The Info List - Common Brittonic

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Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
was an ancient Celtic language spoken in Britain. It is also variously known as Old Brittonic, British, and Common or Old Brythonic. By the Sixth century CE, this language of the Celtic Britons had split into the various Neo-Brittonic languages: Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton and perhaps also Pictish. Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
is a form of Insular Celtic, which is descended from Proto-Celtic, a hypothetical parent language that, by the first half of the first millennium BC, was already diverging into separate dialects or languages.[2][3][4][5] There is some evidence that the Pictish language
Pictish language
may have had close ties to Common Brittonic, and might have been either a sister language or a fifth branch.[6][7][8] Evidence from Welsh shows a great influence from Latin
on Common Brittonic during the Roman period, and especially so in terms related to the Church and Christianity, which are nearly all Latin derivatives.[9] Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
was later replaced in most of Scotland
by Middle Irish (which later developed into Scottish Gaelic) and south of the Firth of Forth
Firth of Forth
also by Old English
Old English
(which later developed into Scots). Brittonic was gradually replaced by English throughout England; in southern Scotland
and Cumbria, Cumbric
disappeared as late as the 13th century[citation needed] and, in the south, Cornish survived until the 19th century, although modern attempts to revitalize it have met with some success.[10] O'Rahilly's historical model suggests the possibility that there was a Brittonic (P-Celtic) language in Ireland before the arrival of Goidelic languages
Goidelic languages
(Q-Celtic) there, but this view has not found wide acceptance.[citation needed] O'Rahilly's model seems to be supported by the presence of Belgic (P-Celtic) tribes in Ptolemy's maps.


1 History

1.1 Sources 1.2 Pritenic 1.3 Diversification

2 Phonology

2.1 Consonants 2.2 Vowels

3 Grammar

3.1 First declension 3.2 Second declension

4 Place names

4.1 Examples of place names derived from the Brittonic languages

5 References 6 Bibliography 7 External links

History[edit] Sources[edit]

Bath curse tablet featuring possible Common Brittonic

No documents written in Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
have been found, but a few inscriptions have been identified.[11] The Bath curse tablets, found in the Roman reservoir at Bath, Somerset, contain about 150 names, about half of which are undoubtedly Celtic (but not necessarily Brittonic). There is an inscription on a metal pendant discovered in 1979 in Bath, which seems to contain an ancient Brittonic curse:[12]

Adixoui Deuina Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamenai or maybe Adixoui Deiana Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamiinai The affixed – Deuina, Deieda, Andagin, (and) Uindiorix – I have bound[13]

An alternative translation taking into account case marking (-rix "king" nominative, andagin "[worthless] woman" accusative, dewina deieda "divine Deieda" nominative/vocative) is:

May I, Windiorix for/at Cuamena defeat (alt. summon to justice) the worthless woman, oh divine Deieda.[14]

There is also a tin/lead sheet with part of 9 lines of text. This is damaged, but seems to contain Brittonic names (see Tomlin 1987). British toponyms are another type of evidence, recorded in Latinised forms by Ptolemy's Geography. The place names of Roman Britain
Roman Britain
were discussed by Rivet and Smith in their book of that name published in 1979. They show that the majority of names used were derived from Common Brittonic. Some English place names still contain elements derived from Common Brittonic. Some Brittonic personal names are also recorded. Tacitus' Agricola noted that the language of Britain differed little from that of Gaul. Comparison with what is known of the Gaulish language suggests a close relationship with Brittonic. Pritenic[edit] Pritenic (also Pretanic) is a modern term that has been coined to label the language of the inhabitants of prehistoric Scotland
during Roman rule in southern Great Britain
Great Britain
(1st to 5th centuries). Within the disputed P-Celtic vs. Q-Celtic division of the Celtic languages, "Pritenic" would thus be either a sister or daughter language of Common Brittonic, both deriving from a common P-Celtic language spoken around the 1st century
1st century
BC. The evidence for the language consists of place-names, tribal names and personal names recorded by Greek and Latin
writers in accounts of northern Britain. These names have been discussed by Kenneth H. Jackson, in The Problem of the Picts, who considered some of them to be Pritenic but had reservations about most of them. Katherine Forsyth (1997) reviewed these names and considers more of them to be Celtic, still recognizing that some names of islands and rivers may be pre-Indo-European. The rarity of survival of Pritenic names is probably due to Dál Riatan and Norse settlement in the area. The dialect position of Pritenic has been discussed by Jackson and by Koch (1955). Their conclusions are that Pritenic and Common Brittonic had split by the 1st century. The Roman frontier between Britannia and Pictland is likely to have increased the split. By the 8th century, Bede
considered Pictish and Welsh/British to be separate languages. Diversification[edit] Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
was used with Latin
following the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, at least in major settlements. A number of Latin words were borrowed by Brittonic speakers. The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain during the 6th century
6th century
marked the beginning of a decline in the language, as it was gradually replaced by Old English. Some Brittonic speakers migrated to Armorica
and Galicia. By 700, Brittonic was mainly restricted to North West England and Southern Scotland, Wales, Cornwall
and Devon, and Brittany. In these regions, it evolved into Cumbric, Welsh, Cornish and Breton, respectively. Phonology[edit] Consonants[edit]

(Late) Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic

Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar Labial– velar





Stop p b t d

k ɡ

Fricative ɸ β, (β̃) θ ð s

x ɣ



w, (ˠw)






(Early) Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic

Front Central Back

short long short long short long

Close i iː

ʉː u

Close-mid e eː







The early Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
vowel inventory was still very similar to that of Proto-Celtic, with the short vowels seeing little change. The long vowels meanwhile had seen some development: earlier /uː/ having merged with /iː/, /aː/ becoming /ɔː/, and two new long vowels developed from earlier diphthongs: /ʉː/ (from /au/, /ou/, /oi/) and /ɛː/ (from /ai/). Similarly, the earlier diphthong /ei/ merged with Brittonic /eː/.

(Late) Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic

Front Central Back

unrounded rounded unrounded rounded rounded

Close i y ɨ ʉ u

Close-mid e ø



(ə) (ɵ̞)

Open-mid ɛ





The central mid vowels /ə/ and /ɵ̞/ were allophonic developments of /i/ and /u/, respectively.

Grammar[edit] Through comparative linguistics, it is possible to reconstruct the declension paradigms of Common Brittonic: First declension[edit]

Brittonic *tōtā "tribe" and cognates in other languages

# Case Brittonic Gaulish Old Irish PIE

Sg Nom. *tōtā toutā túathᴸ *tewteh₂

Voc. *tōtā toutā túathᴸ *tewteh₂

Acc. *tōtin toutim túaithᴺ *tewteh₂m

Gen. *tōtiās toutiās túaithe *tewteh₂s

Dat. *tōtī toutī túaithᴸ *tewteh₂eh₁

Du Nom. acc. voc. *tōtī — túaithᴸ *tewteh₂h₁e

Gen. *tōtous — túathᴸ *tewteh₂ows

Dat. *tōtābin — túathaib *tewteh₂bʰām

Pl Nom. voc. *tōtās toutās túathaᴴ *tewteh₂es

Acc. *tōtās toutās túathaᴴ *tewteh₂ns

Gen. *tōton toutānon túathᴺ *tewteh₂om

Dat. *tōtābi toutābi túathaib *tewteh₂bʰi


The dative dual and plural represent the inherited instrumental forms, which replaced the inherited dative dual and plural, from Proto-Celtic *toutābom, *toutābos.

Second declension[edit]

Brittonic *wiros "man" and cognates in other languages

# Case Brittonic Gaulish Welsh Old Irish PIE

Sg Nom. *wiros wiros gŵr fer *wiHros

Voc. *wire wire — firᴸ *wiHre

Acc. *wiron wiron — ferᴺ *wiHrom

Gen. *wirī wirī — firᴸ *wiHrosyo

Dat. *wirū wirū — fiurᴸ *wiHroh₁

Du Nom. acc. voc. *wirō wirō — ferᴸ *wiHroh₁

Gen. *wirōs — — fer *wiHrows

Dat. *wirobin — — feraib *wiHrobʰām

Pl Nom. voc. *wirī wirī gwŷr firᴸ (nom.), firuᴴ (voc.) *wiHroy

Acc. *wirūs wirūs — firuᴴ *wiHrons

Gen. *wiron wiron — ferᴺ *wiHrooHom

Dat. *wirobi wirobi — feraib *wiHrōys

Place names[edit] Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
survives today in a few English place names and river names. However, some of these may be pre-Celtic. The best example is perhaps that of the River(s) Avon, which comes from the Brittonic abona which translates into "river" (compare Welsh afon, Cornish avon, Irish (and Scottish Gaelic) abhainn, Manx awin, Breton aven; the Latin cognate is amnis). Examples of place names derived from the Brittonic languages[edit] Main article: Celtic toponymy Brittonic-derived place-names are scattered across Great Britain, with many occurring in the West Country; some examples are:

Avon from abonā = "river" (cf. Welsh afon, Cornish avon, Breton aven) Britain from Pritani = (possibly) "People of the Forms" (cf. Welsh Prydain "Britain", pryd "appearance, form, image, resemblance"; Irish cruth "appearance, shape", Old Irish Cruithin "Picts") Dover
from Dubrīs = "waters" (cf. Welsh dŵr, older dwfr, plural dyfroedd, Cornish dowr, Breton dour) Kent
from canto- = "border" (cf. Welsh cant(el) "rim, brim", Breton kant) Lothian
(Lleuddiniawn in medieval Welsh) from *Lugudũn(iãnon) "Fort of Lugus" Severn from Sabrīna, perhaps the name of a goddess (in Welsh, Hafren) Thanet
from tan-eto- = "(place of the) bonfire" (cf. Welsh tân "fire", Cornish tanses, Old Breton tanet "aflame") or more probably tann-eto = "oak grove" (tanno- "kind of oak", Breton tann "durmast oak") Thames from Tamesis = "dark" (akin to Welsh tywyll "darkness", Breton teñval, from Brittonic *temeselo-; Irish teimheal) York
from Ebur-ākon = "stand of yew trees" (cf. Welsh Efrog, from efwr "cow parsnip, hogweed" + -og "abundant in", Breton evor "alder buckthorn", Scottish Gaelic
Scottish Gaelic
iubhar "yew") via Latin
Eburacum > OE Eoforwīc (re-analysed with OE roots as 'boar-village') > ON Jórvík

Some Brittonic place names are known but are no longer used. In a charter of 682 the name of Creech St Michael, Somerset
is given as "Cructan". The words tor, combe, bere, and hele of Brittonic origin are particularly common in Devon
as elements of place-names, often combined with elements of English origin.[15] Compound names sometimes occur across England, such as "Derwentwater" or "Chetwood", (cf. Welsh coed, Breton koad) which contain the same element translated in both languages.[16] References[edit]

^ Common Brittonic
Common Brittonic
at MultiTree
on the Linguist List ^ Henderson, Jon C. (2007). The Atlantic Iron Age: Settlement and Identity in the First Millennium BC. Routledge. pp. 292–295.  ^ Sims-Williams, Patrick (2007). Studies on Celtic Languages before the Year 1000. CMCS. p. 1.  ^ Koch, John (2006). Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. p. 1455.  ^ Eska, Joseph (2008). "Continental Celtic". In Roger Woodard. The Ancient Languages of Europe. Cambridge.  ^ Forsyth, Katherine (2006). John Koch, ed. Celtic Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 1444, 1447.  ^ Forsyth, Katherine, Language in Pictland : the case against "non-Indo-European Pictish" (Utrecht: de Keltische Draak, 1997), 27. ^ Jackson, Kenneth (1955). "The Pictish Language". In F. T. Wainwright. The Problem of the Picts. Edinburgh: Nelson. pp. 129–166.  ^ Lewis, H. (1943). Yr Elfen Ladin yn yr Iaith Gymraeg. Cardiff: University of Wales
Press.  ^ Cornwall
Council, 2010-12-07. UNESCO classes Cornish as a language in the ‘process of revitalization’. Retrieved 2011-01-13. ^ Philip Freeman (2001). Ireland
and the Classical World. University of Texas Press.  ^ Tomlin, R.S.O. (1987). "Was ancient British Celtic ever a written language? Two texts from Roman Bath". Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies. 34: 18–25.  ^ Mees, Bernard (2009). Celtic Curses. Boydell & Brewer. p. 35.  ^ Patrick Sims-Williams, "Common Celtic, Gallo-Brittonic, and Insular Celtic", Gaulois et celtique continental, eds. Pierre-Yves Lambert and Georges-Jean Pinault (Geneva: Droz, 2007), 327. ^ Gover, Mawer and Stenton: Place-Names of Devon, 1932 ^ Green, Terry (2003). "The Archaeology of some North Devon Place-Names". North Devon
Archaeological Society. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 


Atkinson and Gray[clarification needed] (2005). “Are Accurate Dates an Intractable Problem for Historical Linguistics?”, Mapping Our Ancestors, eds. Mark Collard et al. Transaction Books Filppula, M., Klemola, J. and Pitkänen, H. (2001). The Celtic Roots of English, (Studies in languages, No. 37), University of Joensuu, Faculty of Humanities, ISBN 952-458-164-7. Forsyth, K. (1997) Language in Pictland. Jackson, K. (1953) Language and History in Early Britain. Jackson, K. (1955) "The Pictish Language" in F. T. Wainwright The Problem of the Picts. London: Nelson. Koch, J. (1986) “New Thought on Albion, Ieni and the ‘Pretanic Isles’”, Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium, 6 (1986): 1–28. Lambert, Pierre-Yves (ed.), Recueil des inscriptions gauloises II.2. Textes gallo-latins sur instrumentum, Paris: CNRS Editions, 2002, p. 304-306. Lambert, Pierre-Yves (2003). La langue gauloise. 2nd edition. Paris, Editions Errance. p. 176 Lockwood, W. B. (1975) Languages of the British Isles
British Isles
Past and Present, London: Deutsch ISBN 0-233-96666-8 Ostler, Nicholas (2005) Empires of the Word. London: HarperCollins ISBN 0-00-711870-8. Price, Glanville. (2000). Languages of Britain and Ireland, Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-21581-6 Rivet, A. and Smith, C. (1979) The Place-Names of Roman Britain Sims-Williams, Patrick (2003) The Celtic Inscriptions of Britain: phonology and chronology, c.400–1200. Oxford, Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-0903-3 Ternes, Elmar (ed.) (2011), Brythonic Celtic - Britannisches Keltisch: From Medieval British to Modern Breton. Bremen: Hempen Verlag, 2011. Trudgill, P. (ed.) (1984) Language in the British Isles, Cambridge University Press. Willis, David. 2009. “Old and Middle Welsh”, The Celtic Languages, 2nd edn, eds. Martin J. Ball & Nichole Müller. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-203-88248-2. pp. 117-160.

External links[edit]

Celtic Personal Names of Roman Britain Roman road stations of the Cannock-Chase area Alex Mullen (2007), "Evidence for Written Celtic from Roman Britain: A Linguistic Analysis of Tabellae Sulis 14 and 18", Studia Celtica

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