Puhvel, Jaan eds.|year= 1966|publisher= University of California Press|location= Berkeley|oclc= 716409 |pages= 29–50
*Frederik H .H. Kortlandt, "Italo-Celtic Origins and Prehistoric Development of the Irish Language", Leiden Studies in Indo-European Vol. 14, Rodopi 2007, ISBN: 9789042021778 .

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