The Six Celtic Languages

The Six Celtic Languages

The Six Celtic Languages

The Six Celtic Languages

(Last Updated On: December 29, 2023)
The Six Celtic Languages

Celtic languages, a subset within the expansive Indo-European language family, hold significant historical and linguistic importance. Originating in what’s now Western Europe, these languages were prevalent in the British Isles and the Brittany peninsula, a region in northwestern France, prior to Roman influence.

Pre-Roman conflicts and conquests among native tribes are believed to have led to the demise of the Proto-Celtic language. However, remnants and evolutions of this ancient tongue persevered, particularly in Britain. Presently, six prominent languages trace their lineage back to Proto-Celtic, constituting a linguistic legacy that persists to this day.

The precise original homeland of the Celtic people remains a subject of scholarly debate, yet evidence suggests their interactions with Germanic cultures influenced language development. The fusion of these cultures birthed new linguistic forms, some of which seeped into Roman grammar during the Roman conquest of Gaul. Over time, the Celtic language has evolved, leading to the identification of six distinct groups in modern times.

Insular Celtic languages, such as Middle Irish and the Brittonic languages, alongside Continental Celtic tongues like Gaulish, form part of this intricate family tree. Throughout history, these languages have faced challenges, with some becoming extinct by the 8th century while others, like Irish and Cornish, have survived to the present day. Despite their minority status, efforts to preserve and revive these languages have been ongoing, fostering their use in literary traditions and making strides in the 21st century.

Archaeological evidence and Latin inscriptions have contributed to our understanding of these languages, highlighting their importance as substratum languages in various regions. The distinction between P-Celtic and Q-Celtic languages remains a notable feature within the Celtic family, emphasizing their separate linguistic paths.

In modern times, although English has become the official language in many regions where Celtic languages once thrived, efforts persist to safeguard and promote these native tongues. The enduring legacy of Celtic speakers and their languages continues to shape cultural identities and linguistic diversity, showcasing the resilience and richness of these unique linguistic heritages.



In the rich tapestry of Celtic languages, the story of the Irish language stands as a testament to resilience amidst cultural shifts and historical complexities. Originating from the Common Celtic roots, the Irish language, or Gaeilge, holds a distinguished place within the Celtic language family.

Its journey traces back to the 6th century, flourishing as one of the Insular languages alongside its cousins like Gaulish and Brittonic. Flourishing along the Atlantic coasts, it evolved as part of the Brythonic Languages and carried the essence of its Celtic origin.

During the 17th century, the dominance of English in Ireland precipitated a tumultuous era for the native speakers of Irish. This marked the beginning of a decline, as oppressive measures aimed to suppress the language and its cultural significance. The linguistic divide between English and Irish speakers grew starker, with the latter often relegated to the western regions, a minority language in its own land.

By the 19th century, amidst the zenith of the British Empire, the schism between Irish and English speakers became more pronounced. Italo-Celtic grouping theories and linguistic categorization attempted to decipher the roots and connections between these languages, often with controversial papers and academic debates.

The 20th century brought new perspectives. Modern linguists like Ranko Matasovic and American linguists dove deeper into the verbal morphology and phonetical innovations of the Celtic languages, reassessing assumptions of association and categorization. However, the estimation uncertainty regarding the division between separate languages remained.

Despite the challenges, there was a resurgence, albeit uncertain, in the 20th century—a flicker of hope amidst the shadows of an uncertain linguistic future. Organizations like the Celtic League and institutions like the British Council worked towards revitalizing the language skills and preserving the linguistic ancestor of the Irish people.

Today, the Irish language perseveres, with fluent speakers cherishing its legacy while navigating the complexities of a world where the division between modern languages often overshadows the beauty of linguistic diversity. The tale of Irish stands as a reminder of the human emigration, cultural divides, and the enduring spirit of a language that refuses to be confined to the annals of extinct languages.

Scottish Gaelic is considered an archaic and colonial language, bearing features tracing back to its origins in the Old Irish period. Among its notable traits is the absence of a “voicing feature,” indicative of its historical roots. The majority of Scottish Gaelic speakers reside in the Scottish Highlands and nearby islands, including the Outer Hebrides and Isle of Skye. Beyond Scotland, the language finds a presence in Nova Scotia in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand due to mass emigration in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Despite its distant past, Scottish Gaelic’s ties to music and folklore reflect a rich history. According to a 2011 United Kingdom census, over 87,000 individuals in Scotland speak or have some familiarity with Scottish Gaelic. The language holds significance in understanding the historical association between Italic languages, Gaulish language, and British Celtic roots, showcasing an Iberian origin and a valid clade from the 2nd century. The division among these languages becomes unimportant in the context of Scottish Gaelic’s preservation and dissemination through various communities worldwide. Tha gach uile dhuine air a, at least in terms of its evolution and dispersion, highlighting a linguistic connection spanning vast geographical regions.




Welsh is the language of Wales. More than 700,000 people speak it. During its early years, Welsh is considered as a distinct mutation from Irish. Some of the first Welsh speakers were initially from British, but they were eventually pushed back to Wales by the Anglo-Saxons. Some were able to settle in the southwest and northwest regions of England.


It is divided into different forms. These are Archaic Welsh, Old Welsh, Middle Welsh, and Modern Welsh.


In the modern day, Welsh is still the dominant language in Wales. Several TV and radio stations broadcast entirely in Welsh. Moreover, there are also a handful of magazines and newspapers that even publish in Welsh.


In terms of its integration in primary education, all students in Wales are required to study it as their first or second language from the age of 5 to 16. There are also primary and secondary schools in Wales that teach entirely in Welsh. As for higher education institutions, some courses are taught in




Like French, English, and German, Breton falls into the Indo-European family of language. To be more specific, it falls into the Celtic family. Like most major languages, Breton originated in what is now modern day France. More specifically along the region of Bretagne. The first recorded contact with Breton speaking people was during the early century when Romans conquered the area. When the Romans turned their eyes into Britain, they bring with them the language.


Breton speakers had a rough history. Speakers were usually ridiculed and humiliated for speaking it. The reason behind this is that the surrounding region generally talks French. In the modern world, Breton is still spoken in the Bretagne region located in western France.




Cornish is one of the oldest languages still spoken in modern day Britain. Known also as “Kernewek,” is was the most dominant language in Cornwall during the era following the Norman Conquest.


Cornish traces its roots from the common language spoken, which was dominant during the Roman period. Because of the divide brought upon by the Romans, Cornish eventually evolved into its distinct style. Its popularity eventually waned down as English became the more dominant language in Britain.
In the modern world, there are still facets of communities that speak and promote Cornish.




Manx is a mutation of Celtic, a para-Celtic language, which is predominantly spoken on the Isle of Mann. In terms of structure and pronunciation, it is closely related to the Scottish Gaelic dialect used in Galloway and the Irish dialect of Ulster. Manx started to become the dominant language in the Isle of Mann during the 13th and 14th century, replacing earlier Continental languages spoken in the region since the 5th centuries.

At first glance, written Manx is closely similar to Scottish Gaelic and Irish, both belonging to the Indo-European languages family, specifically the Celtic branch. However, scrutiny will reveal several spelling conventions unique to Manx. Nevertheless, these three languages, deriving from a common root, exhibit significant similarities in pronunciation despite regional variations that emerged over time.

The evolution of Manx showcases its connection to the broader linguistic history of the Celtic languages, with influences from Continental languages and Latin inscriptions, particularly notable during the 4th century, contributing to its development. Additionally, interactions with other Celtic languages like Cisalpine Celtic and Transalpine Gaulish might have influenced the linguistic evolution of Manx, demonstrating the intricate web of linguistic connections among the Celtic languages. Cornish language, another Celtic language, shares some similarities with Manx, albeit having distinctive features that arose during different historical periods, particularly in the 18th century.

At first glance, written Manx is closely similar to Scottish Gaelic and Irish. However, scrutiny will reveal several spelling conventions. Nevertheless, these three, given their origin, have a close resemblance in pronunciation.


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