What is a ‘Brittonic’ or ‘Gallo-Brittonic’ Language?

When linguists talk about ‘Brittonic’ they mean an insular p-Celtic language or group of p-Celtic languages closely related to the Gaulish group (Russell, 1995, pp.15-18). These are related to q-Celtic languages from the Goidelic and Hispano-Celtic groups, although not closely.

There are two competing theories attempting to place these languages on a family tree, broadly speaking:

  • One that places insular (Brittonic and Goidelic) languages in one group and continental languages in another, and
  • Another that places p-Celtic in one group and q-Celtic in another.

However, there may never be insufficient evidence to resolve which model is correct, even if the basis of the question is considered valid, and in any case the outcome of this debate is not greatly relevant to my project.

Brittonic, Gaulish, Goidelic and potentially other branches of the Celtic languages shared many lexical elements (ibid p.20). This is helpful since name elements no longer present in Cornish (or Brittonic) may be found in sister languages thus allowing a translation to be carried out. Ultimately, the goal is to produce a lexicon of normalised Brittonic names that are complete, correct, and in nominative case.

The stock of Brittonic and Gaulish names includes a large number of dithematic names, apparently relating to high status individuals, predominantly male and many might be characterised as members of a warrior class with common dithematic name elements such as the protothemes *bogio-, *boudi-, *camulo-, *cassi-, and deuterothemes
*-catu-, *-caleto-, *-nerto-, *-uedo-, *-ualo, *-gallo (a full list will be provided in a subsequent chapter). These names stress traits relating to the role of protector, aggressor, battle-worthiness or leadership. Celtic society is presumed to have had classes associated with law, philosophy, oratory, metalworking and manufacture, so one might expect these to also be present in names found in Cornwall.

Cornwall was a recipient of cultural transfer between the insular as well as continental worlds and instrumental to it and stability of settlement by the population locates the origin of the Cornish language alongside others in Northwest Europe. The Cornish language is located within the milieu of Brittonic languages, agrarian settlement and warrior society in Britain, with names stressing warrior and leadership qualities: All of which should be present in personal and place names.

The question then, is whether this study can contribute to the broader understanding of Late Brittonic society through an analysis of personal names and their associated settlements. This is one of the key elements to be addressed in this project.

Please follow and like us: