Skip to main content Accessibility help

Celtic influence on Old English: phonological and phonetic evidence


It has generally been assumed that Celtic linguistic influence on Old English is limited to a few marginal loanwords. If a language shift had taken place from Celtic to Old English, however, one would expect to find traces of that in Old English phonology and (morpho)syntax. In this article I argue that (1) the way in which the West Germanic sound system was reshaped in Old English strongly suggests the operation of a hitherto unrecognized substratum; (2) that phonetic substratum is strongly reminiscent of Irish rather than British Celtic; (3) the Old Irish phonetic−phonological system provides a more plausible model for reconstructing the phonetics of pre-Roman Celtic in Britain than the British Celtic system. The conclusion is that there is phonetic continuity between pre-Roman British Celtic and Old English, which suggests the presence of a pre-Anglo-Saxon population shifting to Old English.

Hide All
Bird, Barbara. 1997. Past and present studies of Hebridean English phonology. In Tristram, Hildegard (ed.), The Celtic Englishes, 287300. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter.
Borgstrøm, Carl. 1974. On the influence of Norse on Scottish Gaelic. Lochlann 6, 91103.
Campbell, Alistair. 1968. Old English grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Daunt, Marjorie. 1939. Old English sound changes reconsidered in relation to scribal tradition and practice. Transactions of the Philological Society, 108–37.
Filppula, Markku, Klemola, Juhani & Pitkänen, Heli (eds.). 2002. The Celtic roots of English. Joensuu: University of Joensuu, Faculty of Humanities.
Forsyth, Katherine. 1997. Language in Pictland. Utrecht: de Keltische Draak.
Greene, David. 1973. The growth of palatalization in Irish. Transactions of the Philological Society, 127–36.
Greene, David. 1976. The diphthongs of Old Irish. Ériu 27, 2645.
Hogg, Richard M. 1992. A grammar of Old English, vol. 1: Phonology. Oxford: Blackwell.
Higham, Nicholas (ed.). 2007. Britons in Anglo-Saxon England. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer.
Isaac, Graham R. 2003. Some Old-Irish etymologies, and some conclusions drawn from them. Ériu 53, 151–5.
Jackson, Kenneth. 1953. Language and history in early Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Jackson, Kenneth. 1955. The Pictish language. In Wainwright, Frederick (ed.), The problem of the Picts, 129–66. Edinburgh: Nelson.
Kastovsky, Dieter. 1992. Semantics and vocabulary. In Hogg, Richard (ed.), The Cambridge history of the English language, vol. II: The beginnings to 1066, 290408. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Laker, Stephen. 2002. An explanation for the changes kw-, hw- > χw- in the English dialects. In Filppula et al. (eds.), 183–98.
McCone, Kim. 1996. Towards a relative chronology of ancient and medieval Celtic sound change. Maynooth: Department of Old and Middle Irish, St Patrick's College.
Nielsen, Hans F. 1985. Old English and the continental Germanic languages. Innsbruck: Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft.
Raftery, Barry. 1994. Pagan Celtic Ireland. London: Thames and Hudson.
Sammallahti, Pekka. 1984. New developments in Inari Lappish phonology. In Hajdú, Péter & Honti, László (eds.), Studien zur phonologischen Beschreibung uralischer Sprachen, 303–10. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.
Schrijver, Peter. 1995. Studies in British Celtic historical phonology. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi.
Schrijver, Peter. 1999. The Celtic contribution to the development of the North Sea Germanic vowel system, with special reference to Coastal Dutch. NOWELE 35, 347.
Schrijver, Peter. 2000. Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD. Ériu 51, 95–9.
Schrijver, Peter. 2002. The rise and fall of British Latin: Evidence from English and Brittonic. In Filppula et al. (eds.), 87–110.
Schrijver, Peter. 2005a. Early Celtic diphthongization and the Celtic-Latin interface. In de Hoz, J., Luján, E. & Sims-Williams, P. (eds.), New approaches to Celtic place-names in Ptolemy's Geography, 5567. Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas.
Schrijver, Peter. 2005b. More on non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD. Ériu 55, 137–44.
Schrijver, Peter. 2007. What Britons spoke around 400 AD. In Higham (ed.), 165–71.
Thurneysen, Rudolf. 1946. A grammar of Old Irish. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
Woolf, Alex. 2007. Apartheid and economics in Anglo-Saxon England. In Higham (ed.), 115–29.
Wright, Joseph. 1925. Old English grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

English Language & Linguistics
  • ISSN: 1360-6743
  • EISSN: 1469-4379
  • URL: /core/journals/english-language-and-linguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed