Continental Celtic languages

Continental Celtic languages
Continental Celtic
Formerly continental Europe; Asia Minor
Linguistic classification: Indo-European

The Continental Celtic languages are the Celtic languages, now extinct, that were spoken on the continent of Europe, as distinguished from the Insular Celtic languages of Britain and Ireland. The Continental Celtic languages were spoken by the people known to Roman and Greek writers as Keltoi, Celtae, Galli and Galatae. These languages were spoken from Iberia to the Balkans and in Asia Minor.

Linguistically, Continental Celtic is divided in Celtiberian and Gaulish. Gaulish can be further subdivided in Transalpine Gaulish, Cisalpine Gaulish, Galatian, Lepontic and Noric, with the precise relation between these subgroups being uncertain or unknown.


Attested languages

Although it is likely that Celts spoke dozens of different languages and dialects across Europe in pre-Roman times, only three such languages are commonly said to be actually attested:

  • Lepontic (7th to 4th century BC)[1] was spoken on the southern side of the Alps. Lepontic is generally considered an early dialect of Gaulish, and Galatian may be a late one as well. It is evidenced in a number of inscriptions as well as place names.
  • Celtiberian or Northeastern Hispano-Celtic (3rd to 1st century BC)[2] is the name given to the language in northeast Iberia, between the headwaters of the Douro, Tagus, Júcar and Turia rivers and the Ebro river. It is attested to by some 200 inscriptions as well as place names. It is distinct from the Iberian language. A Celtic language may also have been spoken by the Tartessian people in SW Iberia.[3] Tartessian is attested by 95 inscriptions with the longest having 82 readable signs.[4] Both attested languages have been grouped in Hispano-Celtic.[5][6]
  • Gaulish or Gallic (3rd century BC to 2nd (?) century AD)[2] was the main language spoken in greater Gaul. This is often considered to be divided into two dialects, Cisalpine (the Italian side) and Transalpine (the French side). It is evidenced in a number of inscriptions as well as place names and tribal names in writings of classical authors. It may have been a substratum to Breton, as noted below.

A further two languages could be listed as Continental Celtic:

  • Galatian, that was spoken around Ankara. Classical writers say that the language is similar to that of Gaul. There is also evidence of invasion of Celts from Europe.
  • Noric, which is the name given sometimes to the Celtic dialects spoken in Central and Eastern Europe. It was spoken in Austria and Slovenia; only two fragmentary texts are preserved and there are plenty of personal names and toponyms.

Two other languages may also be grouped as Celtic languages as part of Western Hispano-Celtic:[6][7]

  • Lusitanian was spoken in the area between the Douro and Tagus rivers in what is now Portugal and part of Spain. It is only attested by five inscriptions, together with various place names.[7] While definitely Indo-European, some scholars have proposed that, given their archaic character, some Hispano-Celtic dialects of which they include Lusitanian as one, might be an early form of Celtic,[8] while others see affinities with Italic and Old European but on ambiguous evidence.
  • Gallaecian or Gallaic or Northwestern Hispano-Celtic known from a corpus of Latin inscriptions containing some linguistic features that are clearly Celtic forming a Celtic continuum of dialects and others that are archaic like Lusitanian.[5]

Use of term

Celtic languages during the Iron Age and classical Antiquity

The modern term Continental Celtic is used in contrast to Insular Celtic. While many researchers agree that Insular Celtic is a distinct branch of Celtic (Cowgill 1975; McCone 1991, 1992; Schrijver 1995), having undergone common linguistic innovations, there is no evidence that the Continental Celtic languages can be similarly grouped. Instead, the term Continental Celtic is polyphyletic and refers simply to non-Insular Celtic languages. Since little material has been preserved in any of the Continental Celtic languages, historical linguistic analysis based on the comparative method is difficult to perform. However, other researchers see the Brythonic languages and Gaulish as forming part of a sub-group of Celtic languages known as P-Celtic. The Continental languages are all P-Celtic, except for the Celtiberian language which is Q-Celtic, and have had a definite influence on all the Romance languages.

Note on Breton

Even though Breton is spoken in continental Europe, and has been since at least the 6th century AD, it is not considered one of the Continental Celtic languages. It is a Brythonic language closely related to Welsh and Cornish, although it has been suggested that there is a Gaulish substratum in the Vannetais dialect (Galliou and Jones 1991). François Falc'hun considered Breton as a descendant of Gaulish, but the historical and linguistic evidence shows otherwise.

See also


  1. ^ Pierre-Yves Lambert, La langue gauloise, éditions errance 1994. p. 14.
  2. ^ a b LAMBERT 14
  3. ^ Koch, John T (2010). Celtic from the West Chapter 9: Paradigm Shift? Interpreting Tartessian as Celtic. Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK. pp. 292–293. ISBN 978-1-84217-410-4. 
  4. ^ Koch, John T (2011). Tartessian 2: The Inscription of Mesas do Castelinho ro and the Verbal Complex. Preliminaries to Historical Phonology. Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK. pp. 1–198. ISBN 978-1-907029-07-3. 
  5. ^ a b Cólera, Carlos Jordán (March 16, 2007). "The Celts in the Iberian Peninsula:Celtiberian". e-Keltoi 6: 749–750. Retrieved 16 June 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Cunliffe, Barry (2003). The Celts – A Very Short Introduction – see figure 7. Oxford University Press. pp. 51–52. ISBN 0-19-280418-9. 
  7. ^ a b Wodtko, Dagmar S (2010). Celtic from the West Chapter 11: The Problem of Lusitanian. Oxbow Books, Oxford, UK. pp. 360–361. ISBN 978-1-84217-410-4. 
  8. ^ Ballester, X. (2004). "Paramo' o del problema del la */p/ en celtoide". Studi Celtici 3: 45–56. 


  • Ball M and Fife J (1993). The Celtic Languages.
  • Cowgill, Warren (1975). "The origins of the Insular Celtic conjunct and absolute verbal endings". In H. Rix (ed.). Flexion und Wortbildung: Akten der V. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Regensburg, 9.–14. September 1973. Wiesbaden: Reichert. pp. 40–70. ISBN 3-920153-40-5. 
  • Galliou, Patrick; Michael Jones (1991). The Bretons. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0631164065. ISBN 063120105X. 
  • McCone, Kim (1991). "The PIE stops and syllabic nasals in Celtic". Studia Celtica Japonica 4: 37–69. 
  • McCone, Kim (1992). "Relative Chronologie: Keltisch". In R. Beekes, A. Lubotsky, and J. Weitenberg (eds.). Rekonstruktion und relative Chronologie: Akten Der VIII. Fachtagung Der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, Leiden, 31. August–4. September 1987. Institut für Sprachwissenschaft der Universität Innsbruck. pp. 12–39. ISBN 3-85124-613-6. 
  • Schrijver, Peter (1995). Studies in British Celtic historical phonology. Amsterdam: Rodopi. ISBN 90-5183-820-4. 
  • Stifter, David (2008), Old Celtic 2008 (classroom material), [1]

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