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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Celtic Languages

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Hello everyone, welcome to the Langfocus

channel and my name is Paul. Today's

topic is the Celtic languages. Celtic

languages are today spoken mainly in the

British Isles where they've existed

alongside English since the Middle Ages.

The numbers are not exactly clear

because the Celtic languages have gone

through declines and revivals and people

have varying degrees of ability, so take

these numbers with a grain of salt. But

there are around a million speakers of

Celtic languages in total. That includes

Welsh with around 508,000 speakers and

around 310,000 fluent speakers, mainly in

Wales. Then there's Irish Gaelic which

has around 80,000 proficient speakers

who use it outside of school, but around

two million people have at least some

knowledge of it, mainly in Ireland and to

some extent in Northern Ireland. Then

there's Scottish Gaelic which has around

57,000 native speakers and around 87,000

people with some knowledge of the

language, mainly in Scotland. There's also

a small Scottish Gaelic community of

around 2,300 people in Cape Breton in Nova

Scotia, in Canada. Then there's the Breton

language spoken by around 226,000 people

mainly in the Brittany region of France.

That figure of 226,000 includes students

in bilingual schools. Then there's the

Cornish language spoken in Cornwall

which came close to extinction in the

19th century, but has undergone a revival

and now has a few thousand fluent

speakers. And then there's the Manx

language spoken on the Isle of Man which

has only around a hundred native

speakers, and a couple thousand people

who can speak some Manx. Today they're

not spoken by a very large number of

people and they're mostly limited to the

British Isles and Brittany in France

but historically the Celtic languages

were once spoken over a much larger area

than they are today. During the first

millennium BCE they were spoken across

much of Europe from the Iberian

Peninsula all the way over to the Black

Sea and even in part of Asia Minor one

probable proto Celtic culture was the

Urnfield culture of Central Europe in

the late Bronze Age. It was a flourishing

culture from around 1200 BCE. Its

language was at least likely an early

form of Celtic if

not proto-Celtic, and we think so partly

based on place named evidence. Proto-

Celtic developed into various Celtic

languages which were spoken over a wide

area in Europe. The earliest attested

Celtic language is the Lepontic language

the language of the Golasecca culture

that descended from the Urnfield

culture. There are about 140

Lepontic inscriptions that were

discovered in northern Italy and

southern Switzerland. These inscriptions

date from around 550 BCE to 100 BCE the

Golasecca culture had strong

connections with the neighboring

Hallstatt culture, the major Celtic

culture at that time. These languages on

the European mainland and in Asia Minor

are referred to as the Continental


This is a geographic grouping not a

linguistic one and there are no

particular linguistic innovations that

would make them a linguistic grouping.

Here are some Continental Celtic

languages that might ring a bell.

There's the Gaulish language spoken in

Gaul, within present-day France. And

Galatian, spoken in Asia Minor around

present-day Ankara, Turkey. The

Continental Celtic languages are all

extinct. Celtic speakers began to die out

or become assimilated into the Roman

culture by around 200 BCE. Before the

death and assimilation of Celtic

speakers on the mainland, some Celtic

speakers migrated to the British Isles.

The Celtic languages that developed in

the British Isles are known as the

Insular Celtic languages. The Insular

Celtic languages are still alive today

There are two groups of Insular Celtic

languages: Q-Celtic, or Goedelic, languages

which include Irish, Scottish and Manx

Gaelic, and the P-Celtic, or Brythonic

languages, which include Breton, Cornish,

and Welsh. These two groups of Insular

Celtic languages are not intelligible

with each other, but within each group

there is some degree of intelligibility

depending on the dialects being spoken.

The two groups of Insular Celtic

languages evolved from a common ancestor.

The oldest known Insular Celtic language

is a form of archaic Irish sometimes

called Primitive Irish. It is found in

the Ogham inscriptions from the early

4th century CE. Ogham is an alphabet

that was used to write Irish as it grew

from Primitive Irish into Old Irish and

was used until about the 9th century. Old

Irish eventually developed into the

Modern Irish Gaelic of today. Speakers of

Old Irish also migrated to Scotland

where it eventually

we developed into Scottish Gaelic, and to

the Isle of Man where it evolved into Manx.

While primitive Irish arose in Ireland

Common Brythonic arose in Great

Britain. Common Brythonic is the ancestor

of all the P-Celtic or Brythonic

languages. The Pictish language, which

went extinct by the 12th century CE,

may have been a Brythonic language. But

it's possible that Pictish was related

to Brythonic but not descended from it.

Over the course of a few centuries

Brythonic dialects evolved into Welsh,

Cornish, Breton, and Cumbric, which is

extinct. The Celtic languages were under

great pressure during this time.

Breton is in fact spoken in continental

Europe in the Brittany region of France

even though it's an Insular Celtic

language. It has been spoken there since

the 6th century CE when some Celtic

speakers fled during the Anglo-Saxon

invasion of Britain. Coexistence with

English. Britain was ruled by the Romans

from 43 CE to 410 CE, but after the

departure of the Romans the Anglo-Saxons

began to invade Britain. In Britain the

Anglo-Saxons conquered the Celtic

peoples and either eliminated them or

intermarried with them, depending on the

source you consult, eventually replacing

the Celtic Languages with Old English,

but not in Wales and Cornwall which

remained Celtic. In Scotland Gaelic

speakers from Ireland migrated to the

west coast around the same time that

Anglo-Saxons migrated to the east coast,

then Scottish Gaelic began to develop. In

Scotland Gaelic coexisted with the Old

English dialects that would later

develop into Scots and Scots English

and in the year 1707 Scotland formed a

union with England and Wales: the Kingdom

of Great Britain. After that Scottish

Gaelic began to diminish in use, partly

because English was the language of

universal education. Scottish Gaelic is

today considered definitely endangered

by UNESCO world language project. Wales

came under the control of England in the

year 1282. Welsh has continued to be

spoken until the present day, but for a

long time

English was given preference as the

official language and in the nineteenth

and twentieth centuries Welsh declined

rapidly in favor of English. But efforts

have been made to conserve the Welsh

language and everybody learns at least

some of it in school. And some people

take their entire public school

education in Welsh.

And as I mentioned before it currently

has hundreds of thousands of native

speakers. Cornwall was under English

control by the mid-ninth century. Their

language began to disappear after

England passed the Act of Uniformity in

1558. This was a law that made English

the sole language of church services. The

Cornish language almost became extinct

and it was actually temporarily declared

extinct by UNESCO. But a revival movement

in the 20th century has given new life

to the language and it is now taught in

some schools. And there are now about 300

fluent Cornish speakers. On the Isle of

Man the Manx language is in a similar

situation. It almost became extinct but a

revival movement has resulted in a few

hundred fluent speakers of the language.

There is also a Manx language primary

school they're creating a new generation

of Manx speakers. Ireland became an

English colony from 1169 to 1949 Irish

remained the majority language there

until the 19th century when it was

overtaken by English. Despite strong

intentions to support and revive the

Irish language it continues to decline

in favor of English. It is taught in

schools but not many people use the

language of their own volition outside

of schools. And similar to Scottish

Gaelic it is considered definitely

endangered. The Brittany region became

part of France in the 16th century. In

France there is no official recognition

of any regional languages. The majority

of Breton speakers today are in their

sixties or older and the number of

speakers could be dropping by 10,000 per

year. It is considered severely

endangered by UNESCO. Now let's look at

some features of Celtic languages in


Celtic languages feature VSO word order.

Actually Continental Celtic languages

probably had freer word order, but

let's focus on the living Celtic


Here's an example of VSO word order in

Irish Gaelic. This sentence means "I saw

the man this morning."

"Chonaic mé an fear ar maidin."

Word-for-word it's see (past tense)-

I-the-man-on-morning. You can see that

it's VSO. Another sentence. This one means

"The man was painting a chair yesterday."

"Bhí an fear ag péinteáil cathaoir inné."

Word-for-word its be (in past tense)-


yesterday. You can see that it's VSO with

the auxiliary verb coming in first

position and the main lexical verb

coming after the subject, and then

there's the object. Next, Celtic languages

feature inflected prepositions which are

basically a combination of a preposition

and a personal pronoun. Let's look at an

example from Welsh. The preposition

meaning "on" is "ar" and the stem that comes

before inflections is "arn". So we have

on me - "arnaf", on us -

"arnom", on you (singular) - "arnat", on you

(plural) - "arnoch", on him - "arno", on her -

"arnyn", on them -

"arni" (note there's an error: "On her" and "on them" are reversed). A similar kind of inflected

preposition exists in Semitic languages

like Hebrew and Arabic. Next, Celtic

languages feature initial consonant

mutations, that is a change in the

continent at the beginning of a word

depending on its context. For example, if

the word is preceded by a definite

article in the genitive case. Let's take

a look at this in Irish. So we have the

word for "man" - "fear", but if we want to say

"of the man" it becomes "an fhir". And it's

similar for the dative case. If we want

to say "to the man"

it becomes "don fhear". do, an, don, don fhear.

It may be hard to hear a difference in that

consonant but there is a sort of

softening of the F sound. In some

dialects that mutated consonant sounds

something like a V sound. In other

dialects it's silent.

Not only consonant mutations but also

vowel mutations occur in Celtic

languages as a morphological device.

Let's look at some examples from Welsh.

Vowel mutations can be used in forming

different parts of speech. "au" becomes "eu"

so the noun "haul" meaning "sun" becomes the

adjective "heulog" meaning "sunny". Vowel

mutations can also be used in the

formation of a plural. "w" becomes "y" so the

singular noun "cwch" meaning "boat" becomes

"cychod" meaning "boats". Celtic languages also

feature and impersonal verb form serving

as a passive or intransitive. An example

from Welsh. "Dysgaf" means "I teach".

"Dysgir" means "is taught" or "one teaches".

This is an impersonal verb that is not

conjugated for person. An example from

Irish: "múinim" - "I teach". "Múintear" - "is taught", "one

teaches". In English there is no specific

verb form dedicated to the passive. You

need to use an auxiliary verb plus the

past participle which has some other

functions as well. Differences between

the P-Celtic languages and the Q-Celtic

languages. These two groups of

languages have had thousands of years to

diverge so there are a lot more

differences between the two branches

then there are between the languages

within them. There are a lot of cognate

words shared between the two groups of

languages but you could say that they

are distant cognates because sound

changes and spelling changes have made

the words unrecognizable in many cases.

The labels P-Celtic and Q-Celtic reflect

the way these two groups developed from

Proto-Celtic. If we look at the cognates

that are shared between both branches, in

the P-Celtic branch there are words that

commonly begin with p or b, while in the

Q-Celtic branch they begin with C or

K or Q. For example the word for "what".

In Irish it's "Cén" and in Welsh it's "Beth".

There are some other common sound

differences too. For example, words

beginning with "s" followed by "e" or "i",

which make a /ʃ/ sound in the Goedelic

languages, often begin with "h" in

the Brythonic languages. So the word for

old in Irish is "sean" and in Welsh its "hen".

Despite their coexistence with English

over the centuries, the Celtic languages

are very distinct from English. And

they're an important part of the history

and the culture and identity of the

United Kingdom and of Ireland, as well as

Brittany in France. But today most of the

Celtic languages are considered to be

endangered. With the English language and

French dominating, whether the Celtic

languages survive or not depends on the

communities to which they are native. And

that brings me to the Question of the

Day. For people from a community where a

Celtic language has traditionally been


Do you speak a Celtic language? Do you

speak that language outside of school?

How valuable do you think it is to be

able to speak that language?

Let us know in the comments down below.

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Thank you for watching and have a nice


The Description of The Celtic Languages