|Region||Great Britain south of the Firth of Forth|
|Era||circa 6th century BC to mid-6th century AD|
Developed into Old Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, and Breton
Common Brittonic (Old English: Brytis?; Welsh: Brythoneg; Cornish: Brythonek; Breton: Predeneg) was a Celtic language spoken in Britain and Brittany. It is also variously known as Old Brittonic, British, and Common or Old Brythonic.
It is a form of Insular Celtic, descended from Proto-Celtic (P-Celtic), a theorized parent tongue that, by the first half of the first millennium BC, was diverging into separate dialects or languages.Pictish is linked and likely as a sister language or a fifth branch.
Over the next three centuries it was replaced in most of Scotland by Middle Irish (which later developed into Scottish Gaelic) and south of the Firth of Forth by Old English (an offshoot of which is Scots) throughout England and in Cumbria. Cumbric disappeared in the 12th century and, in the far south-west, Cornish had its extinction for about 150 years before 1800.[a]O'Rahilly's historical model suggests a Brittonic (P-Celtic) language in Ireland before Goidelic languages (Q-Celtic), but this view has not found wide acceptance.
No documents in the tongue have been found, but a few inscriptions have been identified. The Bath curse tablets, found in the Roman feeder pool at Bath, Somerset (Aquae Sulis), bear about 150 names – about 50% Celtic (but not necessarily Brittonic). An inscription on a metal pendant (discovered there in 1979) seems to contain an ancient Brittonic curse: "Adixoui Deuina Deieda Andagin Uindiorix cuamenai". (Sometimes the final word has been rendered cuamiinai.) This text is often seen as: "The affixed - Deuina, Deieda, Andagin [and] Uindiorix - I have bound." else, at the opposite extreme, taking into account case-marking - -rix "king" nominative, andagin "worthless woman" accusative, dewina deieda "divine Deieda" nominative/vocative - is: "May I, Windiorix for/at Cuamena defeat [or "summon to justice"] the worthless woman, [oh] divine Deieda."
A tin/lead sheet retains part of 9 text lines, damaged, with likely Brittonic names.
Local Roman Britain toponyms (place names) are evidentiary, recorded in Latinised forms by Ptolemy's Geography discussed by Rivet and Smith in their book of that name published in 1979. They show most names he used were from the tongue. Some place names still contain elements derived from it. Tribe names and some Brittonic personal names are also taken down by Greeks and, mainly, Romans.
Pritenic (also Pretanic) is a modern term to label the inhabitants' tongue of prehistoric Scotland during Roman rule further south (1st to 5th centuries). Within the disputed P-Celtic vs. Q-Celtic time division of the Celtic languages, "Pritenic" is a sister or daughter language of Common Brittonic, from a common P-Celtic language spoken around the 1st century BC.
The recorded names have been discussed by Kenneth H. Jackson, in The Problem of the Picts, who considered some of them to be Pritenic but had reservations about most. Katherine Forsyth (1997) reviewed them and considers more of them to be Celtic, still recognizing that some names of islands and rivers may be pre-Indo-European.
The dialect position of Pritenic was discussed by Jackson and by Koch (1955). Their conclusions are that Pritenic and Common Brittonic had split by the 1st century. The Roman frontier between Britannia and Pictland is likely to have increased this. By the 8th century, Bede considered Pictish and Welsh/British to be separate.
Common Brittonic vied with Latin after the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, at least in major settlements. Latin words were widely borrowed by its speakers in the Romanised towns and their descendants and later from church use.
The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain during the 6th century saw a much steeper decline; increasingly the tongue gave way to Old English. Some speakers migrated to Armorica and Galicia. By 700, it was mainly restricted to North West England, Southern Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Devon and Brittany. There, it evolved into Cumbric, Welsh, Cornish and Breton, respectively.
The early Common Brittonic vowel inventory is effectively identical to that of Proto-Celtic. /?/ and /?/ have not developed yet.
Through comparative linguistics, it is possible to reconstruct the declension paradigms of Common Brittonic:
|Du||Nom. acc. voc.||*t?t?||--||túaith?||*tewteh?h?e|
|Du||Nom. acc. voc.||*wir?||wir?||fer?||*wiHroh?|
|Pl||Nom. voc.||*wir?||wir?||gw?r||fir? (nom.), firu? (voc.)||*wiHroy|
|Sg||Nom. Voc. Acc.||*cradion|
|Pl||Nom. Voc. Acc.||*cradi?|
|Abl. Ins. Loc.||*carrec?||--|
|Abl. Ins. Loc.||*carrec?||--|
|Pl||Nom. Voc. Acc.||*carrec?s||--||cerrig|
|Abl. Ins. Loc.||*carrecibi||--|
Brittonic-derived place-names are scattered across Great Britain, with many occurring in the West Country; however, some of these may be pre-Celtic. The best example is perhaps that of each (river) Avon, which comes from the Brittonic a?on[a], "river" (transcribed into Welsh as afon, Cornish avon, Irish and Scottish Gaelic abhainn, Manx awin, Breton aven; the Latin cognate is amnis). When river is preceded by the word, in the modern vein, it is tautological.