Celtic Language - the Language of the Celts

The Celtic Language

One of the elements that define the consciousness of a people is language. The language of the inhabitants of Ireland during the last few centuries B.C. and most of the centuries since has been Celtic, a Gaelic tongue. Even today a Celtic tongue invariably called Gaelic, Gaelic Irish or, more commonly simply as “Irish”, is an official language of the Republic of Ireland. So what is the story behind the Celtic languages?

Early Beginnings

The Celts enter recorded history around the year 400 BC. By the time of the Roman Empire they inhabited the British Isles as well as large parts of western Europe. They were divided into many tribes and spoke in different dialects. Today linguists and historians divide the Celtic languages into two families. The first family, Continental Celtic, comprises a number of languages that are now extinct. They were spoken by Celtic tribes that lived in continental Europe. The second family is called Insular Celtic and comprises languages that linguists believe originated in the British Isles.

Insular Celtic

The Insular Celtic family of languages is in turn divided into two sub-families. Goedelic Celtic comprises of the dialects spoken by Celts in Ireland, the Isle of Man and Scotland. Brythonic Celtic comprises of the dialects spoken in Wales, Cornwall and across the water in Brittany, France. These Insular languages are still extant, though spoken only by small numbers. Welsh Celtic is an official language is Wales and Irish is in Ireland.

Celtic belongs to the wide Indo-European family of languages that comprises most of the languages spoken in Europe like: English, all Germanic languages, all Latin derived families, all Slavic languages, Greek, Albanian, Armenian, Persian (Farsi), some of the languages spoken in Indian and more. So, while the Irish and the British and the Germans and the French, like to argue, all in all we are all cousins.

Gaelic Irish

The Irish branch of the Celtic is still spoken in the Republic of Ireland by a small minority of people with estimates ranging from 40 or 50 thousands to 80 thousands. It used to be much more widespread two hundred years ago. The presence of English as the official language for several centuries from the time of the Normans until now has slowly led to its demise. But recently there has been a Gaelic revival. The government of the Republic, nonetheless, is endeavoring to revive the language, which is not the official language of the country.

In Northern Ireland Irish is spoken by few people, though there are some who their children to learn it, primarily among the Catholic segment of the population, much less so among Protestants. Politics aside, all countries in the British Isles, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and even England, share a strong Celtic heritage. Some of the great Protestant reformers were of Celtic background. Some of the glorious pages of the history of England, including the defense against the invasion of the Romans, were written by Celtic tribes. All these were later absorbed by the invading Anglo-Saxons and the two together form the genetic matrix of the modern English. The Celtic languages form a remnant memorial of those times and their preservation is an act of respect towards a shared history of all the peoples of the British Isles.

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