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Welsh and French links
Posted: 03 September 2010 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I was driving* through Wales - where all the signs are bilingual - last weekend and I noticed the Welsh words for ‘church’ (eglws) and ‘bridge’ (pont) are the same as French presumably this means they’re celtic words originally?

*Being driven, actually, which is why I was contemplating linguistics as opposed to watching the road

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Posted: 03 September 2010 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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A rough google trawl suggests that both eglws and pont are from Latin: ecclesia (church) and pons (bridge) respectively.  Several other placenames derive from ecclesia: Eccles and Eaglesfield, to name but two.

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Posted: 03 September 2010 10:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Eliza is correct.

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Posted: 04 September 2010 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Ecclefechan in the south of Scotland - “small church” – is one of the indicators that Welsh (or the language that became Welsh) was once spoken over a much wider area than just Wales.

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Posted: 04 September 2010 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Yes, the Gododdin (Votadini) were one of the Brittonic peoples of the “Old North” (they are memorialized in the 6th-century Welsh poem Y Gododdin).

Edit: There’s a discussion in this LH thread about whether Y Gododdin should be considered a Welsh, Scottish, or simply British poem.

[ Edited: 04 September 2010 03:57 PM by languagehat ]
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Posted: 04 September 2010 03:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Flynn’s post nevertheless raises an interesting question: before the spread of Latin and its evolution into the Romance languages, France was inhabited by speakers of a Celtic language.  Other than place names, are there surviving Celtic-derived words in modern French?

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Posted: 04 September 2010 10:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[i]"The Celtic magazine; a monthly periodical devoted to the literature, history, antiquities, folk lore, traditions, and the social and material interests of the Celt at home and abroad” 1888

The Celtic words in English have come into that language
from two sources; ist, Celtic words have been borrowed by the
English people directly from the Celts ; 2nd, Celtic words have
entered English with the Romance tongues, especially with
French. There are many Celtic words in French, and some even
in Spanish and Italian. They are, some of them, words adopted

* Oxford, at the Clarendon Press, 1887.

328 The Celtic Magazine.

into Latin on the conquest and colonisation of Gaul, and some
have been borrowed from the Breton tongue. Dr. Skeat’s
Principles of English Etymology deals only with the words
borrowed by the English themselves from the Celts, and in this
article we deal only with Dr. Skeat’s portion of the subject the
Celtic words borrowed by the English. Nevertheless it must be
pointed out that the Celtic words in the Continental languages
have been often discussed by competent German and French
philologists; we may almost say that the words of Celtic origin in
French and the other Romance tongues are nearly all known.
They are very concisely, yet completely, discussed in Thurneysen’s
Keltoromanisches, a work wherein he revises and reconsiders all
the Celtic derivations given in Diez’ Etymological Dictionary of
the Romance Languages. Professor Windisch has recently passed
in rapid review the relations of the Celtic languages to their
Romance successors, in Grober’s Grundriss der Romanischen
Philologie. With these two works and with Diez’ Dictionary, we are
well enough to do from the Celtic point of view in regard to the
Romance side of the English language

and again, all I could get on a google search was this search result from 100+ years later in 2009:

Chicago Journals - Critical Inquiryby F Meltzer - 2009
(Indeed the few surviving Celtic words in French that first entered Latin have to do with farming: mouton, ruche, arpent.) We know little about their gods ...
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/598812

Does anyone have access to this journal or know anything about F. Meltzer?

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Posted: 05 September 2010 03:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I downloaded the Meltzer article, it’s a rather interesting one that addresses Celtic cultural roots in France. But the sentence that Eliza cites is the only one that addresses words and etymology. Prof. Meltzer is a full professor of comparative literature at the University of Chicago and looks to have a rather impressive list of publications, so she’s a respected and top-of-the-line scholar.

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Posted: 05 September 2010 05:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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This French Wikipedia article quotes a crackpot scholar as saying that around 1,200 Celtic words are known, of which French has 200; it gives these examples: bief, if, bille, soc, ruche, claie, barque, chemin, lieue, lande, grève, roche, char, bec, jarret, briser, changer, border, petit, dru.  I have no idea how many of those are trustworthy.  A 1991 source gives 147 Celtic words, but doesn’t distinguish inherited words from borrowings (it includes backgammon, for instance).

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Posted: 05 September 2010 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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For a very quick-and-dirty approximation in English, the OED has 232 entries containing the word “celtic” in the etymologies, although quite a few of those, of course, will be of the form “cf Celtic xxxx” or “a Celtic origin has been proposed but is now rejected” or similar.

Quite a few of that Frenchman’s “‘Celtic’ words in French” look to be at the “excuse me?” end of the spectrum – “Sinn-Feiner”? “Dundee”? “Macfarlane”?

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Posted: 05 September 2010 08:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I just checked out petit from the list I quoted; the OED says “of imitative origin… A suggestion of a Celtic origin for the Romance word ... is now generally rejected.” So definitely take the list with lots of salt.

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Posted: 05 September 2010 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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languagehat - 05 September 2010 05:19 AM

This French Wikipedia article quotes a crackpot scholar as saying that around 1,200 Celtic words are known, of which French has 200

Hmm. Nice link, LH. “Crackpot scholar”, though, might be considered a somewhat debatable translation of the original écrivain très controversé, wouldn’t you say? ;-)

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Posted: 05 September 2010 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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What does écrivain très controversé mean?

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Posted: 05 September 2010 12:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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"A highly controversial writer” or “a writer who has excited a great deal of controversy”

You could say the same about D.H. Lawrence, Martin Luther, Dr. Marie Stopes, Karl Marx, Hitler....

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Posted: 05 September 2010 03:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I remember reading about these kind of words when studying Ancient French. Practically, it seemed there remain only just over a dozen or so that are still common in current usage, see above for examples.

But remember the Celtic and Italic tongues (amongst which latter the forerunner of Latin) are considered ‘cousin’ languages in the tree of IE. They share many words already (I’m familiar with the Scottish Gaelic for church eaglais, f.e.), but I presume that is a later borrowing from early Romance languages or Vulgar Latin?

More importantly, it was the patterns of the Celtic languages that were taken over especially in the early French (and Breton) lais (songs, poems) which were written in Ancient French but had several rather Celtic grammatical features. One of these was the typically French and widely employed use of c’est in sentences such as:

C’est lui qui l’a dit
(’He said it’, or ‘It was him who said it’)

Literally: ‘It is him who has said it’

The use of present tense est rather than imperfect était in these kinds of past sentences in the French is supposed to reflect Celtic tense usage but my books on this have long since been separated from me so I can’t just find the evidence to prove it and a brief googlet didn’t help either…

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Posted: 06 September 2010 04:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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The Latin ecclesia is from the Greek word for a public assembly of citizens so any connection between Italic and Celtic languages would seem to be somewhat moot.  The connection to churches is a development in Latin from later Christian influences and likely brought into Latin from the Greek but I’ll leave confirmation of that to the experts.  Unless there was a word in the Celtic languages that meant a gathering that was adapted to refer to churches in specific, I would think that borrowing from the Latin with the arrival of Christianity was the most likely explanation.  The PIE roots, according to AHD4 are *eghs-, ‘out’ and *kelə, ‘to shout’, so the likelihood of a word in the Celtic languages having a appropriate meaning are fairly small, I would think.

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