Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gallo-Gaelic connections

Just as the Scandinavians and the Germans differed less in the seventh and eighth centuries than they do today, so also must the Irish Celts and the Gallic Celts have originally resembled each other more than present-day Irishmen and Frenchmen
Frederich Engels History of Ireland 1870

It is a machine which has more than any other come to epitomize the essence of Celtic Tiger opulence: the motor car. The motor car is the preferred mode of transport in Ireland . No other object serves to display one’s economic status more blatantly than the automobile. But rather than launching into an ebullient tirade against our fatuous love affair with the motor car,( a critique which would not be inappropriate considering the environmental cost) I want you to take a drive with me through several millennia of European history. Our point of departure is Ireland , our destination is France and our mode of transport is words, ancient lexia strewn upon the highways of linguistic history. Let us consider the word ‘car’. Car is the most common word in the Anglophone world to denote the automobile. This word is in fact derived from Irish, and its cognate equivalent can be found in the ancient pre-Roman language of France : Gaulish.

The Gaulish word for car is carros, which of course, denoted a chariot. The proto-Indo European root of this word is kers meaning ‘to run’. If the above quoted conjecture of Frederich Engels is correct, then the Gaulish language, or what remains of it, offers a fascinating insight into France ’s Gaelic origins. All we have of the Gaulish language is contained in a few remaining wordlists, but the similarities with Irish are unmistakable.

Take for example the following words: aballo-apple, aesus- age, allos- other,second, ardus-high, are-before, at, on, arganto- silver, bagaudas-guerrila-fighter, bardos-poet, benn-summit or head, benna-a carriage, bitu- world, life, bratu- to judge, catu-battle, crodio-hard, drungus-crowd, dub- black, dumno-world, doro-door, giam-winter, gobo-mouth, gutus-voice, landa-land, mat-kind,good,trougo-sad. To an Irish speaker the connection with old Irish and indeed Modern Irish is obvious. Here are the Irish equivalents: uball, aois, aile, ard, ar, airgead, bagaim- I fight, bard, beann, bith, breith, cath, crua, drong, dubh, domhan, doras, geimhreadh, gob, guth, math, trua. I left out the word ‘land’ which is unusual. One would have thought this word to be distinctly Germanic; but it is actually Gaulish and Old Irish. This would give further credence to an article I wrote some time ago on the origin of the word England, meaning An Gael land, the land of the Gaels. This interpretation is by no means definitive, but the gael or gal root could, nevertheless, be the origin of the word Angle.Now there’s a topic for post-prandial conversation in Buckingham Palace!

When one contemplates the unfathomable antiquity of the Irish language and its ubiquity throughout Europe, it is disappointing to think that there is no university in Ireland specializing in the study of Indo-European philology. The appreciation of the importance of Irish for the study of philology and ethnologyy was highlighted by many German scholars and poets. Frederich Engels, a ferocious polyglot, studied Irish and the poet Goethe is said to have sought instruction in the language after reading a book by the philosopher Herder. But interest in the Irish language has always germinated outside of Ireland. Without the meticulous research of German scholars such as Johann Casper Zeuss and Kuno Meyer, to name just two, rigorous scholarship of our ancestral language would have been enormously compromised. Recently, while perambulating the glorious streets of Paris, I came across a notice in Irish at the Centre Culturel Irlandais. It was written by a French Gaelgeoir who was looking for an language partner to hone his linguistic skills. It has become easier to speak Irish in France than in Ireland! No doubt, my French friend is fully aware of the Gallic-Gaelic connection and the hauntingly beautiful fact that An Ghaeilge is as much his at it is mine.
On the importance of Gaulish for an understanding of European history see Die gallische Sprache und ihre Brauchbarkeit für die Geschichte by Franz Josef Mone(1851).The map above is taken from the following site on the gaulish language.

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