At 4:47 pm -0400 26/4/00, Padraic Brown wrote:
>On Wed, 26 Apr 2000, And Rosta wrote:
>>> All the evidence points to (insular) Celtic as being _originally_ VSO. Why
>>> this should be so is AFAIK unknown and one of those features that
>>> "Celto-Semitists" like to point as evidence of Semitic influence :)
>>Why the smiley? Is the notion of there being a Semitic substrate beneath
>>insular Celtic so daft?
In a word - yes.
>>(What I find less plausible is that there'd be
>>a Semitic substrate in the British Isles but not in Iberia or Atlantic
.....which IMHO is even less likely.
The only actual evidence we have for Semitic penetration to this part of
the world is for that of the Phoenicians. We know that they established a
fourishing colony in north Africa, called Carthage, that they had
settlements (for a time) in Sicily, Malta, southern seaboard of France and
western Spain, and that they traded for tin with the Cornish peninsular (no
evidence of settlement there).
None of this is enough to establish a pre-Celtic _substrate_ influence in
I have seen it suggested that a Semitic-based trade jargon developed in the
Cornish peninsular and that this was responsible for the subsequent move of
insular Celtic (a) to VSO, post-posited adjectives, conjagated
prepositions, use of definite article only, the 'construct state' to
express the genitive & other 'Semitic features', and (b) towards analytic
rather than synthetic structures. But I find it difficult to see how such
a trade jargon would sequently effect the Celtic languages of Ireland & the
whole of Britain.
Yet the structural resemblences that have been noted between (insular)
Celtic and Semitic are noteworthy.
>I think that's the idea. What I'd been taught is that there was some
>kind of substrate influence on the Celtic that went from Europe to the
>British Isles. But not Semitic; the influenceing language(s) would be
>those of the pre-IE Europeans.
This is more plausible possibility IMHO. The substrate is then considered
to be Hamito-Semitic rather than Semitic in the narrow sense and the be
most closely related to modern Berber, i.e. an 'Iberian' substrate
spreading from north west Africa, up through the Iberian peninsular,
western Gaul, Britain & Ireland. This is held to account for the short,
swarthy types still much in evidence in south Wales and parts of Ireland.
Also some people like to point out from time to time the co-incidence that
the personal name Idris occurs both in Wales and in north Africa - a
But things are not so simple. The Basques don't fit in here. Their
language shows no affinity to the Hamito-Semitic group nor does it exhibit
any of these "traditional" Celtic traits; yet their language is
unquestionably of ancient origin, as are the Basque peoples. Another area
was called Iberia for many centuries - Georgia (the one in the Caucasus -
not in the US :)
Those I've met who've visited Georgia have remarked on that the people they
see there are similar to many one sees in south Wales & Ireland. The most
plausible (or least daft) links with Basque that I've seen made do suggest
some ultimate connexion with Georgian & the Kartvelian languages.
These considerations must make us cautious in adopting a simple
Berber-Iberian substrate theory, as though that solved all problems.
Western Europe & the Iberian peninsular are big enough to have housed more
than one pre-IE population. And who did live in Ireland & Britain before
the various Celtic-speaking peoples moved here?
One thing I've never been able to find the answer to is whether these
'Semitic' features of insular Celtic are strictly "insular" (i.e. peculiar
to the Celtic of Ireland & Britain) or were they features of continental
Celtic? Did the Galatians, e.g. take these features with them into Asia
Minor? Were they always part of Celtic ever since its development in the
upper Danube region?
Maybe our knowledge of continental Celtic is too meagre to give any answer.
Do any of the Celtophiles on the list know?
If these traits are shown to have been integral to Celtic from the start
(and not a Hiberno-British development), then we're looking in the wrong
area for the 'Semitic' explanation!