By Mike Haseler
After a bit of discussion on the last article (The Scots are Not Kelts) I've taken those discussions and added further information. But first I have to say I cannot accept the mindset of some people that seems to suggest it is OK to create myths when that evidence is so unequivocally against the "Celtic" myth. As I and Oppenheimer have both found quite independely by looking at the recorded history of the Kelts, it is very clearly recorded that they were a group in Southern France who are a subgroup of the Gauls. This is about as close as we can get to an undeniable historical fact.
But to show how ridiculous this Celtic language myth is, let us suppose for the sake of argument that this "Celtic" Myth were true. According to this myth the reason the French do not speak a "Celtic" language is because their language was Latinised by the Romans leading to Old French.
However, if as the Celtic Myth goes, the Welsh were "the" race in Roman Britain, we would likewise find their language has been Latinised in a similar way so that Old Welsh would like Old French. It hardly needs a language expert to know that French and Welsh are very different, and whilst the claims of Celticists are many and bizarre, I have not seen any attempt to claim French as being "Celtic" (although no doubt they would if it were not so obviously a Romance language). So, Latinisation cannot explain the difference between the French spoken in the area identified by Caesar as Celtic and the area Celticists falsely assert to be Celtic. Obviously the Romans were in Gaul longer, and we also see "Romance" languages in a broad spread from Spain to Italy which were all invaded by Romans, however like Welsh, Basque did not become a Romance language it did not become: "Roman-cised".
So, how can we explain this? There really are only two possible explanations that make sense:
- That Latin did heavily influence French, Spanish, etc. - but Welsh & Basque escaped this ... this strongly suggest they are Post-Roman introductions and so very little influenced by Latin. In other words the Celtic Myth is false because Welsh came after the Roman occupation (which is not a good fit with evidence).
- That Latin had very little influence on native languages like Welsh and Basque AND OTHER native languages like Spanish and French. We must therefore conclude that Old Spanish, Old French, etc. were always distinct languages of the Romance group of languages. Therefore as Latin did not heavily impact local languages, the "Celtic" language itself would still be a major influence on the language spoken in the modern area of "Gaul".
Add to this that the French speaking area of Europe, closely matches the Roman area identified as being occupied by Gauls and there is only one reasonable explanation: that the Gauls spoke a form of old French** . Therefore the Celts being a part of the Gauls also spoke Old French.
Map showing area of modern French Speaking (Purple) overlaid with map of Roman Gaul
(Gaul shown divided into: Gallia Cisalpina, Gallia Narbonensis, Gallia Aquitania, Gallia Celtica
(Maps from Wikipedia European Langauges and Gaul)
Once we look at the evidence which strongly links the modern French area to the Celts, it becomes absurd to try to shoehorn a fit to the the Welsh and Irish.
Indeed we have a good historical account from Nennius* which tell us that the Bretons derive from a "British" army which crossed with the British Roman Emperor Maximus to France about 388AD:
"The seventh emperor was Maximianus. He withdrew from Britain with all its military force, slew Gratianus the king of the Romans, and obtained the sovereignty of all Europe. Unwilling to send back his warlike companions to their wives, families, and possessions in Britain, he conferred upon them numerous districts from the lake on the summit of Mons lovis, to the city called Cant Guic, and to the western Tumulus, that is Cruc Occident. These are the Armoric Britons, and they remain there to the present day."
So, we do not need to jump through any hoops to explain the presence of a Welsh-like language in France (shown orange at top left in Brittany), because yet again we have a clear historical account to contradict the modern day myth. (Although as languages appear to remain pretty static, it might be reasonable to allow for a pre-existing Breton speaking population which was augmented by Welsh-speaking Britons).
But don't all the rivers called "Avon" prove Welsh was spoken?
Saying Germanic languages may have been spoken in Britain does not mean that Welsh was not. So I am not suggesting the Welsh were not present in the areas given by Nennius (the west coast), so the presence of Avon names is hardly surprising. The real question is whether Avon proves that Welsh was speaking and that there is no reason that e.g. it could not derive from a Germanic (Anglo-Saxon like) speaking indigenous group. We do not need to look hard to to see how Avon (other forms: afon, abon) could be derived from a Germanic language like Anglo-Saxon. Looking at Anglo Saxon we have:
ae: A river
fenn: mud, mire.
So Aefenn = Muddy river. Also, there is the Anglo Saxon: Efen meaning "Even, or Calm". Either Aefenn (Muddy river) or Efen (Calm) would be very apt term for a Rivers like the Avon at Bristol.
Mud at River Avon looking toward M5 and Bristo (Wikipedia)
Moreover I'm not the only person to question the "Welshness" of Avon:
ABONA (river, Gloucestershire and adjacent settlement)
This is widely accepted as a Latinisation of the name for the River Avon which lies to the south of the Roman settlement of the same name at Sea Mills, Bristol. It shows that the Romans would use the letter B as the nearest Latin equivalent for a V. It is generally claimed that Avon is a Celtic word on this evidence. However it is virtually unknown in Cornish place-names (Padel 1985, 14), though it occurs in Welsh, afon ‘river’ and Middle Breton (auo(u)n). In OE the name would be cognate with hæfen ‘haven, port’. While it is argued that the river name is from an assumed British name for river, cognate with Welsh afon, Cornish avon, and Irish abhann, there is an equally plausible OE origin for the English rivers with this name. (Roman Place Names - Germanic Origin)
Of course, I would argue that: hæfen ‘haven, port’ probably derives from "Efen" meaning "calm". The river Avon (shown above) is likely to be the River recorded by the Romans as the Abona. Given the prominence of this river by the Romans and therefore it's likely military importance, it is likely it was a harbour and so I the mostly likely etymology is something like *'æfen meaning a area of calm used as a harbour.
The bigger question is whether "Afon" is actually a welsh word or a Germanic word taken into Welsh? So, did the Natives speak a Germanic language when the Romans invaded. I have already shown that "Druid" may well derived from the same Germanic root as "Drug" and "Dried". And many Roman place names could easily be derived from Germanic. For example:
Vindolanda (A fort on the Roman wall).
The Roman name of Winchester was Venta Belgarum. Chester, is a common name added to Roman prefixes and around 730 AD it is recorded as "Uintancæstir". So it is quite certain that The Roman "Venta-" is equivalent to later form "Winta-"
Using this linguistic rule of "V -> W" (and splitting the word) Vindolanda would becomes something like "Windo-landa" which is easily recognised as "Windy land" and indeed, the fort is on an exposed prominentary. (But also note also the Lake Winder-mere which bears a striking resemblance in form).
Ebba Raecum = "The place the tide reaches". (The tide reached to York at the time of the Romans and geology means it is unlikely to have gone higher) This is slightly at odds with the modern use of "Ebb" to mean the lowest tide, however it better than most etymologies and as good as the best "Celtic" derivations.
Which brings me to the "Latin" word "Chester". Strangely enough no Roman place name used this word. It appears after Britain is Romanised (i.e. fortified) and is almost unknown outside Britain. So it is highly likely to be a native British word and not Roman at all. There is apparently no obvious Welsh "derivation". The earliest forms in Anglo Saxon are "Ceaster" from which we derive "Castle", so looking at Anglo Saxon:
ceaster, Cester: Castle
cest, cyst, cist, : Chest
cysten = cystan to get, procure, get the value of
cystig; benevolent, bountiful, liberal, generous, good
cýst choosest, chooses
cyst, cist, [from ceósan to choose]. I. choice, election; optio, electio
So there are several possible ways it could derive from an Anglo-Saxon like language. The first is that a Roman fort is built rather like a chest: of four walls. The second is that a "Cester" was a desirous place. The third is that it was a "chosen place" or perhaps it was an "elected place". We know the Britons had councils from an inscription which ends: "By decree of the ordines for public works on the tribal council of the Silures."" (RIB311) (It even sounds just like a modern council things do not change!)
Academics are Barbarians!
(Why all etymologies are suspect)
But whilst it is easy to show that many iconic words of "Celtic"-Roman Britain can easily be derived from Anglo Saxon, this is not the same as saying that the Britains spoke Anglo Saxon. The reality is the whole area of deriving words and place names from ancient languages is highly suspect and clearly wasn't exactly honest - particularly when "possibly could" becomes "definitely is". The most obvious example of academic bias is in the derivation of the word "Barbarian".
First you need to know that historians during the age when all these etymologies were created were fed a diet of Latin & Greek and the British empire was likened to that of Rome. Second you need to know that the Romans called the natives (who did not shave like them) barbarians. If you go and look you will find a derivation of the origin of "Barbarian" such as:
Latin barbaria "foreign country," from Greek barbaros "foreign, strange, ignorant," from PIE root *barbar- echoic of unintelligible speech of foreigners (cf. Sanskrit barbara- "stammering," also "non-Aryan," Latin balbus "stammering," Czech blblati "to stammer"). (Link)
So "Barbar" was asserted as being like baby talk "dada". But what do we find if we go and look at a Latin dictionary:
It will also help you to understand why this etymology is not used to remember that a lot of academics who were teaching how the British Empire was like the Roman empire used to wear beards! So, they ignored the very obvious and almost certain derivation in favour of a completely nonsensical derivation from nonsense because they didn't like the implication that beards were barbarous. At the very least, even if it original derived from "nonsense" utterings, it certainly would have been understood by Latin speakers to mean "beardies" in the same way as we call people today "Skin-heads".
** there is little evidence the Franks were more than a small ruling elite with little influence on language
*There is dispute as to who "Nennius" was.
- Roman Place-Names - gives a long list of possible Roman place names of Germanic origin
- The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story
- The Scots are Not Kelts