Language and Naming in Brittonic in the Early Medieval Period

Sometime before C6 the closely related South-western British and Western British languages started to look less like Gaulish and more like the modern p-Celtic languages, and Cornish, Welsh, Breton and Cumbric (extinct) began taking shape as modern European languages. Cornish and Breton (from South-western British) eventually diverged from each other during the last part of the Early Medieval Period.

There will have been dialectic differences in these regions of Brittonic usage as well as differences in naming practice between them, but the structure and many name elements of Early Cornish personal names broadly follows that of early names found in Britain, Ireland, Gaul and Celt-Iberia. It is these names that have come down (with modification) to Cornish today including well known names such as Arthur, Gerent and Winwaloe.

Cornish and Other Celtic Languages

For those unfamiliar with Cornish, it is classed as a p-Celtic member of the family of Celtic languages, which was once spoken across much of Europe, and is now restricted to the insular world and Brittany: the only surviving languages being Cornish, Welsh and Breton (all p-Celtic), and Manx, Scots Gaelic and Irish (all q-Celtic).

The relationship between these two branches is illustrated by p-Celtic words such as peduar [W] (four) and their q-Celtic equivalents: cethar [Ir].

The etymology, morphology, syntax and phonology of Cornish and the other Celtic languages ultimately derive from a putative proto-Indo European or proto-Celtic language or family of languages spoken in Britain in pre-history.

This post graduate project will help make sense of what Late South-western British (Primitive Cornish) and Old Cornish personal names were like and then reconstruct them from their later forms.

Image (c) pzconservation