How old is English?

[1] Latin for: a third possibility is not given. The first one is Celtic, the second one is Latin.

[2] Think about the word galaxy. This fact was found by prof Helmut Birkhan, Vienna University.


A circular reasoning  :
  the Celtic Britain Assumption


We fight what we call "the CBA", the Celtic Britain Assumption. This is the fully unproven assumption that the whole of Britain spoke a "Celtic" language before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. People who practice this CBA will state that all place-names of Roman Britain were evidently Celtic place-names. Tertium non datur [1].  So, one is allowed to use exclusively a Brythonic dictionary if one wants to explain these place-names. And, yes, for most of them something in Celtic was found. To experience how circumstantial and unconvincing such an etymology can be, read the last part of the next chapter  'more etymologies'

More worrying : some of these allegedly newly found Celtic words, found in the place-names themselves were added to the dictionary of ancient Celtic words.
Once most place-names have some meaning in Celtic, the collection of these is used to prove that the whole of Britain was Celtic. Then the circle is complete:

(1) all of Britain was Celtic
(2) this implies that all (Roman) place-names in Britain are of Celtic origin
(2) therefore, only etymologies in Celtic will be accepted
(3) if a place-name word cannot be found in a Celtic dictionary, then the word and its supposed meaning is added to the dictionary. Not only words but a complete language needed to be 'reconstructed'. There were so many problems in finding decent Celtic etymologies in southeast England that a complete new 'variant' of Celtic had to be invented: the British language. This alleged language had the task to absorb all exceptions of the Celtic language.
(4) all these etymologies together are the very proof of (1)
(5) which confirms also statement (2)

The source of this circular reasoning is the automatic and unchallenged link between Celtic culture and Celtic language. The term 'Celtic language' is even derived from 'Celtic culture'. The assumption is very simple: wherever one finds artefacts of Celtic culture one automatically assumes that the local people spoke a Celtic language. How wrong this assumption can be is easily demonstrated: it is not because we do find remainders of western culture in Japan that we assume that the Japanese speak a 'Western Language'. Of course, they do not, although they now share to a great extend the western, European culture.  


wrong map of Celtic language

The supposed extend of the Celtic language and culture with in yellow the core Hallstatt culture region. In dark green are the regions where Celtic is still spoken to some degree. (Wiki)

real Celtic zone

The reality was different. The purple zone is where a Germanic language was spoken. The language in central Spain is a mystery, but could be related to Brythonic.

The automatic link between Celtic culture and Celtic language is responsible for the wide-spread idea that the Celtic language once spanned between Ireland and Turkey. This fact is apparently supported by some received convictions like the alleged fact that the suffix -rix (king), as found on some tombstones, is diagnostically Celtic. One was found in western Hungary and mentioned 'Alarix'. The suffix -rix was enough to diagnose (actually to confirm)  the presence of the Celtic language in the region. But, we know of an Ostro-Goth king whose name was Alaric. The similarity is too great to be coincidental. What if Alarix was simply the same Germanic name? Note that no convincing Celtic etymology was found for Alarix. At best it is interpreted as 'king of the Ala'. In Germanic the etymology is far more convincing: '[of] all [the] ric'. A 'ric' is still be found in the English word bishopric. In German it is 'Reich', in Dutch 'rijk', and in Danish 'rik'. The word is thought to be derived from 'reichen, rijken, to reach'.  It is up to how far a governing power or the law, reaches. The basic meaning is 'ruled region', later a kingdom or empire or, 2000 years ago, a  village. The genitive (= 'of') is obtained by adding a -s. So : -rics or -riks or in English: -ric's. Alaric, although attested Germanic, is therefore not entirely correct Germanic and should be 'all-rics', = of all ric. We think that the writers at the service of king Alaric avoided the last 's' because then the name of the king should have been written 'Alarix'. This would have made the Gothic king a Gaul (=Celt!). King Alaric, who just had sacked Rome, would not have been amused.

As the tombstone which mentioned the name Alarix was poorly executed, we can suppose that mister Alarix was not a very wealthy individual (that alone should have made the historians suspicious about the 'king' title). The writer of the letters on the stone simply applied the grammatical rule: cs, ks -> x. Alarix was probably nothing more but a local mayor.


We can apply the very same reasoning upon the 'king' of the Eburones: Ambiorix. The first part is said to be classic Celtic: ambi- which means 'around'. The last part removes all doubts: -rix means king. So, many etymologists will state that the name Ambiorix can 'only' be Celtic. Because of that 'fact', some historians suppose a Celtic elite, ruling local Germanic Eburones.

But umbe-, ombe- exists also in Germanic with exactly the same meaning. Let us not forget that Germanic and Celtic are two branches of the same Indo-European language family. So ombe+riks means 'of around the tribal territory'. One word is missing here: leader, chief. The meaning in Celtic is 'king of kings', which is very similar. But Caesar never portrayed Ambiorix as a king but as a warlord and he even added that Ambiorix had to share power with Catuvolcus, a much older person. It is clear that Ambiorix had been appointed by the tribal council as the war leader. Catuvolcus (Germanic etymology: [chief of the] cottage-farmers folks = civil leader) was probably the chairman of that council. The name, or better: title Ambiorix is genuine Germanic. This is attested by Caesar himself: he portrayed the Eburones as Germani Cisrhenani (=from our side of the Rhine). The final conclusion is that Ambiorix is the Celticised version of Omberiks (Caesar used Gaul interpreters). The question whether -rix could be Germanic loanword in Celtic was never considered by modern historians.

culture zones
The Celtic culture zone (not Celtic language!) stretched from Ireland to Turkey. On top, one can see the Germanic language zone which is interrupted in the lower Danube region. The Galatians lived in Turkey, spoke a sort of Germanic and practiced a mix of Celtic and Greek culture. We see that not all Germanic speakers practiced the Celtic culture. There was no expansion of Germanic from Scandinavia to the south, but there was one from Hungary to Scandinavia. Spain was not Celtic, not in language, not in culture. Portugal and northwest Spain, however, were Brythonic (Celtic) speaking

No Celtic artifacts from earlier than 450 BC were found in Britain. The automatic link implies then that the Celts invaded the island around that period. They allegedly brought their skills and their language. Britain supposedly learned the Celtic language in a unprecedented short time span: by 46 AD, all of Britain, up to the smallest isles, presumably spoke Celtic. Hallo?
Against this hypothesis pleads the following:

  1. The Celts were seemingly able to do what the much more powerful Romans could not: a complete language transition.  Even Ireland needed only a few hundred years to master the Celtic language.
  2. The supposed language transition: no people in Europe changed its language so completely within 500 years since or ever.
  3. There is no trace of a 'pre-Celtic' language in Britain.  The Celts are supposed to have changed all place-names. They must have had a formidable organization, given the fact that they could not read or write.
  4. No Greek, no Roman ever mentioned an invasion in Britain. Nevertheless, it is known that Greek merchants visited Cornwall regularly to buy tin.
  5. The supposed Celtic invasion of Britain must have left glorified traces in local songs and tales. Caesar would have mentioned such a story. But no.
  6. The Celts must supposedly have reached the south of Portugal previously, but again, no trace in written history.
  7. Many historians now believe that the Celtic invasion was peaceful. Britons peaceful? Since when? Caesar had a very different experience!  Merchants and artisans supposedly spread the language... but in general a merchant speaks the language of the client and not vice versa. 
  8. Apparently, the Celtic invaders did not confiscate land. Such a thing would have caused a brutal upraise of the population and there is no trace of such a thing. So, given the fact that there were nearly no cities, one can wonder what the Celts were doing. Were they all language teachers who wandered from farm to farm? What farmer family (98% of the population) would see a major advantage in learning and using a language which came from the continent?  To be a bit cultural?

In fact, we propose that the spread of the 'Celtic' language happened from Portugal to the north and that it happened 3000 years before the emergence of Celtic culture. Hence we prefer the term Brythonic for the language. Because the Celtic language is so linked to the Celtic culture, many words in the Celtic language which are thought to be typical and 'attested' Celtic should be reconsidered. They probably are of Germanic origin. Examples:
Druid = 'true + wit' = he who knows the truth, scientist.
Bard (singer) = from beard. The word beard is Germanic. The beard must have been a mark of distinction of the occupation.
Braccae (trousers)is thought to be Celtic but recently the opinion is that is most probably Germanic.
Rix (king) is 'undoubetly' Celtic, however, it too is probably a loanword from Germanic (ric's).
Margila (marl) is typical Germanic, yet said to be Celtic.
Many 'Celtic' words are suspected to be Azelian substrate words.

It is predictable that when archaeologists can prove that the Celtic culture was developed in southern Germany and Austria, that not only the culture but also a number of related (Germanic) words would have found their way into the western Celtic languages. Comparable is the fact that hundreds of the most common French words are of Germanic (they prefer the term francique) origin.

There is more: before Caesar's time the only word for 'northerners' in Italy and Greece was 'Celt'. The word is related to the Greek word 'gala' = milk [2]. Northerners were people who for the Greeks had 'milky white faces'. They called them Galatoi, Galtoi or Celtoi. The Romans took over the term from the Greeks. The Romans reported that there were Celts in (northern) Spain, because many people there - even today - have blond hair. The Romans and Greeks never implied culture or language when they talked about Celts. Initially Celts could be any people to the north of the Alps or Balkan including of course the Germanic speakers. It was Caesar who eventually introduced the term 'German' and explained the difference with the term 'Celt', which he reserved for the Gauls ... although he did not imply that all of them were Brythonic speakers.  Actually, it is simple: Celts lived to the west of the Rhine, Germans to the east, even if both spoke a Germanic language.

The CBA is a classic example of circular reasoning.  We try to break the circle by demonstrating that most Celtic etymologies in Britain are bogus and that 'tertium' (a third party) is possible: a Germanic etymology which gives a much sounder etymology.

But we have no doubt about what sort of culture the Britons had: it was Celtic. We prefer Brythonic above Celtic language. The latter is too confusing.