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Mon Jun 15 2009

Review: Sociolinguistics: Filppula, Klemola & Paulasto (2008)

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        1.    David Stifter, English and Celtic in Contact

Message 1: English and Celtic in Contact
Date: 15-Jun-2009
From: David Stifter <>
Subject: English and Celtic in Contact
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AUTHOR: Filppula, Markku; Klemola, Juhani; Paulasto, HeliTITLE: English and Celtic in ContactPUBLISHER: RoutledgeYEAR: 2008

David Stifter, Institut für Sprachwissenschaft, Universität Wien

SUMMARYThis book contains the results of two projects undertaken by the authors, threescholars of English, between the years 2000–2002 and 2005–2008 about ''Englishand Celtic in Contact'' and ''Vernacular Universals vs. Contact-Induced LanguageChange''. For a long time, questions of language contact tended to revolve aroundidentifiable layers of loanwords. The very rare loanwords from early medievalCeltic languages in Standard English (StE) could thus be taken as indicating avery small amount of interaction with the native inhabitants of Britain duringthe Anglo-Saxon conquest of the island. More recent theories about languagecontact, however, especially those of Thomason & Kaufman 1988, have demonstratedthat different types of language contact have different outcomes, leaving tracesin quite diverse areas of grammar. Borrowing of words is only one of thosetraces. Based on these new theories, as well as on new findings in Britisharchaeology, the authors set out to assess anew the relationship between Englishand its Celtic precursor and neighbor languages. The authors' basic tenets arethat ''First, the demographic and sociohistoric circumstances surrounding theadventus Saxonum in the early mediaeval period were such that linguistic contactinfluences were not just possible but inevitable. The principal source of theCeltic substratal influences were the Britons who, after a period of extensivebilingualism, shifted to English and were gradually assimilated to theAnglo-Saxon population in the course of the first two or three centuriesfollowing the adventus. Secondly, the same type of language shift process, withlargely similar outcomes, has taken place in the modern period in those areas ofthe British Isles and Ireland where English has gradually replaced theindigenous Celtic language as the dominant language'' (p. 245).

The book is divided into two chronological parts. The first part discusses the''Early Celtic Influences in English'' (7–132), from the beginning of contactuntil the late middle ages. The 'earliest contacts', primarily those withBritish Celtic languages, cover a period of almost a thousand years, that is, aperiod twice as long as that of the 'modern contacts'. After a concise survey of''The Historical Background to the Early Contacts'' (7–23), in which theconflicting interpretations by 'Anglo-Saxonists' and 'Celtomaniacs' regardingthe fate of the native population in the face of the Anglo-Saxon advancement arepresented, the focus turns to ''The Linguistic Outcomes of the Early Contacts''(24–132). This features selected items from the domains of syntax, phonology andlexis. The presentation follows the basic order 1. the problem, 2. possibleexplanations (with and without Celtic substratum) proposed in earlierscholarship, 3. conclusion with the solution that has the greatest probabilityin the eyes of the authors. The following presumably contact-induced featuresare discussed in the section on ''Grammar'' (24–118):

1. ''The Internal vs. External Possessor Constructions'' (see below)2. ''The Old English Distinction between the *es- and *bheu-forms of the Verb'be''': Old English is unique among the attested Germanic languages, but similarto the Insular Celtic languages, in having two different present indicativeparadigms for the verb 'to be', the functional difference perhaps being thatbetween non-habitual and habitual. Too new to have been included in this chapteris Schumacher 2007. While mainly concerned with Celtic-Germanic contact inprehistoric Central Europe, Schumacher also makes the valuable observation thatthe opposition between a plain present and a habitual present in the verb 'tobe' in Old English must be inherited from Proto-West-Germanic; its preservationin Old English can be ascribed to contact influence from British.3. ''The Northern Subject Rule'' (see below)4. ''Periphrastic DO'': In StE the use of the construction ''to do'' + verbal steminstead of the plain verb is confined to negation and interrogation, but invarious dialects the construction is also used for affirmative statements.5. ''The Progressive (or -ing) Form'': The progressive construction ''is X-ing'' isstructurally similar to verbal-noun constructions in Celtic languages.6. ''The Cleft Construction'': In the Insular Celtic languages with their wordorder VSO and with their lack of contrastive intonation clefting constructionsare the primary or only method of putting focus on constituents. English shows anotable propensity to the same construction.7. ''Relative Clause Structures'': Contact-clauses without an overt relativemarker may have their models in Insular Celtic relative constructions.8. The final section treats ''Other Grammatical Features with Possible CelticOrigins'': ''The Development of the Self-forms as Intensifiers and Reflexives'',''Comparative nor'', ''The Cumbric Score'' (i.e. peculiar numerals mainly used forcounting sheep in Cumberland), and ''Pronoun Exchange and Other Related Phenomena''.

The possible effects of the contact situations on ''Phonology'' (118–123) are lesseasy to pinpoint. This section is accordingly much shorter. A case can perhapsbe made for the retention of interdental fricatives in English, as opposed toalmost all other Germanic languages, this being due to the presence ofequivalent sounds in the British languages. In this regard it is worthremembering that in the early medieval period interdental fricatives were anareal feature uniting practically all of Western Europe, from the very south tothe very north, including languages like French. The claim that interdentalfricatives are exotic in the context of European languages, is unfounded: in theearly middle ages all Germanic languages had them, Insular Celtic and WesternRomance had them, and today Greek, Albanian and Finnish dialects have them. Theonly language groups where they have been absent from all diachronic stages areSlavic and Baltic. But see also the World Atlas of Language Structures, whichalso lists 'th'-sounds among uncommon consonants (;author: Ian Maddieson). Other areas of influence in phonology are harder toassess. Perhaps some ''low-level'' phenomena can be ascribed to Celtic substratalor adstratal influence, like allophonic lenition of word-internal consonants orvowel reductions which, in consequence, caused attrition of inflectional endingand thus enhanced the change of English from a predominantly synthetic to alanguage of a predominantly analytic type.

''Lexis'' (123–131) is also treated with rather quickly. ''Onomastics'' (placenamesand personal names) is important as a body of evidence, inasmuch as the receivedview, according to which the Anglo-Saxon invasion was accompanied by large-scalepopulation displacement (ethnic cleansing), predicts that even this type ofloans should be negligible. This is not the case, however. The number ofnon-onomastic ''Lexical Borrowings'' is conspicuously small in the Old Englishperiod, but the authors argue that in later stages and regional variants of thelanguage many more instances of borrowing from Celtic languages can be found(see below). The possibly much greater number of loans in the Middle and EarlyModern English periods must not be mistaken as evidence for substrate influence,however.

The second part of the book is devoted to ''Celtic Influences in the Modern Age''(135–220). It deals with the outcomes of the contacts in those areas wherelanguage shift has taken place relatively recently (i.e. mainly in the pasttwo-, three hundred years). Accordingly, the so-called 'Celtic Englishes' (= CE)receive the main attention. StE is awarded less attention than in the firstpart. The section about the history and sociological background to the contacts,entitled ''The General Nature of the Celtic-English Interface in the ModernPeriod'' (135–167), is considerably longer, the section on ''The LinguisticOutcomes of the Modern Contacts'' (168–220) considerably shorter than thecorresponding sections of the first part, despite or because the evidence andthe material basis is much better. The features identified for the CEs are lesscontroversial, because their geographical distribution and the structuralcorrespondences between the precursor languages and the local variants ofEnglish make substratal phenomena much more certain. Nevertheless the authorsduly mention other explanations (usually with reference to universal tendencies)as well.

The grammatical features (168–204) discussed are deviant ''Definite ArticleUsage[s]'', '''Absolute' Uses of the Reflexive Pronouns'', ''The 'Progressive' Formof Verbs'', ''Perfect Markers'', ''Habitual Aspect Markers do and be'', ''Inversion[of word order] in Indirect Questions'', ''Focusing Constructions'', ''PrepositionalUsage''. These are followed by accounts of ''Phonology'' (204–208) and ''Lexis''(209–219). While structural similarities may connect several different regionalvariants of English, phonological peculiarities and specific vocabulary arerather confined to single regions. It is striking that many of the peculiaritiesof modern 'Celtic' Englishes fall in the same categories as those claimed and/oridentified for the medieval English language, thereby giving indirect support tothe substratal hypothesis as such. The authors also make the point that certainconspicuous features of English that set it apart from more standard Germaniclanguages are reinforced by the modern contacts with Celtic languages. On theother hand, the unifying influence of the modern media is rather quicklyeliminating local traits nowadays in favor of StE.

In the summarizing epilogue ''The Extent of Celtic Influences in English''(221–260), the authors outline again the previous debate and new perspectives onthe question and they reassess the extra-linguistic and linguistic evidence inthe light of what was argued in the book, as well as the implications for arealand typological linguistics.

Both parts of the book are interspersed with illustrations (maps and tables),which are reproduced from other sources. The quality of reproduction is notalways the best; sometimes the scales have been reduced so as to renderillegible the captions.

EVALUATIONThis book is a good introduction to the state of research on linguistic contactsbetween English and its Celtic neighbor languages. Given the authors' interestin the matter, it comes as no surprise that they are sympathetic with Celticsubstratum explanations in many instances. One may not want to follow theauthors in their conclusions in each instance (see below for a few criticalremarks), even if one belongs to the 'Celtophiliac' side oneself, but theauthors always present the pros and cons, critical and supportive voicesevenhandedly, thus making the book a good first guidance through previousscholarship.

An understanding of the mechanisms of the change from Celtic languages toEnglish in parts of Britain may be helpful for the understanding of similarlanguage replacement in other geographical settings. One can find implicationsand models for other situations of language contact and language replacement,and what this means for the victorious and the conquered languages and theirspeech communities. I am thinking, for example, of ancient and early medievalGaul, where a study of the – admittedly few – historical source texts reveals asituation similar to that of Britain only shortly later: it appears that theGaulish language retained a vigorous existence until rather late in the Romanprovincial period, but severe social disruptions in late antiquity gave thelanguage a decisive, lethal blow that must have led to a rather abrupt end.

It is clear that the chances and successes of language replacement depend not onlinguistic, but on social factors, but it is not sociolinguistics alone thatwill be able to explain why a particular language wins out in the end. Externalfactors – 'historical' in the widest sense of the word – must not be neglected.In the case of the rapid decline of Irish it was the Great Famine in the middleof the 19th century that dramatically accelerated the development that wasalready on its way, and in the case of Gaulish I believe that it was theGermanic incursions of the 4th and 5th centuries that disturbed the socialorder, which in consequence led to a drastic limitation and decline of thesocietal functions of Gaulish. In the case of the downfall of British againstthe invading Anglo-Saxons, I wonder if epidemics at the beginning of the 6thcentury weakened the position and strength of the defenders.

Where the authors of this book go beyond an overview of previous scholarship, itbecomes apparent that occasionally they are treading foreign ground, especiallywhere historical linguistics is involved. In syntactic studies of Insular Celticit has been an observable trend to use constructions of the modern languages asthe basis for comparative research. This is partly because the modern languagesare much more atypically Indo-European (or Standard Average European, for thatmatter) in their appearance than their older stages, and they offer the 'nicer'examples for certain structural phenomena. But this may also entice scholars totake modern constructions for diachronically granted and to project them back tothe early medieval period or even beyond. A similar tendency can be encounteredin this book at occasions, too. In the following I will concentrate on thisaspect of the book, coming – as I do – from historical linguistics myself.Almost all of those points upon which I will make critical remarks have to dowith a certain lack of awareness of historical linguistics.

In chapter 2.2.3. the authors contemplate the possibility for a Celtic originfor the so-called Northern Subject Rule. By this rule, the verb takes the ending-s in all persons, singular and plural, unless a personal pronoun immediatelyprecedes it, e.g. ''birds sings'' or ''they peel them and boils them''. Thiscoordination of 3sg. verbs with plural subject nouns has a parallel (though nota perfect one) in the British languages, illustrated by the authors withexamples from Modern Welsh. The authors are aware that there is somedisagreement about the antiquity of the lack of concord between verb andsubject, but they are content with citing a few authorities who claim that theconstruction may go back to Common British, or, in their own words, ''that theagreement pattern dates back to the sixth century or earlier'' (p. 48). This isblatantly wrong. Had the authors taken a look at the oldest extant sources ofthe British languages, they would have noticed that the construction was onlyjust developing during the Old British period (8th–12th century). Even thoughthe textual witnesses for Old Breton and Old Welsh are very scarce and containvery few verbal forms (Old Cornish does not add to this question), there arejust about enough instances to allow a glimpse at the situation concerning verband subject concord in these languages (see Fleuriot 1964: 415–6). We findexamples of the inherited concord pattern, first in Old Welsh:

(1) imguodant ir degion 'the nobles asked [pl.] each other' ('Surrexit'memorandum, Chad 2, 8th–10th c.)

The same in Old Breton (note that in the two examples only the verbs are Breton,the rest of the sentences is Latin; all Old Breton quotations belong to theninth-century glossator A of the Venerable Bede's De temporum ratione):

(2) dimicent Iudei templum suum 'the Jews despise [pl.] their own temple'(Angers 477, 52a)

(3) simul s(un)t it dechreuin epacte et anni incarnationis 'it is at the sametime that the epactae and the years of the incarnation begin [pl.]' (Angers 477,75b)

This situation obtains also in the early Middle Welsh tale of 'Kulhwch acOlwen'. The following Old Welsh example has plural concord with the predicate:

(4) [...] hou bein atar ha beinn cihunn reliqua 'if they [pro-drop] were [pl.]birds that were [pl.] equal to the others (?)' ('De Mensuris et Ponderibus',Oxoniensis Prior 22b, around 820)

Other instances in Old British conform with the later distribution of singularand plural forms or show a hesitancy between the two systems. In sentence (5),which is Old Welsh, the verb stands in a relative clause where the rules ofconcord may have been given up earlier; sentences (6)–(8) are Old Breton:

(5) [...] cymreith ha bryein [...] arod|es breenhined hinn ha touysso|cion Cymry[...] '[...] the law and privilege [...] which these kings and princes of theCymry [...] gave [sg.]' ('Privilege of Teilio', Book of Llandaf, 12th c.)

(6) pop eil gueith int dou bissex a bidont in. en(ecad). gueid alall is tri'every second time it is [pl.] two leap years that are [pl.] in a nine-yearcycle; the other time it is [sg.] three' (Angers 477, 74b)

(7) dadarued epac(dou) XXV, int rid ou mod [...] '25 epactae take place [sg.],they are [pl.] free as to their mode [...]' (Angers 477, 79a)

(8) is petguar blidan iu em 'it is [sg.] four years that it is' (Angers 477, 75b)

These examples suffice to demonstrate that coordination of singular verbs withplural nouns was only just beginning to develop in the individual Britishlanguages and that in no way was it an established rule in the Common Britishlanguage of the 6th century. It is probably a coincidence that the singularverbs are followed by numerals in the cited examples. In sentence (8) thesubject 'four years' could also be regarded as an adverbial expression. In thatcase the singular verb could be justified.

A similar lack of examples for the earliest attested stages of the InsularCeltic languages characterizes chapter 2.2.1 about the internal-possessorconstruction. In the internal-possessor construction the possessor assumes theform of a possessive pronoun, e.g. He broke _his_ leg. Compare with this theGerman external-possessor construction where the possessed object is introducedby the article: Er brach sich _das_ Bein. As in the German example, thepossessor is expressed by a datival pronoun (sich) for the indirect object. Theinternal-possessor construction, which is found in English and in the Britishlanguages, appears to be typologically rare. External constructions are onlyfound marginally in modern English: He looked her in the eyes. In the presentbook, an example for the internal type is cited from Old Irish (p. 34), viz.

(9) Benaid a chend de 'he cut [recte: cuts] his [poss. pron.] head off' (severaltimes in Táin Bó Cúailnge Rec. 1)

It is quite correct that the object 'head' is accompanied by the possessivepronoun, as is typical for the internal-possessor construction. But the authorsseem to be quite unaware that this example is multifaceted and allows fordifferent structural analyses. First of all, on the synchronic Old-Irish level,we may note that this sentence is at the same time also an example for theexternal-possessor construction. Since Old Irish lacks independent personalpronouns and lacks the dative case, the only way to indicate indirect objects isthrough the use of prepositional phrases involving prepositions inflected forperson and number. That is what de (dé) is, the masc. 3sg. form of thepreposition de 'from, off'. The translation of the sentence given is thereforemisleading; synchronically correct would be 'he cuts his head off him', withboth an internal and an external possessor. Things look differently if we lookat the sentence from a diachronic angle. A good deal of all 3sg. masc./neut.pronominal prepositions simply continue the plain prepositions, accented andused adverbially. The almost litteral translation '[he cuts]V [his]POSS[head]OBJ [off]ADV' therefore reflects the structure of a historical preform ofthe sentence, projected back and reconstructed for an earlier period when Irish(or rather Goidelic) still made free use of adverbially used prepositions. Atthe same the sentence sheds light on one way in which plain prepositions came tobe used as 3sg. masc./neut. pronominal prepositions in Old Irish, namely ininternal-possessor constructions with adverbial complements that werereinterpreted as expressing also an external possessor. But there is another wayto look at the sentence from a diachronic point of view. Although this hasnothing to do with the present problem, I will mention it nevertheless. Thereconstructable preform of the sentence, viz. *binati esyo kwennom de, lookslike a construction with tmesis of the compound verb, with the members of thetmetic verbal phrase inverted in contrast to what is assumed to be the normalword order of such constructions, viz. *de esyo kwennom binat(i). The questionposes itself whether one of the two sentences is an emphatic variant of theother, or whether this is just coincidence. In short, fiddling around with thissentence, which actually does not exactly illustrate what the authors want it toillustrate, opens up a can of worms that is better left closed for the moment.

Occasionally, the authors' reluctance to critically assess earlier scholars'opinions may lead to unexpected conclusions by non-specialist readers. Inchapter 2.2.4, which is concerned with the origin of the DO-periphrasis inEnglish, the authors are inclined to favor the hypothesis that this constructionhas something to do with contact influence from British Celtic languages. In thesection on previous scholarship they report without comment that a number ofpeople have suggested a similar origin also for the periphrastictun/doen-constructions in southern German and Dutch (pp. 58–59). This isnonsense as it implies that periphrastic do-constructions had been a feature ifnot of the Common Celtic language, then at least of Gaulish. There is in fact inthe existing corpus of ancient Celtic languages not the slightest piece ofevidence to support the notion that the ancient Celtic languages on theContinent had in this respect the same syntactic structure as their much laterInsular Celtic relatives.

The last topic to which I want to turn concerns lexis. In order to counter thereceived view that English had only taken up very few loanwords from Celticlanguages the authors refer to the studies by John Davies who in the 1880spublished a series of articles in which he claimed a Celtic provenance for noless than 1500 words in various English dialects. One should always treatetymological work of the 19th century or earlier with some caution. In any case,the authors cite a few examples of Davies' findings, and they present them withsympathy. This sympathy is not well-founded in all of those cases. The firstword they cite is the dialect word bullin 'a receptacle for bottoms of yarnsmade of straw'. Davies derived this from Welsh bwlan, bylan 'budget, vessel madeof straw to hold corn and wool &c, fig. squat person'. The authors haveoverlooked that the word lacks a Celtic etymology, and that Geiriadur PrifysgolCymru (GPC, the Dictionary of the University of Wales) in its turn suggests aloan from Middle English bolle (which must also be the source of Modern Irishbulla 'bowl', bullán 'a hollow in a stone'; the phonotactically impossible u inthe first syllable of which betrays its foreign origin). Furthermore, almost alldisyllabic Welsh words beginning with bw- are loans from English. In inheritedwords /u/ in the first syllable of polysyllabic words had been reduced to schwaalready in Proto-British; this surfaces as y in Welsh.

A similar phonological problem besets the next item for which a Welsh origin isclaimed. This is (work-)bracco 'fond of work; unwilling to work; the power andwill to work', allegedly derived from Welsh brac 'ready, free, generous, prompt,glib, open; light (of soil)'. Again, the Welsh word has no known etymology, itis attested only from the middle of the 17th century onwards, and, what's more,in inherited words a voiceless stop is phonologically impossible in word-finalposition. This, again, suggests a foreign origin for the Welsh word.

The next item is caukum 'a practical joke, a foolish frolic'. The authorscompare this with Welsh coeg. They cite the meanings 'vain, empty, false,deceitful, mean, evil, good-for-nothing; arrogant, scornful, sarcastic' fromGPC. This is only half the story, though. The word also means 'blind, one-eyed,squinting, having defective eyesight', which incidentally is the originalmeaning. The word makes a perfect etymological equation with Old Irish cáech'one-eyed' and Latin caecus 'blind', as GPC rightly points out in the topsection of the dictionary entry. The primary semantics and the phonologicalmake-up of the word are too far removed from its presumed English congener tomake a loan relationship plausible.

The only genuine loan from a British language among the words cited by theauthors is the fourth, claud, a North Country dialect word for 'ditch, fence'.This looks very much like the native Welsh word clawdd with the same meaning, aword with a good Celtic pedigree.It is clear that John Davies' list of possible Welsh loans into English dialectsis urgently in need of critical evaluation, a fact which the authors themselvesare aware of.

To sum up: This is not the definite guide to all aspects concerning the Celticbones of the body of English, neither do the authors see it as such. As I triedto highlight in the foregoing discussion, there is still research to be done andthere are still questions to be answered, for example, on the historicaldimensions of the matter, especially as regards the typological makeup of theoldest stages of the Insular Celtic languages. Also, the authors point out thatother areas of mutual influence between the languages may be identified in thefuture. But no one working on the relationship between the Insular Celtic andEnglish languages, and between Britons, Gaels and Anglo-Saxons, for that matter,will get around using this book as the first starting point for all furtherwork. This book points out the directions which research will have to take inthe future.

REFERENCESFleuriot, Léon. (1964) _Le vieux breton. Éléments d'une grammaire_. Paris:Klincksieck.

Schumacher, Stefan. (2007) Die Deutschen und die Nachbarstämme: Lexikalische undstrukturelle Sprachkontaktphänomene entlang der keltisch-germanischenÜbergangszone. In Hans Hablitzel and David Stifter, eds. (2007) _Johann KasparZeuß im kultur- und sprachwissenschaftlichen Kontext_. Wien: Praesens Verlag,167–207 (online:

Thomason, Sarah & Kaufman, Terrence. (1988) _Language Contact, Creolization, andGenetic Linguistics_. University of California Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERDavid Stifter is research scholar at the Department for Indo-EuropeanLinguistics at the University of Vienna with a focus on Celtic languages.