On Thu, 23 Sep 2010 12:17:18 +0100, R A Brown wrote:

>  That's interesting. Tolkien, in fact, did not like the
>  Gaelic languages and found them ugly. Sindarin owes nothing
>  to them; but it does obviously have a Welsh resonance. But
>  one the ingredients of Sindarin is also Old English, and
>  that seems to be overlooked.

Two good observations.  Tolkien indeed disliked Gaelic, in stark
contrast to Welsh which he loved, as well as Old English.

>  It seems to work like: Sindarin has a Welsh feel; Welsh is
>  Celtic, therefore Sindarin has a Celtic feel.

Seems like that.  Another reason why people tend to attribute
a "Celtic feel" is the "otherworldliness" of Sindarin.  But
Tolkien's Elves have hardly anything to do with Celts (apart
from that one *could* identify them with the Tuatha Dé Danann
of Irish myth); Tolkien's Elvish cultures bear no meaningful
resemblance with real-world Celtic cultures either ancient or

>  It would, in my opinion, have been better if Edward Lhuyd
>  had chosen a more suitable name way back in the 18th
>  century.  But, I guess, whatever name he chose would
>  probably have suffered the same fate as 'Celtic' did during
>  the Romantic movement.


>  Now the name has stuck and any attempt to name this
>  sub-branch of IE differently is doomed to failure.

There are several names of language groups which are equally
questionable.  We have no evidence that the languages usually
named "Tocharian" by linguists had anything to do with the
people who are called _Tocharoi_ in Hellenistic sources; many
scholars now assume that the _Tocharoi_ were in fact an Iranian
people.  Similar problems with "Hittite".  With "Celtic", we
at least know that the people referred to as _Keltoi_ in
ancient sources indeed spoke a language belonging to that

>        One of
>  things that bugs me, however, is the assumption that the
>  peculiarities of the Insular Celtic languages are features
>  of the Celtic sub-branch of IE as a whole. In fact what we
>  know of ancient Gaulish seems to contradict that.

Indeed, indeed!  There is not a shred of evidence for the
existence of any of the Insular Celtic peculiarities (VSO
word order, initial mutations, profusion of spirants from
the lenition of stops, etc.) in Gaulish, Lepontic or
Celtiberian!  These languages are much more similar to
Latin in their structure than they are to Insular Celtic.

The Continental Celtic language I have under work for the
League of Lost Language shows *nothing* of the typical traits
of an Insular Celtic language.

>  >  What about Lepontic
>  >  and Celtiberian? And there are some that are more
>  >  questionable, but may have some affiliation.
>  Presumably the are members of the same sub-family.

I think the membership of Lepontic and Celtiberian is fairly
well established.  Doubtful candidates are, on the Continental
Celtic side, Lusitanian and Tartessian.  Lusitanian is quite
certainly IE, but whether it is Celtic or not, is controversial.
Tartessian has long been considered a non-IE language, but
recently, the Celticist John T. Koch has proposed a reading of
the 80-something Tartessian inscriptions as Celtic; while I
know too little about the matter to make a profund judgment,
the proposal looks reasonable to me.

On the Insular side, the uncertain member is Pictish, long
considered non-IE, but according to more recent studies,
probably Brythonic.

>  >  Do you think that artifacts made by people who speak a
>  >  language defined as Celtic should not be called Celtic?
>  As the term Celtic is now well established for these
>  languages, there's no point in doing otherwise.

Yes.  The term is established by now, it is brief and handy;
why change it?  All we have to keep in mind is that it is just
a convenient label for a branch of Indo-European, and nothing

>  But I do find it annoying when people write, for example, as
>  though the ancient Brits and ancient Irish felt themselves
>  kindred people sharing a common culture.  It just ain't
>  true.  The ancient Brits experienced the Irish as alien
>  pirates and raiders much like the Saxons.

I once had a book titled "Magie und Mythologie der Kelten" that
was full of esoteric misconceptions about the Celts, and happily
confused Irish, Welsh and Gaulish elements.  I don't know where
I put it, but I don't miss it - it all was utter nonsense.
(At least, the author did *not* claim that the Celts came from
Atlantis, but she claimed that they came from India, which is
hardly better.)

Often, the "Celts" are even identified with the "megalith culture"
(itself a doubtful concept), utterly ignoring the fact that the
megalithic monuments are far too old to have anything to do with
the "Celts".  Some were erected at a time when Indo-European was
just the language of a tribe on the Ukrainian steppe.

And as if all that was not enough, there is also a lot of boohow
about "Celtic Christianity", as if there had been a wiser and more
truthful tradition of Christianity that was stomped out by the
evil Roman church.  In fact, "Celtic Christianity", which of
course was never named that way in its time, was just a branch of
Western Christianity that did some rather peripheral things such
as monks' tonsures or the calculation of Easter dates differently
(but shared the same doctrine and acknowledged the authority of the
Roman pope) - in a time when Western Christianity was much less
homogenous in such matters than it was in later times, and similar
local traditions existed everywhere from the Iberian peninsula to

>  No one in ancient times ever referred to the inhabitants of
>  Britain or Ireland as Celts. It wasn't till the 18th century
>  they were so named - and since then all sorts of nonsense
>  has appeared which Tolkien objected to - and so do I.

And I.

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