|Era||c. 6th century BC to mid-6th century AD|
Developed into Old Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton and probably Pictish
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, and Common or Old Brythonic.
It is a form of Insular Celtic, descended from Proto-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, likely as a sister language or a descendant branch.
Evidence from early and modern Welsh shows that Common Brittonic took a significant amount of influence from Latin during the Roman period, especially in terms related to the church and Christianity. By the sixth century AD, the tongues of the Celtic Britons were more rapidly splitting into "Neo-Brittonic": Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton and possibly the Pictish language.
Over the next three centuries it was replaced in most of Scotland by Middle Irish (which later developed into Scottish Gaelic) and by Old English (from which descend Modern English and Scots) throughout most of modern England as well as Scotland south of the Firth of Forth. Cumbric disappeared in the 12th century and, in the far south-west, Cornish probably became extinct in the eighteenth century, though its use has since been revived.[a] O'Rahilly's historical model suggests a Brittonic language in Ireland before the introduction of the Goidelic languages, but this view has not found wide acceptance. Welsh and Breton are the only daughter languages that have survived fully into the modern day.
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.
Pictish, which became extinct around 1000 years ago, was the spoken language of the Picts in Northern Scotland. Despite significant debate as to whether this language was Celtic, items such as geographical- and personal-names documented in the region gave evidence that this language was most closely aligned with the Brittonic branch of Celtic languages. The question of the extent to which this language was distinguished, and the date of divergence, from the rest of Brittonic, was historically disputed.
Pritenic (also Pretanic and Prittenic) is a term coined in 1955 by Kenneth H. Jackson to describe a hypothetical Roman era (1st to 5th centuries) predecessor to the Pictish language. Jackson saw Pritenic as having diverged from Brittonic around the time of 75-100 AD.
The term Pritenic is controversial; In 2015, linguist Guto Rhys concluded most proposals that Pictish diverged from Brittonic before c. 500 AD were incorrect, questionable or of little importance, and that a lack of evidence to distinguish Brittonic and Pictish rendered the term Prittenic "redundant".
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.
By 500-550 AD, Common Brittonic had diverged into the Neo-Brittonic dialects: Old Welsh primarily in Wales, Old Cornish in Cornwall, Old Breton in what is now Brittany, Cumbric in Northern England and Southern Scotland, and probably Pictish in Northern Scotland.
The modern forms of Breton and Welsh are the only direct descendants of Common Brittonic to have survived fully into the 21st century. Cornish fell out of use in the 1700s but has since undergone a revival. Cumbric and Pictish are extinct and today spoken only in the form of loanwords in English, Scots and Scottish Gaelic.
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?||--||túaithL||*tewteh2h1e|
|Du||Nom. acc. voc.||*wir?||wir?||ferL||*wiHroh1|
|Pl||Nom. voc.||*wir?||wir?||gw?r||firL (nom.), firuH (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.