Celtic influence

Shilpi M. Bhadra evenstar at mail.utexas.edu
Sat Feb 27 14:54:46 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

>6.  Finally, what the heck happened in French?  "Elite dominance" there got
>you a Romance language.  What happened to both Gaulish and German?  The same
>question might be asked about Norman-French.  Where is the Keltic in those

>Steve Long


There are some sources to consult regarding Celtic loanwords into Romance -
some in Latin, but quite a few more in French, Spanish, and other Latin
descendents. Many didn't actually occur in Latin, but in the latter languages.
This past summer, I was interested in this area, so I read a lot, also, I did
a paper for a class, regarding this:  Place-names in continental Europe are
known for retaining old names, especially those of Celtic origin. For example
in France (former Gaul), Rheims, Amiens, Anger, Beauvais, Cahors, Nantes,
Paris, and Lyon are some cities and town which reflect the Celtic names. The
latinized -dunum (Irish dun -`fortress') comes into Lyon (Lugdunum) and Verdun
(Virodunum) as a suffix designating town.  North of Bordeaux, south of Loire,
in the Charente region, there is a large number of formations ending in -ac
(Julhac, Aurillac etc.) , because palatalization of the velar consonant
resulted in endings y, -ay, and is a characteristic feature of langue d'oc,
this presence justifies reasons for presupposing a southern dialect of
Gallo-Roman. Brittany, a Celtic refuge for Britons after the Anglo-Saxon
invasion, also has a large number of -ac endings. In a wide area of south-east
and south France -acum is rare, if non-existent, but replaced by latinized
-anum.  Since the Roman empire included many parts of Celtic Europe, Celtic
words were borrowed and assimilated into Latin.

Much of the terminology were household items such as clothing, others were
geographical terms. Examples include Lat. camisiam > Fr. chemise, Sp. camisa
`shirt', Lat. caballam > Fr. cheval `horse,' Lat carrum > Fr. char, Sp carro
`cart'. and the Lat verb cambiare > Fr. changer, Sp. cambiar `to change'.
Celtic survivals of northern and central Iberia may also include Sp., Port.
alamo `poplar', Sp., Port. gancho `hook', Sp. engorar, Port. gorar `to addle",
Sp. serna, Port. seara `sown field', while berro `watercress' and legamo
`slime' exclusive to Spanish. Nigel and Vincent comment that it is agreed a
lexicon close to 200 words passed from Gaulish to French, especially names of
plants, birds, or rural objects. Such examples include chene `oak tree, `yew
tree', alou-ette `lark', soc `ploughshare', and raie `furrow.' One interesting
semantic change is the word greve, in the meaning of `sandy river bank' from
Celtic' unemployed workmen gathered on a bank of the Seine, so that it came to
mean `out of work,' and later `on strike.' Elcock mentions Fr. suie as a
preservation of Gallo-Roman *sudia,; most of the other Romance languages (i.e.
Sp., Port., etc.) used a derivative from Lat. fuliginem for `soot.' Among
other things related to fire, are the broche, the spit on which meat is
roasted, and landier a larger type of fire-dog (used to hold wood) - Fr.
chenet, coming from Celtic anderos `young bull.' The cradle in Vul. Lat. was
cuna (Ital. cuna), but Old French has berz, suggesting Cetic influence. The
word carpentier was also Celtic and French, and diffused into the other
Romance languages during the Middle Ages.

Other household terms related to milk, honey, and beer show Celtic influence
in the Romance languages. Lat. cerevisia `beer' was assimilated from Celtic to
become Old Fr. cervoise which passed into other Romance languages (note the
usual Lat. vinum). Brasser, the Fr. verb `to brew', is found only in France.
The wooden barrel to hold the liquid (Fr. tonneau) is Celtic, as is the word
for `dregs,' (Fr. lie, Prov. lia). Old Fr. breshche, Prov. bresca `honey-comb'
survive in bresca in Sp. and Cat.  Fr. ruche `beehive' exists in Gallo-Roman
dialects (which presuppose GR * brisca and *rusca) , though they differ
semantically. Milk came to be used everywhere by Lat. lacte, but whey -
petit-lait in standard French is known as le megue in country districts from a
Celtic word latinized *mesigum.

Another area is numerals, where in Modern French there are a few vestiges,
where instead of the expected counting by tens (as in Latin), there is
counting by sets of twenty as in quatre-vingt (four sets of twenty). This
pattern is still found in Celtic languages (Welsh ugain for twenty, deugain
for forty, and trigain for sixty). Old Irish had a form tri fichit cet (three
sets of twenty) for sixty in Scela Mucce Meic Datho.

It has been suggested that the sound change from Latin u to French y is due to
the Celtic substratum. The reason is that "i" and "u," alternate in modern
Welsh dialect and Celtic frequently shows this. Tonic u went through a change
where it did not depend on dipthongisation.

In the late Gallo-Roman period (by Fox and Wood, approximately the sixth and
seventh centuries A.D.), tonic u was palatalized, with the tongue pushed
forward in the same position as for palatal i. However the lips were rounded,
in the position of velar u. The change brought about palatal y (Mod. Fr.  tu,
nul, j'ai eu, a sound previously unknown to Classical Latin. This process was
especially strong in Gaul and the Iberia.

Consonantal groups -ks-, -kt-, -kr-, and -gr- also developed new pronunciations
in the common speech, perhaps also by Celtic influence. The first two groups,
the k softened to a voiceless fricative ,( a sound existing still in Scotland
in such words as loch) so that factum > facto and laxare > lasar. The -kr- and
-gr- plosives softened likewise, but as followed by a voiced r, they gave the
voiced sound corresponding to , the fricative so that facere > far and flagrare
> flaar. These new fricative consonants palatalized from influence of the
following consonant so that yod was given to the palatal fricative in Vulgar
Latin. In this way far > Gallo-Roman fair, flaar > flairier. The half-tonic
vowels and , after which yod followed, from or anticipated the higher tongue
position so that > i, > u. So lectum > liit, noctem > nuit, and legere > liir.
The tripthongs which resulted were reduced in the Gallo-Roman period, the
middle part was absorbed so that liit > le lit, nuit > la nuit, liir > lire.
Another area which of sound change also sometimes attributed to Celtic
influence is the influence of nasal consonants on preceding vowels sounds.
Nasal consonants tended to change the tonic sounds preceding them, giving a
nasal coloring to the diphthong, even in vowels that didn't dipthongise (e.g.
i and u) They also influenced tonic blocked vowels as in Fr. canto and
countertonic vowels as in Fr. cantare.  These occurred mainly in Portuguese and
French, but not so much in the other Romance languages, hence the theory for
Celtic influence.

Celtic influence in Romance and Latin is to be expected in an area where
Celtic speakers spoke, though some of hypotheses have greater evidence then
others. Germanic and Greek were other languages that influenced the lexicon
and perhaps a little of the phonology (like Celtic) of Romance. The dearth
(and many times lack) of information and inscriptions in Celtic languages make
it difficult to assess the contribution of Celtic to Romance, but in spite of
the scanty evidence it is safe to say Celtic did make contributions into
Romance, especially in France, although the extent of it will remain unknown
without more archaelogical, linguistic, and historical evidence.


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Shilpi Misty Bhadra
Classics/Humanities major
evenstar at mail.utexas.edu

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