Friday, June 15, 2012

Latin and Continental Celtic in contact

They had to have been, and the contact had to have lasted a long time. Ultimately, Latin displaced all speakers of Continental Celtic languages in Gaul (France and Northern Italy) and Iberia (Spain and Portugal). All of them.

Latin and Celtic languages were in contact in Italy since at least the early 4th century BCE, quite possibly longer. By the time of Caesar's conquest of Gaul in the mid 1st century BCE, there were "friends of the Roman people" on the far side of the Alps. It is hard to believe that there wasn't at least some degree of bilingualism between Latin speakers and Celtic speakers at both of these points in time.

These two data points suggest centuries of widespread contact between Latin and Celtic languages. At first they may have been on more equal footing, but as time progressed so did the relative power of the Latin speakers.

Obviously there are Celtic words in Latin: raeda (carriage), lancea (javelin), sparus (spear), bracae (pants) and ambactus (serf) are all examples (Palmer 53). So we can be sure that there was lexical exchange, but there are other questions. Since I don't have handy access to the proper scholarship, some of these may be quite settled matters.

Some questions
•Is Italo-Celtic an artifact of linguistic interference due to much language contact between the Celtic and Italic languages? Or is it real?
•What was the tipping point for Latin's total replacement of Continental Celtic languages?
•How long did Celtic languages persist in Gaul? In Iberia?
•Why didn't Latin also wipe out Basque?

Palmer, R.L. (1964). The Latin Language. London: Faber and Faber.