The Goidelic substrate hypothesis refers to the hypothesized language or languages spoken in Ireland before the arrival of the Goidelic languages.

Hypothesis of non-Indo-European languages

Ireland was settled, like the rest of northern Europe, after the retreat of the ice sheets c. 10,500 BC.[1] Indo-European languages are usually thought to have been a much later arrival. Some scholars hypothesize that the Goidelic languages may have been brought by the Bell Beaker culture circa 2500 BC. This dating is supported by DNA analysis indicating large-scale Indo-European migration to Britain about that time.[2] In contrast, other scholars argue for a much later date of arrival of Goidelic languages to Ireland based on linguistic evidence. Peter Schrijver has suggested that Irish was perhaps preceded by an earlier wave of Celtic-speaking colonists (based on population names attested in Ptolemy's Geography) who were displaced by a later wave of proto-Irish speakers only in the 1st century AD, following a migration in the wake of the Roman conquest of Britain, with Irish and British Celtic languages only branching off from a common Insular Celtic language around that time.[3]

Scholars have suggested:

Suggested non-Indo-European words in Irish

Gearóid Mac Eoin proposes the following words as deriving from the substrate: bréife 'ring, loop', cufar, cuifre/cuipre 'kindness', fafall/fubhal, lufe 'feminine', slife, strophais 'straw'; and the following placenames: Bréifne, Crufait, Dún Gaifi, Faffand, Grafand, Grafrenn, Life/Mag Liphi, Máfat.[6]

Peter Schrijver submits the following words as deriving from the substrate: partán 'crab', Partraige (ethnonym), (note that partaing "crimson (Parthian) red" is a loanword from Lat. parthicus), pattu 'hare', petta 'pet, lap-dog', pell 'horse', pít 'portion of food', pluc '(round) mass', prapp 'rapid', gliomach 'lobster', faochán 'periwinkle', ciotóg 'left hand', bradán 'salmon', scadán 'herring'.[7] In a further study he gives counter-arguments against some criticisms by Graham Isaac.[8]

Ranko Matasović lists lacha ("duck"), sinnach ("fox"), luis ("rowan"), lon ("blackbird"), dega ("beetle"), ness ("stoat").[9] He also points out that there are words of possibly or probably non-Indo-European origin in other Celtic languages as well; therefore, the substrate may not have been in contact with Primitive Irish but rather with Proto-Celtic.[10] Examples of words found in more than one branch of Celtic but with no obvious cognates outside Celtic include:

The Old Irish word for "horn", adarc, is also listed as a potential Basque loanword; in Basque the word is adar.[9]

Gerry Smyth, in Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination, suggested that Dothar, the Old Irish name for the River Dodder, could be a substrate word.[12]

See also


  1. ^ McDonagh, Marese (21 March 2016). "Bear bone opens new chapter in Ireland's archaeology". The Irish Times. Retrieved 10 February 2021.
  2. ^ Patterson, Nick (2022). "Large-Scale Migration into Britain During the Middle to Late Bronze Age". Nature. 601 (7894): 588–594. Bibcode:2022Natur.601..588P. doi:10.1038/s41586-021-04287-4. PMC 8889665. PMID 34937049.
  3. ^ Schrijver, Peter (2014). Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages. New York, London: Routledge. pp. 79–85. ISBN 978-0-415-35548-3.
  4. ^ Indo-European and non-Indo-European aspects to the languages and place-names in Britain and Ireland: the state of the art, by George Broderick, in 'From the Russian rivers to the North Atlantic' (2010), pp. 29–63.
  5. ^ Adams, G.B. (1980). "Place-names from pre-Celtic languages in Ireland and Britain" (PDF). Nomina. 4: 46–63.
  6. ^ Tristram, Hildegard L.C., ed. (26–27 July 2007). "The Celtic Languages in Contact" (PDF). Potsdam University Press. Retrieved 10 December 2012. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Schrijver, Peter (January 2000). "Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD". Ériu. 51.
  8. ^ Schrijver, Peter (January 2005). "More on Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD". Ériu. 55. doi:10.1353/eri.2005.0004. S2CID 245853096.
  9. ^ a b Matasović, Ranko (2019-04-15). "The substratum in Insular Celtic" (PDF). Journal of Language Relationship. Gorgias Press. pp. 153–160. doi:10.31826/9781463235406-010. ISBN 978-1-4632-3540-6.
  10. ^ Matasović, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leiden: Brill. p. 441. ISBN 978-90-04-17336-1.
  11. ^ Trask, R. Larry (2008), Wheeler, Max W. (ed.), Etymological Dictionary of Basque (PDF), Falmer, UK: University of Sussex, p. 236, archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2011, retrieved 17 September 2013
  12. ^ Smyth, Gerry (18 July 2001). Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination. Springer. ISBN 9781403913678 – via Google Books.