Goidelic substrate hypothesis

The Goidelic substrate hypothesis refers to the hypothesized language or languages spoken in Ireland before the Iron Age arrival of the Goidelic languages.

Hypothesis of non-Indo-European languagesEdit

Ireland was settled, like the rest of northern Europe, after the retreat of the ice sheets c. 10,500 BC.[1] Indo-European languages are usually thought to have been a much later arrival. Some scholars suggest that the Goidelic languages may have been brought by the Bell Beaker culture circa 2500 BC, in contrast to the generally accepted theory that it was brought by the advent of the Iron Age.[2] In contrast, other scholars argue for a much later date of arrival of Goidelic languages to Ireland based on linguistic evidence. Peter Schrijver has suggested that Irish was perhaps preceded by an earlier wave of Celtic speaking colonists (based on population names attested in Ptolemy's Geography) who were displaced by a later wave of proto-Irish speakers only in the 1st century AD, following a migration in the wake of the Roman conquest of Britain, with Irish and British Celtic languages only branching off from a common Insular Celtic language around that time.[3]

Scholars have suggested:

  • that an older language or languages could have been replaced by the Insular Celtic languages; and
  • that words and grammatical constructs from the original language, or languages, may nevertheless persist as a substrate in the Celtic languages, especially in placenames and personal names.[4][5][6]

Suggested non-Indo-European words in IrishEdit

Gearóid Mac Eoin proposes the following words as deriving from the substrate: bréife 'ring, loop', cufar, cuifre/cuipre 'kindness', fafall/fubhal, lufe 'feminine', slife, strophais 'straw'; and the following placenames: Bréifne, Crufait, Dún Gaifi, Faffand, Grafand, Grafrenn, Life/Mag Liphi, Máfat.[7]

Peter Schrijver submits the following words as deriving from the substrate: partán 'crab', Partraige (ethnonym), (note that partaing "crimson (Parthian) red" is a loanword from Lat. parthicus), pattu 'hare', petta 'pet, lap-dog', pell 'horse', pít 'portion of food', pluc '(round) mass', prapp 'rapid', gliomach 'lobster', faochán 'periwinkle', ciotóg 'left hand', bradán 'salmon', scadán 'herring'.[8] In a further study he gives counter-arguments against some criticisms by Graham Isaac.[9]

Ranko Matasović lists lacha ("duck"), sinnach ("fox"), luis ("rowan"), lon ("blackbird"), dega ("beetle"), ness ("stoat").[10] He also points out that there are words of possibly or probably non-Indo-European origin in other Celtic languages as well; therefore, the substrate may not have been in contact with Primitive Irish but rather with Proto-Celtic.[11] Examples of words found in more than one branch of Celtic but with no obvious cognates outside Celtic include:

  • Middle Irish ainder 'young woman', Middle Welsh anneir 'heifer', perhaps Gaulish anderon (possibly connected with Basque andere 'lady, woman')
  • Old Irish berr 'short', Middle Welsh byrr 'short', Gaulish Birrus (name); possibly related to the birrus, a short cloak or hood
  • Old Irish bran 'raven', Middle Welsh bran 'raven', Gaulish Brano-, sometimes translated as 'crow' (name element, such as Bran Ardchenn, Bran Becc mac Murchado, and Bran the Blessed)
  • Middle Irish brocc 'badger', Middle Welsh broch 'badger', Gaulish Broco- (name element) (borrowed into English as brock)
  • Old Irish carpat '(war) chariot', Welsh cerbyd, Gaulish carpento-, Carbanto-
  • Old Irish 'salmon', Middle Welsh ehawc 'salmon', Gaulish *esoks (borrowed into Latin as esox); has been compared with Basque izokin[12]
  • Old Irish cuit 'piece', Middle Welsh peth 'thing', Gaulish *pettia (borrowed into Latin as petia and French as pièce)
  • Old Irish molt 'wether', Middle Welsh mollt 'ram, wether', Gaulish Moltus (name) and *multon- (borrowed into French as mouton, from which to English as mutton)

The Old Irish word for "horn", adarc, is also listed as a potential Basque loanword; in Basque the word is adar.[13]

Gerry Smyth, in Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination, suggested that Dothar, the Old Irish name for the River Dodder, could be a substrate word.[14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ McDonagh, Marese (21 March 2016). "Bear bone opens new chapter in Ireland's archaeology". The Irish Times. Retrieved 10 February 2021.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ Villar Liébana, Francisco (2001). "La lengua de los Celtas y otros pueblos indoeuropeos de la península ibérica". In Almagro-Gorbea, Martin; Mariné, M.; Álvarez-Sanchís, J. R. (eds.). Celtas y Vettones (in Spanish). Ávila: Diputación Provincial de Ávila. pp. 115–121. ISBN 84-89518-76-9.
  3. ^ Schrijver, Peter (2014). Language Contact and the Origins of the Germanic Languages. New York, London: Routledge. pp. 79–85. ISBN 978-0-415-35548-3.
  4. ^ Stephen Oppenheimer, The Origins of the British (pinpoint or page cite needed) (2009).
  5. ^ Indo-European and non-Indo-European aspects to the languages and place-names in Britain and Ireland: the state of the art, by George Broderick, in 'From the Russian rivers to the North Atlantic' (2010), pp. 29–63.
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Tristram, Hildegard L.C., ed. (26–27 July 2007). "The Celtic Languages in Contact" (PDF). Potsdam University Press. Retrieved 10 December 2012. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Schrijver, Peter. "Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD". Ériu. 51.
  9. ^ Schrijver, Peter. "More on Non-Indo-European surviving in Ireland in the first millennium AD". Ériu. 55.
  10. ^ https://www.jolr.ru/files/(101)jlr2012-8(160-164).pdf[bare URL]
  11. ^ Matasović, Ranko (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Leiden: Brill. p. 441. ISBN 978-90-04-17336-1.
  12. ^ Trask, R. Larry (2008), Wheeler, Max W. (ed.), Etymological Dictionary of Basque (PDF), Falmer, UK: University of Sussex, p. 236, archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2011, retrieved 17 September 2013
  13. ^ https://www.jolr.ru/files/(101)jlr2012-8(160-164).pdf[bare URL]
  14. ^ Smyth, Gerry (18 July 2001). Space and the Irish Cultural Imagination. Springer. ISBN 9781403913678 – via Google Books.