Just had an interesting visit in library on linguistics

This afternoon I visited the library for Indo-European Studies at our local university. It was quite interesting. I was specifically interested in works on celtic languages, especially the old ones.

First, there was a very interesting book on verbs in celtic languages. You know, I already complained how difficult irish verbs seem to me. Barely ever can I make out a familiar stem. I had to laugh when I came across a sentence: "The reconstruction of proto-celtic verbs is particularly difficult since in the celtic languages the verbal morphology is much more diversified than for example in the germanic languages." And he didn't mean the modern celtic languages!

Also, the author said that arguments among scholars no the subject of disjunctive and conjunctive verb forms is as old as celtic studies itself. As for the reasons why this feature of celtic even appeared they are still heavily debated.

I went on to find some verbs I already know and could trace back to its indo-european origins. I found frightenly few. Not Old Irish, there were plenty of examples there. But many of these seem to have been lost on their way to modern Irish.

Example: to drink

indo-european: pes

proto-celtic: φib-e\o

gaulish: ib-e\o, imperative ibetis

old irish: ibid

Where please, does ól come from?

I had better luck on words like bain (hit) and especially can (sing). On the latter I initially thought it was a latin loanword, but no, it's an original!

Did you know that "iron" is a celtic word, loaned to Germanic in pre-historian times?

I tried to find more material on Gaulish but could find little. What I did find confirmed my older suspicion that it sounded so much more like Latin or Greek that I would say that phonology and grammar of modern celtic languages has much more differed in the last two thousand years than the germanic or romance languages did.

Really: it may be romantic to call celtic languages "old", but nothing could be further from the truth. If you want to read a comparatively "old" language, learn Icelandic!

But many people fall into that trap. Some years ago I bought a small book on german celtic village and city names. Now, I do no doubt that a lot of the village names where I live were originally celtic an origin. But the author seemed to use phonetic analogies with modern celtic languages to come to his conclusions. Which seems to me pure fantasy.

Today I found a map of all confirmed city names that are of celtic origin. It contains frustratingly little entries, all from areas that came under roman control before the germanic newcomers could drive away the celtic population. (so: not where I live) I looked at some of the names and how they changed over the centuries and millenia. I got my confirmation: Just because a village ends in "ach" is no indication at all if the name was celtic.

These were just some thoughts, mostly non irish specific. I hope I didn't bore you.

June 7, 2017


Not bored at all, thanks for the thread.

June 7, 2017

Do you happen to know the title of the book? I want to read it now! (Actually, was it Indo-European Origins of Celtic Verbs?)

As for ól, it comes from Old Irish ól, which is the verbal noun of ibid, and itself descended from Proto-Celtic ɸotlo-, which itself descended from PIE pōtlo- from PIE *peh₃, reconstructed as the infinitive 'to drink'. It's interesting enough that ól is a cognate of Latin pōculum ('drinking cup').

But, really, ól and ibid both ultimately descended from the same verb, just in different ways.

As for the Phonology of Celtic languages, yes, they have changed greatly in the last two thousand years. I've found a few decent studies about the changes from PIE to PC and then from PC to each individual branch, but sadly there's a lot more to be published (or for me to find).

June 7, 2017

ibid and ól descended from the same word? Wow.

You know, I have a big respect for the scientist who can track something like this down.

I had a look at "Indo-European Origins of Celtic Verbs" but the one I used was "Die Keltischen Primärverben" from Stefan Schumacher. I thought it was a better book but, you know, in german. (the best sources on Gaulish were french, go figure!)

Edit: Correction: The other book I had was "Ethymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic", not the one you mentioned. And several other books which I didn't look into much. (I only had two hours)

For those of you who can read german books and want a solid but still very readable book I can recommend: "Die Kelten, Mythos und Wirklichkeit" from Stefan Zimmer. I am going to order it today.

June 8, 2017

Latin pōculum ('drinking class')

I presume that you’d meant “drinking glass” ;*) , although in the plural it can mean “social drinking”.

June 8, 2017

You're correct. Guess it shows what was on my mind!

June 8, 2017
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