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Picts

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Alexander Howard
1242945.  Thu Jul 20, 2017 3:53 am Reply with quote

The Picts are famous in adventure romances but little is known about their culture and language, which has provided meat for storytellers.

In 1892 John Rhys came up with a theory that the Pictish language was pre-Indo-European, on the basis on carvings that could not be interpreted in terms of any known language: no doubt this was also influenced by the desire to dig beneath the roots to see who was in Britain in the Bronze Age before the Celts. Later studies have demonstrated to the satisfaction of most scholars that Pictish was in essence a form of Welsh.

How the language disappeared in a short space of time in the Dark Ages is a mystery: perhaps the growing Church only spoke Irish, or so many Gaelic words were adopted that it became unrecognisable (in some aspects, Scottish Gaelic grammar is closer to Welsh than to Irish grammar). Who knows?

John Morris in The Age of Arthur proposed that there might have been a pre-Indo-European-speaking tribe in the Highlands in the Roman period, the Attacotti, but the only evidence is the incomprehensible carvings, and his suggestion that 'Attacotti' is from the Old Welsh for 'Very old people'. The Picts though were Welsh.

 
suze
1242958.  Thu Jul 20, 2017 5:17 am Reply with quote

Just to log a couple of things Pictish for future reference ...

As noted above, it is is by now generally held that the Pictish language was Brythonic / P-Celtic. That is to say it was related to Breton, Cornish, and Welsh.

At one time it was believed to be Goidelic / Q-Celtic ie related to Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic. The first big clue that it wasn't was reading in an old document that St Columba needed an interpreter to speak to the Picts. Had their language been Goidelic, that son of Donegal wouldn't have needed one.

The word Pict is Latin, and we don't know what the Picts call themselves. We do know what the Gaels called them, and it was a word with a special resonance to QI. Cruithne ...

 
Alexander Howard
1243281.  Mon Jul 24, 2017 7:14 am Reply with quote

Amongst the wilder theories about the Picts, was the one that they were a Pigmy people who were supplanted by the tall Gaels: the Picts went into hiding in woods and moorlands, and became the basis of legends of "the little people". The idea was wholly exploded soon after it got into circulation, but it did produce a plot point and title for an Arthur Ransome novel.

The name of Pitlochry in Perthshire is believed to come from Pictish: the prefix 'Pit' may be a Pictish word for a measure of land, which was also known in Gaul and came into the local dialect of Latin: that word in turn became the French pièce, whence the English 'piece'.

One linguistic reflection of the swift decline of the Picts is found in a village in West Lothian; Kinneil, at the eastern end of the Antonine Wall. The Venerable Bede, writing in the 8th century, records Kinneil as a place on the border between Northumbria and the Picts: he gives its name in English as Peneltun, in Welsh (the language of Strathclyde) as Penguaul and in Pictish as Peanfahel (meaning "Head of the Wall"). Nennius, two hundred years later, records the place-name in English and Gaelic (Cenail): in that short time the Pictish language had vanished and Gaelic appeared. However the Gaelic name conceals the Pictish within it: the initial "P" has become a "C", in the Gaelic manner.

The Irish name for the Picts, which as Suze has observed is Cruithne is the same P/B -> C conversion of a word like 'Britons'.

 
Jenny
1243310.  Mon Jul 24, 2017 11:32 am Reply with quote

Suze - a question born of ignorance here. Why is one P-Celtic and another Q-Celtic?

 
Alexander Howard
1243480.  Wed Jul 26, 2017 7:21 am Reply with quote

Annoyingly, I do know this one too, though I cannot make it interesting, let alone even quite interesting.

The only extant Celtic languages are those of the British Isles and Breton, which is British in origin, so they are the only ones we can study with confidence. They all have great similarities in vocabulary and grammar, but there are two distinct groups: the Gaelic languages (Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic) and the 'Brittonic' languages (Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Cumbric and Pictish). The main obvious distinction is a change in the initial letters of words, so in Welsh, Breton and Pictish the word for "Head" is pen but in Gaelic it is ceann. The Old Welsh for "son of" is Map (later written 'ap') and in Gaelic of course Mac.

A series of consonant changes may be traced between the two sets of languages but P => C is the main one noted, hence Welsh, Breton etc being "P-Celtic" and Gaelic "Q-Celtic" (no, I don't know why not "C-Celtic").

The big argument between philologists is whether the P / Q split happened in Europe or in Ireland. Gaulish was certainly a P-Celtic language. If any Q-Celtic language can be traced amongst the few, scattered inscriptions of Iron Age Europe, it might prove that Gaelic has a distinct origin in Europe, but the growing consensus is that the European Celtic languages were all P-Celtic, and Gaelic split off in the British Isles, from a common "Insular Celtic".

You can wake up now.

 

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