Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

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Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Frangag » Fri Jun 27, 2014 10:31 pm

Haló

Can anyone tell me something about the relationship of Gaelic to classical languages? I presume days of the week which are derived from Latin were borrowed late on (when?) but since it's from a completely different family of languages I'm wondering why such basic vocabulary as eg mi, thu is obviously related? Can't be coincidence!

Has this been discussed before in detail anywhere on the Forum or can someone point to any articles about it, please?

I see Jeltzz is or has been a member here who would probably know but I don't know if he's still around?

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby jeltzz » Sat Jun 28, 2014 2:14 am

I'm still around!

There's two or three layers of relationship going on.

The first layer is that while Gaelic is part of the Celtic language branch, and Latin and Greek are part of separate branches respectively, they are all still Indo-European, so if you have some experience in IE historical linguistics, you can trace some things back to common roots, and depending on the sound shifts you can easily see how some things are related (mi, thu being two obvious examples). It's the Indo-European connection that gives the relationship that you notice. It's the same reason that Gaelic athair, Latin pater, Greek pater (πατηρ), and English father are all related.

The second layer is direct borrowings into Gaelic from Latin, which obviously comes at a later period and is related to church influence.

The third layer would be indirect borrowings, say adoption of Latin or Greek based terminology via English. This would more be on the order of loan-words or those occasional English words thrown into Gaelic conversation and texts.

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Frangag » Sat Jun 28, 2014 12:39 pm

Haló

Thanks for the reply! I've been wondering about athair etc for ages. This isn't my strong point, to put it mildly, and for some reason had been thinking that Celtic wasn't Indo-European which explains a lot. Do we have any idea when the Celtic branch diverged, especially in comparison to classical languages? Are we talking about a purely pre Indo-European timescale for shared words? Does Gaelic show any direct relationship to Sanskrit or any similarly derived roots?

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby jeltzz » Sat Jun 28, 2014 1:42 pm

Please understand that while I do have a background in Classics, I'm not a linguist by trade, and certainly not a scholar in Indo-European, so that's my disclaimer for the following.

Estimates put the emergence of proto-Celtic at 2500-3000 BC, but who really knows. The emergence of sub-branches within Celtic is generally dated to 1000 +/- 300 years BC.

I'm sure connections to Sanskrit could be found, though again I'm probably not the person to ask. A knowledge of Indo-European sound-change rules helps. Here's one example (scraped off Wikipedia):

Gaelic: beir, Greek fero, Sanskrit bhárāmi, Old Irish berim, English bear (i.e. to carry)

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Frangag » Sat Jun 28, 2014 2:07 pm

Many thanks. It's much appreciated!

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Seonaidh » Sun Jun 29, 2014 10:24 pm

'S toil leam cùisean mar seo! Me likee this sorta thing!

The main feature that distinguishes the Celtic languages from other Indo-European languages (the Rangers languages...) is the loss of the letter P. At some point in their common development, those who spoke languages that would come to be defined as "Celtic" later on started to lose the P sound. I think most folk who study such things reckon that the P first went through a "phi" (Φ) phase (like a Greek F) before vanishing - but vanish it did. And, in the more "reipheral" Celtic languages, that's roughly how things stayed - no letter P (apparently the case in Celt-Iberian - and obviously in the so-called Q-Celtic languages like Gaelic). However, in the more central Celtic languages, the gap left by P was filled by changing the pronunciation of Q (which was a separate letter to K): originally, "q" was now a K-W as it is today, but more of a deep, almost glottal maybe K sound, but made with rounded lips (as you would do for a W). So some groups of Celtic speakers started to actually CLOSE the lips for the sound - giving the re-emergence of the P in the so-called "P-Celtic" languages. But this P was not an original Indo-European P: rather, it was originally an Indo-European Q.

Which is why you have such pairs as "mab" (from Old Welsh "map") and "mac" (from Old Irish "maq") around today. Or "ceathair" and "pedair" for 4 (note the Latin, which is probably closer to Indo-European, "quattuor").

So, when it comes to your dad, the modern Gaelic is "athair": this is, in essence, like the Latin "pater" but with no P and a lenited T in the middle. An in Welsh you have examples like "rhyd" (meaning "ford" - Latin "porta", probable Indo-European *prta), where the P has gone AWOL and the original T is mutated to a D (the most common sort of sound-change in Welsh, called the "soft mutation" or "treiglad meddal").

Anyway, yes, the Celtic languages are definitely Indo-European, largely identified as a specific group by this P business. But they do also have their own unique vocabulary - "mab"/"maq" is actually one example of it: the "standard" Indo-European form was probably something like *sunu, which is still highly recognisable in, e.g. modern English. But not Latin!

One rule-of-thumb in determining whether languages are related or not is to spot common patterns in words with similar meanings. Take, say, 1 to 5 in a variety of Indo-European languages and you'll see similar patterns emerging, e.g.
one - two - three - four - five
ein - zwei - drie - führ - fünf
en - to - tri - fire - fem
un - deux - trois - quatre - cinq
uno - dos - tres - cuadro - cinco
unum - duo - tres - quattuor - quinque
yan - tyan - tether - pether - pimp
un - dau (dwy) - tri (tair) - pedwar (pedair) - pump
aon - dà - trì - ceithir - còig

- and so forth. Interestingly, in Sanskrit you gat "cattvara" and "panca" for 4 and 5, while in Lithuanian 5 is "penki". Those would suggest that whatever was ancestral to Latin, Celtic and Germanic languages at some stage changed an original *pinqi to something like *qinqi" before the more recent developments - as we very definitely DO have initial consonants (Q>C and Q>P) for 5 in every known Celtic language. It also raises the possibility of an early P-Celtic influence on the Germanic languages, before the great Germanic consonant shift from (e.g.) P to F, as in "father". And Greek does NOT show this "common change", with forms like "tetra" and "penta" for 4 and 5: it seems that original Qs changed to Ts in Greek.

Anyway, I hope you get at least some of the satisfaction from reading this as I got from writing it.

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Frangag » Tue Jul 01, 2014 12:40 pm

Great! Many thanks for this. Yes, if you write it I'll read it ! I remember being really surprised whan I first learnt that Sanskrit was Indo-European. We tend to assume (or at least I used to) that such languages are completely unrelated to modern Western European languages - (too exotic really!!). The other surprise was that Hittite was also Indo-European, the word for water being 'wadar' . I have to say that Gaelic also sometimes seems to me to be out on a limb, so at some point Celtic sentence structures / grammar must have changed dramatically. Do all Celtic languages have similar ...er...no offence intended...weird syntax? Or perhaps it retained much of the original IE syntax and it was the other branches which diverged more.

Out of interest, am I missing something obvious or is there any way to highlight/separate out threads you're following for quick access? If not, I'm going to start losing track of where I 've written shortly!

Edited: Er - it was very obvious, wasn't it? 'View your Posts' had competely passed me by ;-)))

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Níall Beag » Wed Jul 02, 2014 12:29 am

Celtic syntax isn't that weird -- it's like Indic syntax but premodified instead of postmodified.

In Hindi, for example, you have to say "it is near me", which is close to Gaelic's "it as at me". Gaelic's verb is at the beginning, Hindi's is at the end. Gaelic has prepositions, Hindi has postpositions. But that's about it -- the underlying logic is very similar.

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby GunChleoc » Wed Jul 02, 2014 12:42 pm

There is also a "bookmark" and a "subscribe" link on the bottom ;)

BTW you're not the only one wondering if Celtic languages weren't indo-European - This language group was originally called "Indo-Germanic" after its easternmost and westernmost members - at the time, linguists didn't notice that the Celtic languages belonged in there as well!

Because Gaelic sits on the edge of the continent, it had less contact with other languages than, say, German, where everbody and his brother came travelling through at some point in time, and where there are numerous geographically adjacent languages. So, Gaelic has preserved some features that other languages have changed, but also invented its own separate from the others.
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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Frangag » Thu Jul 03, 2014 5:14 pm

I suppose one's view of 'weird' depends on what one is used to and since I don't know Hindi ....! Are you saying, Niall, that Gaelic is more closely related to Hindi than to Western European languages?

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Níall Beag » Thu Jul 03, 2014 10:04 pm

Frangag wrote:I suppose one's view of 'weird' depends on what one is used to and since I don't know Hindi ....! Are you saying, Niall, that Gaelic is more closely related to Hindi than to Western European languages?

They tend to estimate when the various Indo-European peoples left the heartland based on the differences between IE languages. The Celtic and Indic language families preserve older features that have been lost in newer IE families -- eg the lack of a verb for "to have" -- and so are both considered as early emigrants, and it is thought that they left closer to each other than the Germanic, Slavic and Italic peoples. I can't remember much about the proposed timescale though.

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby GunChleoc » Fri Jul 04, 2014 2:00 pm

Some also make a case for the Celtic languages being relaed a bit closer to the Italic languages (Latin, Romance languages etc) than the rest. I don't remember all the arguments though. They have some phonological features in comon, e.g. that words run together and the tendency of a previous word to lenite the first consonant of the following word, if circumstances are right. The French call it liaison and enchaînement.
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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Frangag » Fri Jul 04, 2014 9:00 pm

Many thanks to you both for your replies here and in the other thread. This has been a very interesting thread but I'd better get back to trying to write in Gaelic - if I use outdated spelling etc, please let me know!!

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby Seonaidh » Sun Jul 13, 2014 11:24 am

There is one weird feature (in terms of Indo-European, that is) that seems to be shared by the extant Celtic languages (the ones still or very recently spoken) and English. It is a feature not known from "continental" Celtic languages - e.g. Gaulish or Lusitanian - but that may just be because there's very little literature surviving in those languages - and most of what does is somewhat formal or list-like. It does not, so far as I am aware, occur in other Germanic languages (other than English, that is). Obviously, a native English speaker will be unaware that it's an "odd" feature at all, as it's what they've grown up with. Anyway, so what is it, this feature shared by English and modern Celtic languages that seems virtually unknown in other Indo-European languages?

It is the periphrastic present. That is, you can say "I am running" in English, or "Rydw i'n rhedeg" in Welsh, or "Tha mi a' ruith" in Gaelic - but you can't really say, e.g., "Je suis courant" in French. No doubt GC will confirm or otherwise the situation vis-à-vis German. Also, if I mind right, this sort of construction is not at all common in such early works as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which suggests it's probably not something the Anglo-Saxons brought with them when they came to Britain: rather, it seems to be something that the "insular Celtic" speakers took with them when they changed their speech from Celtic to English way back when - and it then developed into the English norm.

The remaining question is - where did these "insular Celts" pick it up from, if it's not an Indo-European thing? For, obviously, the first people in Britain were not speakers of a Celtic language.

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Re: Relationship of Gaelic to Classical Languages

Unread postby GunChleoc » Sun Jul 13, 2014 4:20 pm

Well, it is frowned upon in formal German, but German does have this form. "I bin am/beim laufen". We do have problems learning the English usage though, especially since using the corresponding German forms is just not done in school, because it's not "proper" German :roll:

European Portuguese: "Estou a correr"
Brazilian Portuguese: "Estou correndo".
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