The Gaulish word Iextâ apparently meant “language”.1 However it additionally meant rather more than that, for the cognates in modern Celtic languages include expanded meanings. The Goidelic, and later Irish icht meant “people” or “tribe”, without any linguistic connotation, while the Middle Welsh ieith, and later iaith, meant “language”, “nation” and “race”.2 We can assume, then, that the earlier Common Celtic and Gaulish word likely carried a similar connotation. Iextâ is the Gaulish word for “language”, “nation”, or “people”.
We can see immediately, then, that that Gaulish concept of nationhood was similar to some modern ideas, while very different to others. In particular, the concept of a nation as a community sharing a common blood-descent was at the very least very subordinate, and perhaps outright nonexistent. The nation was a linguistic community, a people sharing a common speech, and the embedded concepts, ways of thought, customs, and assumptions that go with it. This is seen in the process of Romanization. The abandonment of Gaulish for Latin was the signal of a profound shift, from a Gaulish to a provincial Roman identity.3
This point of view has a bit in common with old, Romantic notions of nationalism from the early 19th century, the nationalism of, say, the early Czech revivalists. It has much in common with modern Celtic nationalism, or at least those parts of it for which the preservation of the modern Celtic languages are important. It has very little in common with the later blood-based ethnic nationalisms that tore Europe apart in world wars and later Balkan conflicts, still less with the so-called “scientific” racisms that still play so ghastly a role in our world. It differs from all modern nationalisms that Iextâ in no way implies the necessity or even desirability of unification in a single state. Indeed, all of Gaulish, indeed Celtic, history argues against such a concept being present.
Given that language was central to the ancient Gaulish identity, the revival of the Gaulish language is central to the process of reviving Gaulish Polytheism. To be sure, Gaulish will never again be a first language, never again what it once was. But to preserve it, at least as a liturgical language and a language of study, is essential. By learning about the Gaulish language, we can better understand how our Ancestors (and if you study Gaulish, They do indeed become your Ancestors, regardless of your ethnic origin) thought. By learning Gaulish vocabulary, we can understand how They understood the world, and the abstract concepts that informed Their interactions with it. By studying Gaulish, we can become more Gaulish and grow closer to the Gods and Ancestors themselves.
Iextâ Galatacâ Senâ – The Ancient Gaulish Language:
What, then, can we say about Ancient Gaulish? What do we know about it? As I wrote in an earlier column, it is an Indo-European language, belonging to the Celtic branch, and the Continental Celtic group. It was once spoken across a wide swath of Europe. It is important to note that it is very, very different from most modern Celtic languages. Yes, the vocabularies share common roots, and a linguist can tell they’re related, but Gaulish is far more archaic than any modern Celtic language. It differs even from medieval Celtic tongues in grammar and syntax to the point that they share almost nothing. Its grammar is in many ways closer to other ancient languages like Latin than to modern Irish or Welsh. It shares much with Proto-Indo-European, the common ancestor of all Indo-European languages, though it is simpler, and to my ear, more beautiful.
The consonants of spoken Gaulish are very similar to those of other ancient languages, and differ only in a few ways from, say, Latin. The letters b, d, f (rare and late), k, l, m, p, t, and z (very rare) are much as they are in English. Some modern versions of Gaulish use the letters y and w, with the same sounds as in English. The letters c and g are always hard, and g is a bit more guttural than in English speech, especially when it is between two vowels. The letter n is normally as it is in English, but sometimes may be slightly nasalized at the end of words, much as in French, but less so. The letter v in ancient inscriptions is pronounced as it is in Latin, which is to say, like a w. The letter x is like a very guttural x when at the end of words, and like the German “ch” when in the middle. The letter h is always silent. The letter j always has a y sound, and only is used in some modern revivals. The letter q (qu) is used much as in English, a bit more guttural, but it is very rare, surviving only in certain archaic words and local dialects. The letter r may have had a liquid sound, as it does in English, or a trilled one, as in modern Spanish. Scholars are still in disagreement, there. The letter s is usually much as in English, but perhaps a bit more sibilant. The “tau Galllicum” is a sound about which scholars are still in disagreement, and which probably does not occur in modern English. It is represented sometimes by the letter s, sometimes by the letter t, sometimes by “st or “ts”, or đ, or Đ, or đđ, or ĐĐ. It could have been a “st” sound, or a “ts” sound, or possibly a “th” sound, either voiced or unvoiced, or perhaps something similar to all of these. My own suspicions are that it was a “ts”, but I have no more reason to suppose this than anyone else, and I sometimes wonder if it was a voiced “th”, and ancestral to the very similar sound in Welsh.
The vowels of Gaulish are very different from those of English, being very archaic, indeed. All Gaulish vowels came in long and short pronunciations, which were very different from one another. For our purposes here, long vowels will be represented like this: â = long a, but a = short a. Other scholars and versions of Gaulish may show this differently. To muddy the waters a bit, long and short vowels merged, and acquired more or less modern European sounds after about 150 CE. This was part of the development of Late Gaulish, as the language began dying. The letter a, then was very short, being pronounced a bit like the u in “but”. The letter â was long, sounding like the a in “father”. The letter e was pronounced like the e in “pen”. But ê was pronounced like the a in “late”. The letter i was pronounced like the i in “bin”. The letter î was pronounced like the letters “ee” in “seen”. The letter o was pronounced like an “aw” sound, like the o in “hog”. But ô was pronounced like the o in “hope”. The letter u was pronounced like the letter u in “put”, or else, at the beginning of words, had a w sound. The letter û was pronounced like the German ü or the French “eu”. It is not a sound that exists in English.
Accent in Gaulish is normally on the second syllable, except in one or two syllable words, when it is on the first syllable. This is normally pretty straightforward, except when a word ends with a long vowel. This becomes hard for English-speakers when a word ends with a long vowel, because the natural tendency in English is to accent long vowels. Thus Eponâ is pronounced e-PAWN-aah, which is often hard for an English-speaker to bend their tongue around.
Nouns in Gaulish have two numbers, singular and plural, though some modern scholars think Early Gaulish may have had a dual number as well, for talking about “two and only two” of something. Even if it did have a dual, it passed out of use pretty early on. Gaulish nouns have three genders – masculine, feminine, and neuter. As in other languages with grammatical gender, this should not be confused with biological gender. Iextâ, for example, is a feminine noun, even though languages don’t have genitals nor biological gender in any sense. Gaulish nouns had eight cases – nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative, ablative, instrumental, and locative. Nominative case is used for the subject of a sentence, something which does. Vocative case is used when addressing someone or something. Accusative case is used for something that is the object of a sentence, something which is done to. Genitive is used to show possession. Dative is used to show an indirect object, to show that something is being given, taken, or what have some you to someone or something else. Ablative is used to say from something or off something. Instrumental is used to say by something or by means of something. And locative is used to say at something. In addition to three genders, Gaulish had a variety of stems or declensions, depending on the final suffix in the nominative case. This, masculine nouns would be divided into o-stems, u-stems, guttural stems, and so on, depending on whether the word ended in –os, us, -îx, or what have you. There are many of these for each gender, too many to list here.
Verbs in Gaulish have two flexions, absolute and conjunct. Absolute flexion is used when a verb is used normally to describe the actions of a noun. Conjunct flexion is used when a verb is fixed to a pronoun. More on this later. Verbs have two voices – active and passive. Active talks about what you do. Passive talks about what is done to you. Gaulish verbs have two moods – indicative and subjunctive. Indicative mood talks about what is, subjunctive about what might be. Like nouns, Gaulish verbs have two numbers, singular and plural. There are three persons – first (I do), second (you do), and third (he, she, it does). Enough of the knowledge of Gaulish has been lost that the tenses are unclear. But there are at least present, preterite (for talking about the past), and future. There is probably no infinitive, the verb form meaning “to do” something, but instead the place of the infinitive is taken by verbal nouns, which work similarly to words like “seeing” or “knowing” in English. There are two primary groups of verbs – strong verbs, which are irregular in their endings, and weak verbs, which are irregular. There are also numerous conjugation groups of verbs, each of which is slightly different.
Adjectives and adverbs in Gaulish are much like nouns as to number, gender. case, and so on. They are more flexible, however, in that adjectives have multiple genders, and must agree with the noun they modify. So, dîos dâgos, “good day”, but noxtion dâgon, “good night”. During the Roman period, this began to break down, however, so that we have spindle whorl inscription geneta imi daga uimpi “I am a good and pretty girl”. Note that uimpi, “pretty” does not agree with geneta, “girl”, even though it modifies it. Note also that adjectives and adverbs always follow the noun or verb they modify, the opposite order from English.
Pronouns in Gaulish are very similar in gender, case, and number to nouns. As in other languages, they are a bit simpler. One feature is worthy of note. Gaulish pronouns can attach themselves to verbs, much like word-endings, which allows Gaulish to form simple sentences with a single word. So, dessiû means “I prepare”. Mi is the pronoun for “I”. Is is the pronoun for “he” or “him”. Dessiûmiis means “I prepare him”. The conjunct flexion comes into play because a lot of Gaulish verbs have the vowel i ending them in the absolute flexion. This is dropped when the pronoun is attached. So, dessiesi, “you prepare”, tu, “you”, is, “him”. But dessiestuis, “you prepare him”.
Prepositions, conjugations, and so on are also in Gaulish, small words, but very important. A lot of them can double as prefixes, particularly in names. Some of them change the case of the words they modify to create subtle meanings. So, in tegê, “in the house”, but in tegon, “into the house”; uer tegê, “over the house”, but uer tegon, “upon the house”.
Gaulish syntax is relatively simple to speakers of English, but very different from that of modern Celtic languages. Gaulish syntax is a fairly straightforward subject-verb-object system, much like English or French. Thus, loucetos kelleti tegon, “lightning strikes the house”. It only becomes complicated when a pronoun enters the picture, kelletis tegon, “he (lightning) strikes the house”. Note that loucetos, “lightning”, is a masculine noun, and so uses the male pronoun. This change in syntax when a pronoun is attacked to the verb is the origin of the modern Celtic verb-subject-object syntax which seems so strange to speakers of most other modern European languages.
Iextâ Galatacâ Ategnatâ – The Gaulish Language Reborn:
Given the importance of language to Celtic identity in general, and to Gaulish identity in particular, it should come as no surprise that even the first attempts to revive Gaulish Polytheism were accompanied by attempts to revive the Gaulish language. Indeed, there have been several attempts to revive Gaulish, which have given rise to several modern dialects, which differ from one another in various ways. Some of these are more scholarly than others, some based on better research, and various of them have various amounts of influence, but all are labors of love.
The first attempts to revive Gaulish were made by Breton and then French Druid orders in the 1930s. This attempt was made using the scholarship available at the time, but was used by many druides for liturgical, artistic, magical, and theological purposes. Some of these early dialects are still in use today in France and Brittany by druides today.
The next attempt to revive Gaulish was the Labarion dialect, the name of which meant “Talk”, created by a non-religious Spanish conlanger named Alounis in about 2001. Labarion has proved very influential, and most modern dialects that are not offshoots of the French Druidic dialects are influenced by it. It is now hard to find and learn on the web, but files of Labarion grammar, vocabulary, and lessons can be found in the Gaulish Polytheism Community on Facebook, in the Facebook group Toutâ Galation, and in the Yahoogroup Atedugyon Yextes Keltikyas.
At about the same time that Labarion was revived, an internet scholar named Vellaunos created the Danuviacon dialect. Although influenced by Labarion, it was meant to be a simulation of an earlier dialect spoken by Danubian Celts. To my knowledge, it has vanished from the internet, though I have hard copies of its grammar.
In about 2006 or so, a Belgian scholar named Olivier Piqueron created a dialect named Yextis Keltikâ. It was very similar to Labarion in most respects, but with a more developed, complex grammar. He wrote a 60-page book on it, in French, which I have in hard copy and which I believe is still available on Atedugyon Yextes Keltikyas.
The Brazilian Druid Bellouesus Isarnos has also created a very well developed dialect of Gaulish called Senobrixtâ, meaning “Ancient Magic”. Senobrixtâ is the product of many, many years of development. I am frankly unsure if it is an offshoot from Labarion, or if Bellouesus developed it wholly on his own. A good deal of literature, poetry and prose, in it can be found on Bellouesus’ blog, Bellodunon, mostly in Portuguese.
The most recent, most unusual, and most developed modern dialect of Gaulish is Modern Gaulish, or Galáthach hAthevíu. The creator of this dialect, Australian scholar Steve Hansen, wondered what Gaulish would have looked like had it survived to the present day without interruption. In consequence, he took a strong Gaulish vocabulary and grammar, and put it through the phonetic and grammatical changes that it would likely have experienced had it taken the same course of evolution as the modern Celtic languages. The result is something closer to a modern Celtic language than to Ancient Gaulish, but still clearly descended from it, and hauntingly beautiful. Modern Gaulish has far more speakers than any other dialect, with some approaching fluency. Excellent instruction materials can be found at the Modern Gaulish website. There is also a Facebook group, and a dictionary found here, and a series of Youtube videos with songs in the language and pronunciation.
Steve and Bellouesus have published a book of poetry and prose in Senobrixtâ and Modern Gaulish entitled Anthologia Gallica, which amounts to the beginning of a new Gaulish literature. This excellent work can be found here.
Wissencîmâ Galatakin – Learning Gaulish:
There are numerous resources that can be used to help learn various forms of Gaulish. They don’t always agree, so a certain level of discernment and critical thinking is essential. The most important book on what can reliably be known about Ancient Gaulish is Pierre-Yves Lambert’s La Langue Gauloise. It includes a complete list of inscriptions, with complete texts of each, and all that is currently really known about the grammar. It can be obtained here, or here, for the older edition. There is another book by the same title by Georges Dottin. I have not read it, but I hear good things about it. Two essential dictionaries include Xavier Delmarre’s Dictionnaire de la Langue Gauloise, and Ranko Matasovic’s Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic. Matasovic’s work, it should be noted, deals with Proto-Celtic rather than the later Gaulish, but can still serve well for hard-to-find words.
Online resources to learn Gaulish include the Yahoogroup Atedugyon Yexyes Keltikyas, which I have already mentioned, the groups Gaulish Polytheism Community and Toutâ Galation on Facebook, a Facebook group called Iexti Toutanon, which doesn’t see a lot of activity, and the aforementioned Modern Gaulish websites.