Continental Celtic
Continental Europe, Anatolia
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
Celtic languages during the Iron Age and classical Antiquity. 1: early Iron Age core region (Hallstatt -H-, early La Tène -L-) 2: assumed Celtic expansion by the 4th century BC L: La Tène site H: Hallstatt site I: Iberia B: British Isles G: Galatia, settled in the 3rd century BC (after 279 BC)
The tentative Celtic clade, consisting of the proto- language and all the known daughter languages. It is tentative because other languages might be found. Note that there is a box for proto-continental, signifying that it and all the languages under it are another clade. Otherwise those languages would have to go directly under the proto-Celtic box, which is the view adopted by D. Stifter, an Old Irish expert.[1]

The Continental Celtic languages are the now-extinct group of the Celtic languages that were spoken on the continent of Europe and in central Anatolia, as distinguished from the Insular Celtic languages of the British Isles and Brittany. In the field of historical linguistics, Continental and Insular Celtic are put forward as the main branches of the group, which is itself a branch of the Indo-European languages. As the word branch implies, this field primarily makes use of the family tree analogy. Indo-European is a tree with all the different groups as branches. No branches, no tree, and vice versa.

Not all the branches, however, are known. There are alternative hypotheses of the exact paths between known branches. For this reason, the late linguist, Calvert Watkins, omits the upper branch lines between Proto-Indo-European and the various major daughter groups in his circular presentation of the tree on the rear fly leaves of the Fourth and other editions of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, containing his essay "Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans" and his appendix on Indo-European roots. There are in that edition 15 major groups, some containing only one language. Theorists can connect these major branches according to their groupings.

The insular and continental branches

The branch labelled Celtic is divided into Insular and Continental. As they are branches, and not random groups, it is important to understand what that terminology means.

Suppose that over time a population P speaking a language L varies its speech so that in place of one population speaking one language are now two populations, P1 and P2, speaking two languages, L1 and L1. The latter are called sister languages, while L is depending on the speaker's preference a mother language, a parent language, an ancestor language, or a proto-language. L1 and L2 are daughter languages. Obviously any daughter language can itself be a proto-language, so that over time the degree of branching can become very great, as in Ethnologue's language trees.[2] They might also be very ornate and artistic.[3]

In practice the historical linguist reconstructs the proto-language from the daughter languages by the methods of comparative linguistics. A minimum of two languages are compared, typically feature by feature.

Questions and answers of classification

The double classification of Celtic

The modern term Continental Celtic is used in contrast to Insular Celtic. However, while many researchers agree with the Insular Celtic hypothesis that the Insular Celtic languages constitute a linguistically distinct branch of Celtic (Cowgill 1975; McCone 1991, 1992; Schrijver 1995) that has undergone common linguistic innovations, there is no evidence that the Continental Celtic languages can be similarly grouped. Instead, the group called Continental Celtic is paraphyletic; the term refers simply to non-Insular Celtic languages and not to any special linguistic relationship between them as a group other than they are Celtic. Since little material has been preserved of any of the Continental Celtic languages, historical linguistic analysis based on the comparative method is difficult to perform. Meanwhile, under the P/Q hypothesis, other researchers see the Brittonic languages and Gaulish as forming part of a subgroup of the Celtic languages that is known as P-Celtic.[4] Under this hypothesis, Continental languages are P-Celtic except for Celtiberian and Gallaecian, which are Q-Celtic. The Continental Celtic languages have had a definite influence on all of the Romance languages. Even though Breton has been spoken in Continental Europe since at least the 6th century AD, it is not considered one of the Continental Celtic languages, as it is a Brittonic language, like Cornish and Welsh. A Gaulish substratum in Breton has been suggested, but that is debated.

Eliminating the doubt with hearsay and conjecture

Hypothetical languages

These languages were spoken by the people known to Roman and Greek writers as the Keltoi, Celtae, Galli, and Galatae.[citation needed] They were spoken in an area arcing from the northern half of Iberia in the west to north of Belgium, and east to the Carpathian basin and the Balkans as Noric, and in inner Anatolia (modern day Turkey) as Galatian.

It is likely that Celts spoke dozens of different languages and dialects across Europe in pre-Roman times, but only a small number are either attested or infered from circumstantial evidence. The exact list varies according to the theorist and the state of the evidence. Currently there is evidence (not necessarily from comparative linguistics) for these branches:

See also


  1. ^ Stifter 2008, p. 23, This is the first displayed page. In Stifter's view there is not enough evidence to support a proto-continental. This article mentions his view as an alternative to the traditional view.
  2. ^ For example, their tree for Indo-European contains 454 languages as of this date of access: "Indo-European". Ethnologue. Retrieved 6 April 2024.
  3. ^ "Old World Language Families". TOPPAN. Retrieved 6 April 2006.
  4. ^ Lambert 1994, p. 17.
  5. ^ a b c Lambert 1994, p. 14.
  6. ^ Colera, Jordán (2007). p. 750. In the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, and more specifically between the west and north Atlantic coasts and an imaginary line running north-south and linking Oviedo and Merida, there is a corpus of Latin inscriptions with particular characteristics of its own. This corpus contains some linguistic features that are clearly Celtic and others that in our opinion are not Celtic. The former we shall group, for the moment, under the label northwestern Hispano-Celtic. The latter are the same features found in well-documented contemporary inscriptions in the region occupied by the Lusitanians, and therefore belonging to the variety known as LUSITANIAN, or more broadly as GALLO-LUSITANIAN. As we have already said, we do not consider this variety to belong to the Celtic language family. ((cite book)): Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Prósper, B.M. (2005). "Estudios sobre la fonética y la morfología de la lengua celtibérica" [Studies on the phonetics and morphology of the Celtiberian language]. In Villar Liebana, Francisco; Prósper, B.M. (eds.). Vascos, celtas e indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas [Basques, Celts and Indo-Europeans. Genes and languages] (in Spanish). Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca. pp. 333–350. ISBN 84-7800-530-7.


Media related to Continental Celtic languages at Wikimedia Commons