Jackson – Language and History in Early Britain (LHEB)

The study of Proto-Brittonic or British, Proto-Celtic and Proto-Indo-European is an area of study that allows for considerable speculation and in most cases only tangentially relevant, but the study of Brittonic specifically is very much central to it, and so too the work of Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (1909–1991), the first person to develop a timeline for changes in the phonology of Brittonic. Jackson’s Language and History in Early Britain (LHEB) (1953) references several other significant works on Celtic grammar, including:

  • Pederson’s Vergleichende Grammatik der Keltischen Sprachen (VKG),
  • Pedersen and Lewis’ A Concise Comparative Celtic Grammar (CCCG),
  • Thurneysen’s A Grammar of Old Irish,
  • M. Jones’ A Welsh Grammar, and
  • Baudis’ Grammar of Early Welsh.

LHEB comprehensively surveyed the phonology of Early Medieval Brittonic and mapped the evolution from ancient to modern Brittonic languages, has an extensive list of references and draws on a wide range of sources. It was the first attempt to set out a timeline for changes to Brittonic, and one which broadly still stands. No one has come close to its comprehensiveness or thoroughness. It is an essential reference within this project as it deals with the transformation of Late South-western and Late Western British into Primitive and then Old Cornish and Welsh. The review by Myres (1955) still stands and Jackson’s work is essential to this study.

Epigraphy – Past and Present

Since Georg Fabricus (C16), the importance of epigraphs (monumental inscriptions) has been fully recognised as has its relationship with literature. He edited versions of Virgil, Horace and Terence, and collected epigraphic material (Encyclopædia Britannica Eds., 1911). The field of transcription is particularly advanced in epigraphy where there is little context and fewer characters, and errors in transcription are therefore fatal to translation attempts. In this project this applies to Roman and Celtic inscriptions, written in Latin, Ogham or perhaps Greek. [Ref Thomas Celtic Britain p?]? Many inscriptions follow a particular formula, such as:

  • Well-known formulae ..hic iacet.. (here lies) and ..filius.. (son of),
  • Certain abbreviations such as the praenomina c. (Gaius) and fl. (Flavius) and,
  • Titles including imp. (Imperator), presbit. (Presbyter).

This codification may often simplify and clarify likely readings, providing clarity as to the beginning, end and completeness of any personal names contained within the epigraph.

Significant surveys of epigraphic material have been completed over the past 200 years including Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL), chiefly led by Theodor Mommsen (1817–1903), and also Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum (CIIC) by R.A.S. Macalister (1870-1950), both of which are relevant to this study and are extensively referenced by others. In addition an index of names found on domestic wares in Britain has been produced by Collingwood, Wright, & Frere (1995). So far as Gaulish is concerned (and it is of interest for Britain since it supplies additional and relevant name elements) Gaulish Personal Names (GPN) (Ellis Evans, 1967) is also widely referenced. Lujan (2003) provides an important update, collating additional names from other sources and placing in the same format as Ellis Evans. Jackson and others all use CIL, CIIC and GPN and the reconstruction of Brittonic relies significantly on these sources.

Coming fully up to date, the twin volumes by Raybould & Sims-Williams are, without doubt, the last word in cataloguing Celtic-language epigraphs. A Corpus of Latin Inscriptions of the Roman Empire containing Celtic Personal Names (Raybould & Sims-Williams, 2007) contains the full text of each inscription, whilst the Introduction and Supplement to the Corpus of Latin Inscriptions of the Roman Empire containing Celtic Personal Names (Raybould & Sims-Williams, 2009) contains a full breakdown of first, second and third elements of each name together with a latitude and longitude. Their list of names and elements (ibid., p.9) is particularly useful.


Translation and Transcription – A Discussion of Problems in Brittonic

For the purposes of this project the reconstruction process may be considered to be a serial process comprising (i) transcription, (ii) translation, (iii) analysis, and (iv) modelling, although to some extent it is iterative and it is often necessary to return to earlier steps to complete the process.

The problem of the reconstruction of Brittonic is central to providing accurate translations of literature and epigraphs, and thence personal names, therefore documents and monuments are the raw stuff of reconstruction. But without an accurate and consistent model of Brittonic translation quality will be poor or incomplete, and most likely based on assumptions depending on the language skills of the translator (who may be primarily concerned with Latin, Welsh, Breton or less likely, Cornish). However, reconstruction activities depend on the quality of transcription of originals, but transcription usually involves some knowledge of the source language, so it is not an activity truly independent of translation.

To perform a correct translation, translators need enough of the text, in ungarbled form that makes grammatical sense. This is a chicken-and-egg problem, and whilst it may not be possible to avoid it, it needs to be recognised, as does the possibility of errors being introduced during transcription. Once enough data has been collected it ‘may’ be possible to identify both distinct individuals and multiple individuals having the same name. However, differences in spelling need to be taken into account, thus requiring phonological analysis of the data and normalising more archaic forms against later forms.

Until the C20 philologists held the ring for the entire process of manuscript translation, being a one-stop shop performing transcription, translation, analysis and literary criticism activities. Although philological interest has now become fragmented across several fields much of the information relating to Brittonic originates from this earlier period of philology and philologists: their influence remains potent.

Celtic philology, in particular, has a “rich and enduring tradition” (Koch, 1990), and features names relevant to Cornish studies and the Cornish language, such as Whitley Stokes, 1830–1909 and Louis Lucien Bonaparte, 1813–1891 (Davis, 2002). They were roughly contemporary with Sir John Rhŷs, 1840–1915 who is credited with achieving academic status for Celtic philology, and became the first Professor of Celtic at Oxford. However, Celtic philology has now faded as a field of research, and publication of newly discovered manuscripts is now the domain of specialist linguistics and historians as exemplified by the publication of Bewnans Ke (G. Thomas & Williams, 2016).

Performing detailed analysis of medieval manuscripts involves a high degree of competence in a several areas, not just linguistics and history and may involve textual criticism specialists, materials analysts and paleographers [Ref]. A list of difficulties associated with manuscript translation would be lengthy, but a discussion of which may be found in XXXX [Ref]. By way of illustration difficulties include inability to unravel unpunctuated or unstructured text, poor quality of the book hand used (uncial, insular miniscule or Caroline miniscule) or unfamiliarity with the language used. This may be by the original writer, copyist and/or translator, perhaps with errors amplified at each step.

A review of Hammer & Geoffrey of Monmouth (Author) (1951) illustrates some of these difficulties, particularly distinguishing names rendered with numerous down strokes of the pen <i,m,n,u,v> (in Duvianus, Dumanus, Dimianus), differentiating between similar pairs of graphs such as <th> and <ch> (in Arthgal, Archal), and confusion between single characters and tightly kerned characters such as <d> and <cl> (in Archgallo, Ardigallo). For Brittonic several possible readings of a name may be feasible. There is also the problem of patternicity, since a reader may tend to settle on a name they recognise, perhaps from another text: conflation of names into a single form is therefore a risk, as are the risks of proliferating variant names as distinct and inadvertently eliminating real new names.

More recently computer science has started to make an invaluable contribution through specialised computerised algorithms for identifying the likely author (Van Dalen-Oskam, 2014), or performing genealogical analysis of variant texts [stemmatology] (Camps & Cafiero, 2014). With the advent of computing the disciplines of digital humanities and digital classics have emerged. Support for data standards (mark up standards) now exist for digital transcription called EpiDoc (“EpiDoc: Epigraphic Documents in TEI XML download | SourceForge.net,” n.d.).

Latin scribal tradition and the Latin character set have been the basis for rendering Celtic languages since they began to be recorded on paper. There are several issues that arise from the use of Latin characters, including:

  • The inherent problem of attempting to record a spoken language with a set of graphs not designed to represent it fully or accurately, [Ref phonology vs. orthography p?]?
  • Variation in the spoken form and how this is dealt with orthographically, and in particular, [Ref]? and
  • Interference from the language supplying the graphical system. This is a particular issue with the use of Latin graphs for Brittonic and is therefore within the scope of this study. [Ref]?

The rules for transcription (phonemic conversion) are generally set by convention (for example Greek <κ> à Latin <c>). Transcription is a more or less mechanism process. However, translation (language conversion) is often difficult, particularly where monuments or manuscripts have been degraded or were poorly originated. The process of reconstructing monumental inscriptions in difficult cases is illustrated by Bultrighini (2017), who suggests an approach for partially dealing with mis-transcription, but even this does corrective approach does not deal with the issue of mis-transcribing through misunderstanding the source language (mistaking Celtic for Latin, for example). An illustration of the difficulties in translating an unfamiliar language may be found by examining Thorpe’s transcription of the Bodmin Manumissions (Thorpe, 1865). Here he has read <cl> for <d>:

*Anauclat < *Anaudat, and *Aeniucl < *Aniud.

The potential for throwing out subsequent translation or classification attempts is obvious, although in this case Thorpe has been superseded so it is unlikely to result in errors by future researchers. Translators have frequently had to deal with incomplete or corrupted forms, faded writing and damaged stonework, as well as poor quality workmanship by the original authors, whose literacy may be questionable.[ref] Furthermore, the translator may have mis-read, mis-understood or deliberately reworked the primary source, perhaps for purposes of linguistic rehabilitation (Ellis, Evans, & Cardiff Conference on the Theory and Practice of Translation in the Middle Ages (3rd : 1991), 1994, p.3). Moreover, he points to the grey area between being a scribe and a translator (ibid., p.9)

The subject of manuscript quality is a huge subject in its own right, so will only be considered in so far as it affects the extraction of proper names from texts. The principal issues that are relevant are, (i) variation between texts, such as the same name spelt differently, and (ii) incomplete or corrupted forms.


Thus far….

Ethnology: Context and Culture

Ethnological study is about context: people, their social and cultural conditions, and how geographical range may have influenced their behaviour. This is a strongly qualitative field where the currencies are beliefs and social norms: A very uncomfortable bedfellows with highly structured methods that stress morphemes and headwords. The people concerned here are the Cornish and the British-Celts of the Western Seaways who shared cultural viewpoints, had opinions and beliefs and whose culture is unique. Gross assumptions that they were barbarians much like any other as described by Caesar, may be completely wrong: ‘Barbarian peoples’ may have been more distinct from each other than modern day peoples are, and Caesar is not a neutral observer. Their geographical range (Cornwall and the Atlantic Arc) influenced their priorities, economic, social and cultural practices, and in turn they transformed their environment through settlement, farming, religion and warfare.

Crucially, my study must recognise the issue of projecting present day norms and values onto these ancient names and naming, and prevent any cultural ‘contamination’ from affecting the processing of evidence. Causes of observer bias are a particular issue (trying not to contaminate analysis with the attitudes, behaviours and beliefs of the modern age).

So, this study is part-phenomenology in so far as recognising that the landscape may have affected naming practices relating to feature names, but also in a broader cultural and spiritual sense, since a treatment of the types of social interaction is required, where personal and place names were created, used and if possible, changed over time. Considering ethnological aspects of Brittonic practice in naming alongside historical linguistics, brings positivist and anti-positivist elements together and creates the space to create a more rounded description of the practice of naming, whilst being firmly grounded by ‘numeric’ evidence. A tall order for my project.

Martial Culture: The Names of Early Medieval Cornwall

A superficial review of p-Celtic personal names from the first half of the first millennium CE shows a strong preference for militaristic, heroic and formulaic names, a point so obvious that it is rarely stated or enumerated. What conclusions, if any, can be drawn from this?

At the risk of being obvious, it is not that p-Celtic language lexicons had a preponderance of these words, but rather that the high status names most likely to be recorded on monumental stonework and in literature did. Although these languages had plenty of name elements relating to farming, metalworking or bardic activities these are not particularly numerous within the literary record. An ethnological and non-representational system for Brittonic will stress this, because that’s what the evidence says. This does not mean that most people were warriors, but simply that they were considered worth commemorating. This militaristic preoccupation in naming parallels the way that hill-forts dominate the archaeological record.

It seems reasonable to assume that Early Medieval Cornwall had strong oral and historical traditions that relate to martial valour.


What IS a proper name, Lucy?

Matthews (1987, p300) defines a proper noun as “a name for a specific individual or of a set of individuals distinguished only by their having that name”, a particularly unsatisfactory definition since it involves circularity between the terms name and proper noun, a view also shared by Anderson (2007, p4), and in sharp contrast to the view of Millianism.

Until the Late C20 theoretical studies in naming focused on context and reference (‘who’ refers to ‘what’ and ‘when’) followed the so-called Millianism tradition after J.S. Mill (1806-1873) [Bib Ref]. However, Millianism has fallen out of favour with grammarians since it is now thought that neither context nor reference are absolutely necessary to differentiate between a common noun and a proper name: A more useful model to categorise names is required than is provided by Millianism alone. An effective critique of Millianism is given by J. M. Anderson (2007).

The issue that most obviously arises is that even highly specific names may still be subject to ambiguity. St John the Baptist may be generally considered to be the person in the Bible, but could still also refer to a church with that dedication, or some other oblique reference. This is not simply a matter of ontology, but also grammar. For example in a conversation “I saw them coming at the same time” is ambiguous because the sub-clause ‘at the same time’ might refer to subject or object, both of which are explicitly named within the clause, or a third party implied but not stated within it.

This is where Pragmatics, a branch of linguistics, comes in. It stresses the importance of context to any dialogue. Pragmatics attempts to define the extent to which language generally (but including names) is influenced by context: In principle pragmatics may offer an approach to resolving issues identifying proper names generally, and specific individuals in particular [Ref TBC]. Pragmatics is a reaction against structuralists such as de Sausurre, and the assertion that everything in language arises from its inherent structure and everything can be decomposed from a text if one understands the structure [Ref]. In addition, Habermas is relevant here in  linguistics research through the development of universal pragmatics: this is particularly pertinent to the study of inscriptions and the notion of memes embedded within literature, rather than names simply being identifiers.

Thus Millianism, a system of self-evident ‘truths’ on which all logic and language is based, has little to offer the study of onomastics, a robust refutation of which requires several paragraphs to do properly. However, it may be summarised that ‘truth’ is a variable, not exact commodity in language. Language, and literature in particular is replete with untruths, allusions, double-meanings and down-right contrary statements. Names too, are flexible, meaning different things to different people including the sender and receiver. It is for this reason that the case for a grammar of names advanced most effectively by Anderson, and the study of properhood by Coates will need to be part of my thesis model.

The Lucy in the title to this article is a quote in the Lucille Ball episode where Ricardo announces his presence to Lucille. This quote was then reused by Colonel O’Neill in Stargate SG-1. To understand properhood context, it seems, is everything.

QGIS for Name Mapping

One of the main outcomes of my research thesis is a set of map resources that may be used to illustrate how certain types of names are distributed in the landscape. This is partly a linguistic endeavour, but also one that needs a geographer’s tools and mindset (it remains to be seen whether I have this!).

I needed to find an Open Source mapping tool, and QGIS presented itself, particularly so since a great number of people use it for a variety of uses, from physical geography to anthropology.

QGIS provides the means to load data from CSV files, in my case a list of place names with coordinates. These are then ‘projected’ onto a map canvas (remembering that the Earth is curved) and then displayed. The basic idea is that a map (in the form of a picture), is linked to a coordinate system (in this case the Ordnance Survey system), and then OS points (places) are then mapped onto the map image.

Once this first step is completed, all sorts of really cool stuff can be done (mathematical stuff), such as finding nearest neighbours, statistical co-relations, density calculations and so forth. One of the goals of this for Cornwall is to look for associations between name types and man-made features such as fortifications and roads, or natural defences such as rivers.

Tightening Security

Following on from my Facebook decision I have decided to toughen up my IT security generally. All my anti-virus protection is up to date across my devices but I wanted to go further. As of today I have finally bitten the VPN bullet.

What is a VPN? It stands for Virtual Private Network, which doesn’t help much, but let me explain for those of us who could do with a quick definition. Why do I (and you) need one?

The best way to think of a connection to the Internet when you try to access a web site or your email is that your PC or laptop, even at home, connects first to your home’s router (the WIFI box next to your telephone), then to the local telephone exchange, then to some server somewhere (think of this as a big switch that routes your internet request to the next place in the network), then another server (… perhaps several others …) goes and gets some information, packages it up for you, then reverses the trip back home again. Now you might (probably do) have a ‘secure’ connection to your home’s router; you’re pretty safe up to any equipment in cables in the road (although not necessarily), but after that? Who knows where your information goes. Now some of your connections like your bank transfers will be encrypted (deliberately scrambled like a military code) but some are not: They are sent ‘in clear’. This is generally true if you are sitting in a coffee shop using the public WIFI.

It is ridiculously easy to hack these transmissions and this can be done with a ‘sniffer’ if you have some basic network skills. I really do mean ridiculously.

This is where a VPN comes in. It sits on your machine and scrambles ALL your transmissions, and it works because of a system of mixed encryption ‘keys’ that only you and the server at the other end can unlock, and it is unique to your transmission.

There are lots of VPNs about and the good ones share nothing with governments, other companies or individuals. All that is necessary is to subscribe to a service (yes, this means paying about the price of a Netflix account but penny pinching with this is most definitely a false economy). Once signed up you download their software and it runs unobtrusively in the background.

I have gone with Express VPN for my VPN by the way, but advise you to look at a VPN comparison site to see which one fits your needs as I cannot recommend one for you. What I would say is GET ONE, whether you are worried about Russian hackers, crooks hanging around city centre coffee shops or Facebook tracking you, just do it.

Coming Off Facebook – Again

Yes, this is the third time I have come off Facebook, and this time there is very little chance I will be using it except for the odd public advertisement for something I am involved in (Cornish language or history most likely). In fact I have seen a trend for Facebook now to be used only for advertising local events, and people to post pictures of local landscapes. It is worth it just for those two things, but in my opinion clear boundaries need to be set.

I’m not going to make a song and dance of it, but I’d like to explain why, and it’s not all to do with Facebook giving our data to Cambridge Analytica, although that’s certainly a part of it, because I already guessed this would would happen when I dumped Facebook the first time around (when was that, 2010?). That time I signed off with “In all conscience I cannot stay on Facebook since it means everything I do will be associated with family members and friends.”

I admit that I have a knack for spotting trouble long, long before it arrives but this was obvious to me, and I’m still surprised that so few people took the risks of Facebook seriously.

The second time on Facebook was purely for IT testing purposes when I worked at Falmouth University as part of my paid work for my University clients, and I never ‘used’ the account (to the annoyance of some family and friends who though I was blanking them).

What I did not spot is that someone evil genius (and I am not being facetious, it really is genius) would find a way to harvest data (easily) and then perform personality matching (harder) to work out a system of nudges to change people’s minds (utterly evil genius: I wish I’d thought of it, even though I couldn’t manipulate people this way).

This is the reason why I think social media is dead. It really is now just two-way advertisement, where the recipient agrees to be manipulated. I am not being melodramatic as I have seen first hand my friends and relatives manipulated through peer pressure (willing and unwilling) and nudged through propaganda to take ever more outspoken political positions. I cannot see how well natured debate or democracy can function in such a cloud of trolling and hysteria.

As Scotty of the Enterprise would say, “Captain, we have a problem.” No kidding.

Locating Cornish in Indo-European Linguistics – Part 4 (The Relevance of Linguistic Culture)

When linguists talk about ‘Brittonic’ they mean an insular p-Celtic language or group of p-Celtic languages closely related to the Gaulish group (Russell, 1995, pp.15-18). These are related to q-Celtic languages from the Goidelic and Hispano-Celtic groups, although not closely.

There are two competing theories attempting to place these languages on a family tree, broadly speaking:

  • One that places insular (Brittonic and Goidelic) languages in one group and continental languages in another, and
  • Another that places p-Celtic in one group and q-Celtic in another.

However, there may never be insufficient evidence to resolve which model is correct, even if the basis of the question is considered valid, and in any case the outcome of this debate is not greatly relevant to my project.

Brittonic, Gaulish, Goidelic and potentially other branches of the Celtic languages shared many lexical elements (ibid p.20). This is helpful since name elements no longer present in Cornish (or Brittonic) may be found in sister languages thus allowing a translation to be carried out. Ultimately, the goal is to produce a lexicon of normalised Brittonic names that are complete, correct, and in nominative case.

The stock of Brittonic and Gaulish names includes a large number of dithematic names, apparently relating to high status individuals, predominantly male and many might be characterised as members of a warrior class with common dithematic name elements such as the protothemes *bogio-, *boudi-, *camulo-, *cassi-, and deuterothemes
*-catu-, *-caleto-, *-nerto-, *-uedo-, *-ualo, *-gallo (a full list will be provided in a subsequent chapter). These names stress traits relating to the role of protector, aggressor, battle-worthiness or leadership. Celtic society is presumed to have had classes associated with law, philosophy, oratory, metalworking and manufacture, so one might expect these to also be present in names found in Cornwall.

Cornwall was a recipient of cultural transfer between the insular as well as continental worlds and instrumental to it and stability of settlement by the population locates the origin of the Cornish language alongside others in Northwest Europe. The Cornish language is located within the milieu of Brittonic languages, agrarian settlement and warrior society in Britain, with names stressing warrior and leadership qualities: All of which should be present in personal and place names.

The question then, is whether this study can contribute to the broader understanding of Late Brittonic society through an analysis of personal names and their associated settlements. This is one of the key elements to be addressed in this porject.