Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic

Ranko Matasovic

This is the first etymological dictionary of Proto-Celtic to be published after a hundred years, synthesizing the work of several generations of Celtic scholars. It contains a reconstructed lexicon of Proto-Celtic with ca. 1500 entries. The principal lemmata are alphabetically arranged words reconstructed for Proto-Celtic. Each lemma contains the reflexes of the Proto-Celtic words in the individual Celtic languages, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) roots from which they developed, as well as the cognate forms from other Indo-European languages. The focus is on the development of forms from PIE to Proto-Celtic, but histories of individual words are explained in detail, and each lemma is accompanied by an extensive bibliography. The introduction contains an overview of the phonological developments from PIE to Proto-Celtic, and the volume includes an appendix treating the probable loanwords from unknown non-IE substrates in Proto-Celtic.

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The Non-Indo-European Elements in the Celtic Lexicon
Ranko Matasovic, Ph.D. (1995), is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Zagreb. His interests include Celtic and Indo-European linguistics and language typology. He published nine books, including Gender in Indo-European (Winter, Heidelberg 2004).

Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic


1.The organization of the dictionary

This dictionary contains the lexical entries that can be more or less reliably reconstructed for Proto-Celtic. It is intended to contain Proto-Celtic words rather than roots, but in several cases, where the word formation of cognates in the attested Celtic languages differs, a rather speculative choice had to be made in order to decide on the Proto-Celtic form. In some cases the OIr. form was projected to Proto-Celtic, but in many instances the form with most parallels in other IE languages was postulated for Proto-Celtic as well. Whenever the exact Proto-Celtic form is underspecified, for one reason or another, this is clearly stated in the discussion following the lemma.

In this dictionary, a Proto-Celtic form is reconstructed whenever at least one of the following two conditions are met:


(1) Cognates are attested in at least two primary branches of Celtic. By primary branches I understand Goidelic (Irish, Scottish, and Manx), British (Welsh, Cornish, and Breton), Continental Celtic (Gaulish and Lepontic), and Celtiberian. Whether British was dialectally closer to Goidelic (the ‘Insular Celtic’ hypothesis) or to Continental Celtic (the ‘P-Celtic’ hypothesis) was considered irrelevant in deciding whether a given word was reconstructible for Proto-Celtic.


(2)  Probable cognates of a word, attested in only one branch of Celtic, exist in at least one other IE language.


PCelt. words are given as bare stems, e.g. the n-stem *talamon ‘earth’ is adduced rather than the Nom. sg. *talamū. Where ablaut patterns within paradigms of PCelt. nouns can be reconstructed, this was done in the discussion of particular lemmas. If the etymologically related words within Celtic do not agree in word-formation, the simpler form was usually projected to Proto-Celtic. For example, PCelt. *barinā ‘rocky ground’ is reconstructed on the basis of OIr. bairenn; it is assumed that the Brittonic forms (W brennigen, Bret. and Co. brennik) represent derivatives thereof.

The meaning of Proto-Celtic words is often rather difficult to reconstruct. Where meanings of cognates in various Celtic languages do not agree, either all of the attested meanings were projected to Proto-Celtic, or the meaning deemed most basic was reconstructed. Whenever the meaning of a particular PCelt. word remained the same in one or more of the attested languages, the meaning of the attested word was not adduced in the fields containing these reflexes. For example, PCelt. *wiro- ‘man’ has reflexes with identical meanings in OIr. and MW, so the meanings of OIr. fer and MW gwr were not adduced separately. The same principle was followed in adducing the meanings of the PIE forms and their reflexes: since the meaning of PIE *wiHro- ‘man’ was preserved in its reflexes (e.g. Skt. vīrá-, Lith. výras, etc.), it was not adduced in the field containing the attested forms in IE languages. The list of the attested cognates of the Proto-Celtic lemmata is not meant to be exhaustive. For the sake of conciseness, I usually adduced only cognates from two or three IE branches, usually those that are most relevant for the PIE reconstruction, and added a reference to Pokorny’s Dictionary (IEW), Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben (LIV), and/or Encyclopedia of Indo-Eruopean Culture (EIEC), where more detailed lists of cognates can be found.

Reflexes of the reconstructed PCelt. forms were given from all of the attested Celtic languages. However, since most of our knowledge about Gaulish, Celtiberian and Lepontic is derived from onomastic analyses, cognates in these languages are sometimes adduced although they are not established beyond reasonable doubt.

Every investigator of Celtic etymology must make a principled choice: one can argue that, since Celtic is a branch of Indo-European, it is a priori likely that words in Celtic languages have Indo-European etymologies. If one accepts this assumption, then finding any possible cognate in the IE lexicon is preferable to not giving an etymology at all. On the other hand, one could argue that we cannot possibly know the percentage of words that Celtic borrowed from non-Indo-European languages, so that any Celtic etymon may be equally likely to be inherited as it is to be borrowed from some unknown source. If this is the case, then one needs more than possible cognates in other IE languages in order to make an etymology plausible.

Let us take one example: OIr. ail (phonologically [al']) ‘rock, cliff’ is a very short form, consisting of only two segments. It could, in principle, represent a variety of Proto-Celtic forms (*ali-, *fali-, *yali-), and these could go back to an even larger number of possible PIE roots (*h2el-, *h2elH-, *ph2el-, *pelH-, *(s)pel-, *ph2el-, *yel-, *yeh2l-, etc.). It is obvious that, with such a short and isolated form, the possibility of finding chance resemblances in other IE languages is considerable. Many linguists would therefore consider any etymology of such a word hypothetical, and leave open the possibility that it was borrowed from some non-IE language. On the other hand, if one assumes that this word is much more likely to have been inherited than borrowed from some unknown source, then finding a possible set of cognates from the PIE root *pel- ‘rock’ (OHG feliza, etc.) is enough to make a plausible etymology.

I am not sure which of these two methodological principles one should adopt, but I thought it would not be fair to the reader to be too critical with respect to possible, but uncertain Indo-European etymologies of Celtic etymons. To do so would mean to limit oneself to trivial and well-established etymologies, and my feeling is that potential readers of this book do not expect it to contain just the information that, e.g., OIr. athir is related to Lat. pater. Etymological dictionaries are usually not best-sellers, but this does not mean that they have to be boring. This means that many lemmata in this dictionary should be understood as proposals to be evaluated, rather than as a collection of well-established scientific facts.

However, it was my intention to avoid too speculative etymologies, especially those that rely on alleged reflexes of PCelt. words in only one, poorly attested Celtic language. For example, the Gaul. month name ELEMBIU from the Coligny Calendar is usually[1] derived from the PIE word for ‘deer’ (PIE *h1eln-bho- > Gr. élaphos). The Greek month name elaphobolēion, derived from the same PIE word, is often adduced in support of this etymology. However, I did not include it in my lexicon, since the meaning of ELEMBIU is far from being assured, and there are no traces of this word in other Celtic languages (but cf. PCelt. *elantī, a different formation arguably from the same root). The form found in Coligny is actually compatible with many other interpretations, and in order to relate it to PIE **h1eln-bho- one would also have to explain the unexpected reflex of the syllabic nasal in Gaulish (em instead of *am). I have also tried to avoid all ‘last resort’ etymologies, which are often repeated in the handbooks simply because there do not seem to be any better Indo-European etymologies of particular words. A case in question is, e.g., OIr. dúil ‘creation’, which is commonly derived from PIE *dhuh2li-, from the root *dhuh2- ‘smoke’ (Lat. fūmus, etc.). Now, although it is possible to imagine a series of steps in semantic development that would lead from ‘smoke’ to ‘creation’, I find it difficult to believe this etymology: it seems to me that accepting it would be a sign of desperation, rather than the result of a sound consideration of probabilities.

In many similar cases, the fact that some often adduced etymology is not included in the lexicon means that I found it too incredible. On the other hand, I am sure that there are some good Celtic etymologies that were left out simply because I was unaware that they had been proposed.

2. The sources

In compiling the material for this lexicon, I have consulted all of the existing etymological dictionaries of Celtic languages published after 1950. I have not systematically used the older reference works, such as A. Holder's Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz, or W. Stokes' Urkeltischer Sprachschatz, because the material they contain has been well analyzed in later etymological dictionaries. So far the largest collection of Celtic etymologies can be found in Vendryès’ Léxique étymologique de l'irlandais ancien (LEIA); these are generally reliable, but often inconclusive and seldom very imaginative. Unfortunately, LEIA remains unfinished. Mac Bain's etymological dictionary of Scottish Gaelic is completely outdated and unreliable. Etymological notes in Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru (GPC) are short, but often correct, and they remain the most valuable etymological resource for Welsh. A. Falileyev’s dictionary of Old Welsh is useful mostly for its rich philological documentation. Another valuable etymological source is Xavier Delamarre’s Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise, although it contains the etymologies only of those Celtic words that are attested in Gaulish. Gaulish loanwords in French and other Romance languages can be gathered from the relevant etymological dictionaries (e.g. Gamillscheg and FEW for French), but they have also been the subject of several articles, e.g. Bolelli 1941-2, Corominas 1976, Campanile 1983, Fleuriot 1991). Latin words of Celtic origin have been treated quite exhaustively in a paper by M. L. Porzio Gernia (1981). Words attested in Celtiberian inscriptions have been gathered and subjected to a careful philological and etymological analysis by Dagmar Wodtko in her Wörterbuch der keltiberischen Inschriften (MLH V.1). For Breton, we have two etymological dictionaries. The dictionary by Guyonvarc'h was conceived very ambitiously, but only a few fascicles were published; the new dictionary by A. Deshayes (2003) is reasonably complete and generally reliable, but does not offer detailed Proto-Celtic reconstructions and any IE etymologies. Furthermore, for Old Breton, we have a very careful and exhaustive work by Léon Fleuriot, Dictionnaire des gloses en vieux breton (DGVB). Finally, for Cornish we have only one etymological dictionary by E. Campanile, who analyzed the lexicon of the Old Cornish glosses. I have also made good use of Stefan Schumacher's Die keltischen Primärverben, which contains a lot of detailed etymological analyses of Celtic verbs with an Indo-European pedigree.

Apart from the mentioned sources, I consulted the reference works on Indo-European etymology, most notably Pokorny’s dictionary (IEW), EIEC, and LIV. Unfortunately, Nomina im indogermanischen Lexikon (Wodtko et alii 2008) appeared too late for it to be used systematically in the preparation of this dictionary. I also profited a lot from the etymological databases prepared for the ‘New Pokorny’ project by my Leiden colleagues, especially the Indo-Aryan database by A. Lubotsky, Latin and Italic by M. de Vaan, Hittite by A. Kloekhorst, and Baltic and Slavic by R. Derksen.

3. From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Celtic

It is assumed here that PIE had the following phonemes:


I. Vowels


short                                                long

i                               u

        e          o                      ē          ō



Phonemically, *i and *u were presumably just allophones of the semi-vowels *y and *w. The status of PIE *a is controversial. Following the Leiden school, I believe that PIE had no *a in the original, inherited lexicon (Lubotsky 1989), but this vowel occurs in several words that are probable loanwords from unknown, non-IE sources. In some cases, *a served as an epenthetic vowel separating difficult consonant clusters, e.g. Lat. pateo, < *pt-eh1- (cf. PCelt. *fatamā ‘palm of the hand, talon’).



II. Consonants




 labials         *p        (*b)      *bh



dentals         *t         *d        *dh



velars           *k        *g        *gh



palatalized   *        *       *h



labiovelars   *kw      *gw       *gwh


fricative:                              *s


laryngeals:                          *h1       *h2       *h3


resonants:                            *m       *n        *l         *r


glides:                                  *y        *w


The phonemic status of the difference between pure velars and palatalized velars in PIE is a disputed matter. It is quite probable that the phonological opposition between them was restricted to just a few environments. The syllabic resonants were just allophones of the non-syllabic resonants, occurring in the syllable nucleus. Therefore, they are not distinguished graphically from the non-syllabic resonants in the PIE reconstructions. The exact phonetic realization of PIE stops is a matter of controversy; the traditional ‘voiced stops’ may have been ejectives, perhaps in Early PIE. The phonetic realization of the ‘laryngeals’ is unknown, so they are marked with indexes (*h1, *h2, *h3). Laryngeals may have been lost in some environments already in PIE, or dialectally, not long after the dissolution of the proto-language, e.g. before *y (Pinault’s rule), or after the sequence *oR (de Saussure’s rule). However, the validity of these rules of laryngeal loss, as well as their exact formulation, are controversial.

Here are the principal Celtic sound changes ordered into an approximate relative chronology:[2]



A) Dialectal IE changes:


1. *h1e > *e, *h2e > *a, *h3e > *o


2. *eh1 > *ē, *eh2 > *ā, *eh3 > *ō


3. *CHC > *CaC, cf. PIE *ph2tēr > PCelt. *fatīr (OIr. athir).


4. *CstopHCstop > CstopCstop in non-initial syllables, cf. PIE *dhugh2tēr ‘daughter’ > PCelt. *duxtīr (Gaul. duxtir). This development is somewhat uncertain in the light of Celtib. tuateros ‘daughter’ (Gen. sg.).


5. TT > *-ss-, cf. PIE *krd-tu- > PCelt. *krissu- ‘belt’; the same development is found in Italic and in Germanic.


6. *CRHC > *CRaHC (> *CRāC), cf. PIE *plh1no- ‘full’ > PCelt. *flāno- (OIr. lán), PIE *rHno- ‘grain’ > PCelt. *grāno- (OIr. grán). Laryngeals were probably preserved after *Ra until the operation of Dybo’s law (A7), and then lost, with the compensatory lengthening of *aH > *ā. The change *CRHC > *CRāC occurred in Italic as well.


7. *VHC > VC in pretonic syllables (Dybo’s law, cf. Dybo 1961): PIE *wiHró- ‘man’ > PCelt. *wiro- (OIr. fer). In all non-problematic examples of Dybo’s law the laryngeal was lost after *i, *u, or *a which is the result of the development of syllabic resonants before laryngeals (A6).[3] It is assumed here that the laryngeals had already been lost after *e and *o, which were lengthened (A2). Dybo’s law was posterior to the change of CRHC > CRāC (A6) because of the development of *sfraxto- ‘eloquent’, *frati- ‘fern’, and *klad-o- ‘dig’. Something like Dybo’s law also operated in Italic,[4] and, in some form, probably in Germanic as well (cf. Lat. uir, OE wer < *wiHró-; maybe the vowel shortening (or laryngeal loss) was restricted to the position before resonants in Italic and Germanic). I assume that the operation of Dybo’s law in Celtic was general (i. e. unrestricted by phonetic environment).[5] The apparent exceptions to the operation of Dybo’s law in Celtic are best treated as analogical re-introductions of vowel length from the forms of the root where the length was preserved regularly. Of course, since the position of the accent in PIE cannot be established for many PIE etymons of PCelt. words, the operation of Dybo’s law can often be just assumed, but not strictly proved.


8. #RHC- > RaC (cf. Beekes 1988). Although this change is not universally accepted, it is found in the development of the following etyma: *latyo- ‘day’, *natu- ‘poem’, *mati- ‘good’, *mak-o- ‘increase’, *mad-yo- ‘break’, *laxsaro- ‘shine’ (PIE *r could not occur word-initially, so here R = m, n, and l). The same change occurred in Italic and Balto-Slavic, and probably in other European IE branches. The development of *#yHC- and *wHC- is uncertain, but cf. the lemmata *yalo- ‘clearing’ and *waxto- ‘bad’ for the possibility that *H > *a in this position.


9. Merger of PIE palatalized velars and pure velars, cf. PIE *dem  ‘ten’ > PCelt. *dekam (OIr. deich). This development is shared by all Centum branches of Indo-European.



B) Early PCelt. changes:


1. *gw > *b, cf. PIE *gwow- > PCelt. *bow- > ‘cow’ (OIr. ).


2. Deaspiration of aspirated stops, cf. PIE *bher-o- > PCelt. *ber-o- ‘carry’ (OIr. berid). This sound change was obviously posterior to *gw > *b (B1), because PCelt. *gwh > *gw, cf. PIE *gwher- > PCelt. *gwer-o- ‘heat up’ (MIr. geirid).


3. CLCstop > CLiCstop (where L = r, l), cf. PIE *ḱrd- > PCelt. *krid-yo- ‘heart’ (OIr. cride). It is probable that the same development occurred before PIE *m (cf. *kwrmi- ‘worm’ > PCelt. *kwrimi-, *h1lmo- ‘elm’ > PCelt. *limo- (s. v. *lēmo-, *limo-). This change was anterior to the general change of CRC > CaRC (B5) which was otherwise unrestricted by phonetic environment.


4. *eRa > *aRa (Joseph’s rule, cf. Joseph 1982), cf. PIE *terh1tro- ‘auger’ > PCelt. *taratro- (OIr. tarathar,W taradr). PIE *e did not become *a before *Rā (cf. PIE *gwenh2 >> *gweneh2 > *gwenā > PCelt. *benā, OIr. ben), and the vowel *e was restored analogically before *Ra in many instances, e.g. in the reduplicated syllables in the perfect (PCelt. *me-mad- > OIr. memaid ‘broke’, 3sg. perf. of maidid ‘breaks’ < PCelt. *mad-yo-). This change preceded the decomposition of syllabic nasals (B5) because of the development of PCelt. *elan(t)ī ‘doe, hind’ < *h1eln(t)ih2 (rather than *alan(t)ī), but after the vocalization of laryngeals between consonants, because of the development of *taratro- < *terh1tro- above.


5. CRC > CaRC, cf. PIE *dnt- > PCelt. *danto- ‘tooth’ (OIr. dét, W dant), PIE *mrwo- > PCelt. *marwo- ‘dead’ (OIr. marb, W marw), PIE *bhrso- > PCelt. *barso- > *barro- ‘point, top’ (OIr. barr). Note that syllabic liquids had already developed to *ri, *li before stops and *m (B3).


6. Loss of laryngeals in non-syllabic position. This change is later than the development of syllabic resonants (B5), because of, e.g., PIE *lHeto- > *kalHeto- > PCelt. *kaleto- ‘hard’, PIE *wlHo- > PCelt. *walo- ‘ruler, chief’, PIE *smh2eli- > PCelt. *samali- ‘similitude’, PIE *snHi > PCelt. *sani- ‘without’.


7. * > *kw...*kw, cf. PIE *penkwe > PCelt. *kwenkwe ‘five’ (OIr. cóic, MW pymp). This change predated the development of  *kw  > *x before stops (C1) if PCelt. *kwerxt- ‘bush’ (W perth) is from PIE *perkw- ‘oak’. It is assumed here that the similar assimilation in Italic (cf. Lat. quercus) is a parallel development (for arguments see below).


8. *ē > *ī, cf. PIE *Hrē- ‘king’ > PCelt. *rīg- (OIr. ). This change must predate PCelt. *p > *f > Ø (C4), because of PIE *h1epirom > PCelt. *efirom (> *eyrom > *ērom, OIr. íar ‘after’, not **ír).


9. *ō > *ū in final syllables, cf. PIE *ḱwōn ‘dog’ > PCelt. *kwū(n) (OIr. cú, W ci).


11. *V:RC > *VRC (Osthoff-type shortening before resonants in closed syllables), cf., e.g., PIE *h2weh1nto- ‘wind’ > *wēnto- > *wīnto- > PCelt. *winto-, perhaps also PIE *sih2m-do- > *sīndo- > PCelt. *sindo- ‘that’. This change was obviously posterior to *ē > *ī (B7).



C) Late PCelt. changes:

1. *C1C2 > *xC2 (where C2 stands for any stop and *s), cf. PIE *septm ‘seven’ > PCelt. *sextam (OIr. secht). This change is posterior to TT > *ss, and also to CRCstop > CRiCstop (B3) because of PIE *prptu- > PCelt. *frixtu- ‘form’, *mrgwto- > PCelt. *mrixto- ‘variegated’, *h2mlto- > PCelt. *mlixto- ‘milk’.


2. *pL > *bL (where L stands for any liquid), cf. PIE *pi-prh3-se- > PCelt. *pibrase- ‘will bestow, will give’ > *fibrase- (OIr. ebraid), PIE *dwey-plo- ‘double’ > PCelt. *dwēblo- (OIr. díabul).


3. *pN > *wN (where N is any nasal), presumably only after back vowels, cf. PIE *supno- > PCelt. *suwno- > *sowno- ‘sleep’ (OIr. súan, W hun).


4. *p > *f, cf. PIE *ph2tēr > PCelt. *fatīr ‘father’ (OIr. athir).


5. *ō > ā, cf. PIE *deh3no- > *dōno- > PCelt. *dāno- ‘gift’ (OIr. dán); this change is obviously later than the change of *ō > ū in final syllables (B8). Clear examples of this change in Celtiberian are lacking, but there are no counter-examples.


6. *ey > *ē, cf. PIE *(H)reyd- > PCelt. *rēd-o- ‘ride’ (OIr. réidid). This change was obviously later than *ē > *ī (B7). There is some uncertainty whether this change also occurred in Celtiberian.


7. *ew > *ow, cf. PIE *newyo- > PCelt. *nowyo- ‘new’ (OIr. núae, W newydd).


8. *uw > *ow/_C, cf. PIE *supno- > PCelt. *suwno- > *sowno- ‘sleep’ (OIr. súan). This change probably did not apply before *-i- in the next syllable, because of *dru-wid- > OIr. druí ‘druid’ (rather than **droí). It is unclear whether this change applied in Proto-Celtic, or just in Goidelic and Brittonic (data from Gaulish and Celtiberian are lacking).



D) Some other probable PCelt. changes:


1. The liquid assimilations *rp > *rf > *rr (PIE *serp- > PCelt. *serrā) and *lp > *lf > *ll (PIE *kulp- > PCelt. *kul(f)o-), *-rs- > *-rr- (PIE *bhrso- > PCelt. *barro-), *rst > *rt (PIE *trstu- ‘thirst’ > OIr. tart). All of the attested languages show the results of assimilations, so it is simpler to project those changes to Proto-Celtic. It is possible, however, that at least some of the assimilations were parallel innovations of individual languages after the break-up of Proto-Celtic.


2. The assimilation of *mw > *ww, cf. *kom-wīro- > PCelt. *kowwīro- ‘true’ (W cywir).


3. The lengthening of the vowel before the cluster *xsL, cf. *toḱ-slo- ‘axe’ > *tōxslo- > PCelt. *tāxslo- (OIr. tál); it is possible that PCelt. *x was lost and that the preceding vowel was subject to compensatory lengthening. However, *x is conventionally retained in the PCelt. reconstuctions because the regularity of this change is uncertain; cf. the lemmata *dīro-, *kīsrā, *muxto‑, *sego- and *skāxslo- for possible instances of this change, but also *tullo- for a possible counter-example.


4. The ‘liquid metathesis’ (*ar, *al > *ra, *la) between labials and a cluster of two dentals: PIE *mlsto- > PCelt. *mlasto- ‘taste’, PIE *gwrsto- > PCelt. *brasso- ‘great’, PIE *h1wrsto- > PCelt. *wrasto- ‘shower’, PIE *wlsno- > *walsno- > PCelt. *wlanno- ‘blood red’, etc. Like the preceding one, this change is proposed here for the first time, so it will probably raise some controversy. Another possibility is to assume an analogical zero-grade CCLaC of the roots with the full grade CLeCC (after the regular pattern with the zero-grade CaLCC  and the full grade CeLCC).[6]


5. The loss of laryngeals after *ey (and *oy?) before consonants (*VyHC > *VyC), cf. PCelt. *bēto- ‘food’ (W bwyd) < PIE *gweyh3to-, PCelt. *dēno- ‘fast’ (OIr. dían) < *deyHno-, PCelt. *fētu- ‘(grass-)land, territory’ (OIr. íath) < PIE *peyHtu-, PCelt. *kwēno- ‘long’ (OIr. cían) < *kweyHno-, PCelt. *rēno- ‘large expanse of water’ (OIr. rían) < PIE *(H)reyHno-, PCelt. *wēro- ‘crooked’ (OIr. fíar, W gŵyr) < PIE *weyh1ro-, etc. There are only two apparent counter-examples in this dictionary: W rhaeadr ‘torrent’ and OIr. ríathor (with disyllabic ía), do not represent PCelt. *reyatro-, but rather *riyatro-; likewise, OIr. disyllabic bíad ‘food’ can be derived from *biyato- or, less probably, *biwato- (rather than *beyato- < *gweyh3to-). There are no truly reliable examples for the loss of laryngeals after *oy, but cf. PCelt. *koylo- ‘thin’ (which can be from PIE *koyHlo-) and *oyno- ‘one’ (which some linguists would derive from *oyHno- < *h3eyHno-).



E) Some doubtful changes:


1. *(C)RHCdentalC > *(C)RaCdentalC, cf. PIE (?) *prh3-sneh2 ‘gift, share’ > PCelt. *frasnā (OIr. rann); however, PCelt. *frasnā, just like Lat. pars, can be derived from a root without laryngeal (generalized after the present stem *pr-neh3- / *pr-nh3- (> PCelt. *far-na-), and explained by ‘liquid metathesis’. Alternatively, the short *a in the Celtic reflexes of PIE roots of the form *CeRHC can always be the result of Dybo’s law, and it is, of course, more economical to assume fewer sound changes.


2. #RCvoicedC > #RaCvoicedC (Schrijver’s rule, cf. Lat. magnus < *mnos); however, all of the alleged examples involve the root *meh2- ‘great’ (cf. PCelt. *maglo-, *magyo-, and *magos). None of those etymologies is beyond reproach.


3. *h2rCstop- > *arCstop- and *h3rCstop- > *arCstop- (but *h1rCstop- > *riCstop-, cf. *rig-o- ‘go’ < *h1rgh-o-).[7] However, examples of this change are few in number and quite controversial. PCelt. *orgyā ‘testicle’ can be derived from *h1orhi- rather than *h1rhi- or *h3rhi- assumed by some linguists; PCelt. *arto- ‘bear’ is from PIE *h2rto-, but it probably went through the stage *h2rþk’o- (and *#rþC- > *#arþC- may be assumed just like *#rsC > *#arsC). PCelt. *arganto- ‘silver’ is a problem, since the reconstruction *h2rnto- seems somewhat more probable than *h2ernto-. However, the word for ‘silver’ may have had an ablauting paradigm in PIE (Gr. árgyros can be both from *h2er- and *h2r-, and Skt. árjuna- ‘shining’ is clearly from *h2er-).

4. The Problem of Italo-Celtic

Although Italic shares a number of sound changes with Celtic, I remain unconvinced of the ‘Italo-Celtic hypothesis’. Very few phonological and morphological changes are actually exclusive Italo-Celtic isoglosses, and, more importantly, one cannot really establish a relative chronology of those isoglosses, as one can in the case of, e.g., Balto-Slavic. However, there is little doubt that Italic and Celtic developed from a group of closely related Western Indo-European dialects. For a recent discussion of the Italo-Celtic hypothesis see Kortlandt 2007: 151-157.

The following phonological innovations of Italic and Celtic are shared:


1. The development of PIE syllabic resonants followed by laryngeals, PIE *CRHC > *CrāC, cf. PIE *rHno- ‘grain’ > Lat. grānum, PCelt. *grāno-. Note, however, that in PCelt. the development was actually from *CRHC to *CRaHC, and then to *CRāC with loss of the laryngeal and compensatory lengthening of *a (see above, changes A6-A7 in the relative chronology). It is uncertain whether the same two-step development occurred in Italic.


2. The assimilation * > * However, this change appears to be late in Celtic. It failed to occur in OIr. deac, deëc ‘10’, which is often derived from *dwey-penkw-om ‘two-fives’, and when this compound was formed (in Proto-Celtic) *p was not in the beginning of the word, and so it regularly changed to *f > Ø rather than assimilating with *kw (see Watkins 1966: 145, but also the lemma *dekan below for problems with this etymology). In any case, such an assimilation is phonetically trivial (cf. the reverse assimilation in PIE *penkwe ‘5’ > Go. fimf).


3. The shortening of vowels in pretonic position (Dybo’s law mentioned above); however, this change may not be limited to Italic and Celtic, because it appears to affect Germanic as well, at least in some examples, cf. OE wer ‘man’ < *wiHró- (Skt. vīrá-, Lith. výras, Lat. uir, OIr. fer).


Morphological Italo-Celtic isoglosses are not more convincing:


1. The genitive ending *-ī is neither pan-Celtic (it is lacking in Celtiberian) nor pan-Italic (it is lacking in Sabellic), and it is not exclusively Italo-Celtic (it occurs in Messapic and probably in Tocharian). Actually, it is an old petrified adjectival form (see Matasović 2004) and, as such, does not represent a common innovation in Italic and Celtic.


2. The generalization of the *so- stem of the PIE demonstrative pronoun *so-/*to- is a parallel development, since there are clear traces that PCelt. still had the pronominal stem *to- (see PCelt. *tod). Moreover, it is unclear whether Celtiberian shared the generalization of the *so- stem.


3. The introduction of the Gen. ending *-strom in the 1st and 2nd person plural pronouns is not very significant, since the stems of the 2nd person plural pronouns are different in Celtic and Italic, and the forms that actually have this ending are attested only in OIr. (nathar) and Latin (nostrum), so we cannot be sure if they were ever pan-Celtic and pan-Italic.


4. The spread of the Dat./Abl. pl. ending *-bhos is uncertain, since in Gaulish we only have -bo, and Irish generalized the ending *-bhis from the Instrumental.


5. The superlative ending *-smmo- is indeed a shared exclusive isogloss, but in itself it is not enough to prove the existence of an Italo-Celtic protolanguage.

5. The Sub-classification of Celtic

The exact genetic subclassification of the Celtic languages is still an unsettled matter. Two approaches dominate the current discussions:


(1)           The traditional view, defended, among others, by Schmidt (1977), Koch (1992), and de Bernardo Stempel (2006) who classify Brittonic together with Gaulish (and Lepontic, which is probably just an early offshoot of Gaulish) into Gallo-Brittonic, while the Goidelic languages remain as a separate branch of Celtic (see Fig. 1.1. below).


(2)           An alternative theory, defended by e.g. McCone (1996) and supported by Schrijver (1995) and Schumacher (2004), who see Brittonic and Goidelic as a separate Insular Celtic branch, while Gaulish and Lepontic are viewed as the Continental Celtic branch. Celtiberian, as is becoming increasingly clear, is almost certainly an independent branch on the Celtic genealogical tree, one that became separated from the others very early (see Fig. 1.2. below):



Fig. 1.1:



















Fig. 1.2:











The problem of sub-classification within Celtic is relevant to this work only inasmuch as it affects the reliability of Proto-Celtic reconstructions. If there was an Insular Celtic branch within Celtic, then forms reconstructed on the basis of just Old Irish and Middle Welsh, the two best attested early Celtic idioms, need not go back to common Proto-Celtic, but may instead represent Proto-Insular Celtic. Likewise, if we assume the existence of a Gallo-Brittonic branch, then we should be careful in attributing reconstructions based on evidence from the Brittonic languages and Gaulish to Proto-Celtic.

As I have argued elsewhere (Matasović 2008), I tend to view Insular Celtic more as an areal than as a genetic grouping. This does not, however, imply that I believe in Gallo-Brittonic as a valid genetic grouping, either: in the matters of genetic sub-classification within Celtic I think it is wise to remain agnostic, until more is known about Gaulish, Lepontic, and Celtiberian. In any case, since the argument about Insular Celtic vs. Gallo-Brittonic tends to revolve more around the morphological than around the phonological isoglosses, it is unlikely that the eventual resolution of the debate will substantially affect the Proto-Celtic reconstructions proposed here.

6. On the reconstruction of Proto-Celtic

There are several unresolved issues in the reconstruction of the Proto-Celtic phonological system. I have generally tried to follow the consensus opinion, where there is any, but in some cases difficult choices had to be made. It is assumed here that Proto-Celtic had the following phonemes:



I. Vowels


a) short                                            b) long


i                               u                      ī                                   ū

        e          o                                              ē


             a                                                           ā



c) diphthongs


        oy                 ow


ay    aw                                            āy        āw


I take the monophthongization of PIE *ey > *ē to be a Proto-Celtic change, although it is not absolutely certain that this change occurred in the prehistory of Celtiberian (cf. MLH V.1: XVII). I also believe that the change *ew > *ow is Proto-Celtic, and that instances of alleged eu in Gaulish (e.g. in Neviodunum, a toponym in Slovenia) are just spelling variants of a diphthong that did not exist in Latin at the time of the adaptation of the Roman alphabet to Gaulish (cf. McCone 1996).



II. Consonants:


a) stops:




t                   d                     


k                  g


kw                     gw


I assume that *kw merged with *kw in Proto-Celtic, so I reconstruct PCelt. *ekwo- ‘horse’ (OIr. ech, etc.) from PIE *h1ewo- (Lat. equus etc.). Apparent exceptions, such as W ci ‘dog’ < PIE *wōn can be explained by assuming early delabialization of *kw in certain environments (e.g. before PCelt. *ū as in the preceding example: *wōn > PCelt. *kwūn > *kūn > W ci). Similarly, the reflexes of *gw(h) and *g(h)w are indistinguishable in Celtic, cf. PCelt. *tangwāt- ‘tongue’ < *dnhw- (OIr. tengae, W tafod).


b) fricatives:


f      s           [x] (an allophone of *k before stops and *s]

       [z] (an allophone of *s before voiced consonants)


I do not assume that there was a PCelt. phoneme *ts (from PIE clusters with two dentals, and/or from PIE *-st-). I believe that PIE *st was preserved in PCelt. (as it is in Celtiberian), and that PIE *TT yielded *ss already in PCelt. (see Schrijver 1995). The fricative *f is the regular reflex of PIE *p. It may have been a bilabial voiceless fricative [φ] phonetically, rather than a labiodental fricative [f]. I also assume that the assimilations of *rs > *rr and *ls > *ll are Proto-Celtic (see McCone 1996); however, I adopt the ‘etymological’ spelling for the clusters *-sr-, *-sl-, *-sn-, *-sm-, and *ly, as if they were intact in Proto-Celtic reconstructions, although they could have changed to *-rr-, *-ll-, *-nn- and *-mm-, respectively, already in PCelt.[8]


c) resonants:


m     n          l           r


I assume that the change of PIE syllabic *m, *n > *am, *an is pan-Celtic. The fronting of *am, *an > *em, *en in Goidelic is a later development that occurred only in some environments (see McCone 1996 for details). I also assume that word-final *-m was preserved, as it is in Celtiberian, and occasionally in Gaulish.


d) semivowels:


y      w

7.The Celtic languages

For the purpose of this lexicon we adopt the following periodization of the attested Celtic languages.


1. Lepontic (attested from the 7th, or early 6th century B.C. until ca. the 1st century B.C.). In all likelihood, Lepontic is just an early offshoot of Gaulish. The evidence for Lepontic as a separate branch of Celtic heavily relies on the archaeological data, especially on the early individualization of the (Lepontic) Golasseca Culture (see Uhlich 1999: 285-293).


2. Gaulish, attested onomastically since the 6th century B.C., but with a sizeable corpus of inscriptions only from the 3rd century B.C. (inscriptions in Greek alphabet). Inscriptions in the Roman alphabet are attested later, chiefly after the Roman conquest of Gaul (2nd half of the 1st century B.C.). It is unclear when Gaulish died out, but it was probably spoken until the 6th or 7th century A.D., at least in some isolated pockets in Gaul. Although Gaulish is attested for at least a millennium, no attempt has been made to distinguish between early and late Gaulish in this lexicon. However, the source of Gaulish words (except for names) is always indicated.

3. Celtiberian, attested from the 3rd or early 2nd century B.C. until ca. 1st century A.D. The earliest inscriptions are in Iberian syllabary, but from the 1st century B.C. a considerable number of inscriptions are in Roman alphabet.


4. Goidelic, represented by Old Irish and Middle Irish, attested since 4th century A.D. (Ogam inscriptions). We distinguish the following phases of Goidelic:


Ogam (4th - 6th centuries)

Old Irish (7th - 9th centuries)

Middle Irish (10th - 11th centuries)

Modern Irish (12th century - present)


Usually only the earliest attested form of the word is adduced in the lexicon. This is regularly the Old Irish or the Middle Irish form found in DIL. It should be noted that Old Irish and Middle Irish forms are often not easily distinguished. In principle, all words attested in the glosses and other texts from the Thesaurus Palaeohibernicus are Old Irish, but Old Irish forms can often be found in later manuscripts as well. So, even if a word is only attested in texts, the manuscripts of which were preserved in the Middle Irish period (e.g. in the sagas of the Ulster cycle, or in the Leinster eulogistic poetry), we can often be sure that the same word existed in Old Irish. Therefore, in some cases where I adduced a word as OIr., although it does not occur in the proper OIr. texts, the reader will have to trust my philological judgement, or check the sources for himself.

Scottish Gaelic and Manx forms were not adduced in this lexicon (with a handful of exceptions), since they yield very little additional information about the reconstructed PCelt. words and their origin.


5. Brittonic,[9] represented by Welsh, Breton, and Cornish. Dialectal diversity within Brittonic is far greater than within Goidelic, so reflexes of PCelt. words from all three Brittonic languages were adduced, whenever attested. We distinguish the following phases of Brittonic:


Old Welsh (7th - 10th centuries)

Middle Welsh (11th - 14th centuries)

Modern Welsh (15th century - present)


Old Breton (9th - 11th centuries)

Middle Breton (12th - 16th centuries)

Modern Breton (17th century - present)

Old Cornish (9th -12th centuries)

Cornish (13th - 18th centuries)[10]


Middle Welsh, Middle Breton, and Middle Cornish forms are adduced by default. If a word was attested in Old Cornish, Old Breton, or Old Welsh, it is adduced separately in the Cornish, Breton, and Welsh fields, respectively. Modern Welsh forms, as cited in GPC, are adduced only when they are different from MW forms, and often the difference lies only in spelling.

8. Structure of the entries

Each entry in this dictionary consists of several fields. The first field contains the reconstructed Proto-Celtic word and its meaning, as well as the information about the word-class to which it belonged. The following fields contain reflexes of the reconstructed etymon in the primary branches of Celtic, together with some basic grammatical information about them: as a rule the gender of Old Irish and Middle Welsh nouns, the inflectional class of the Old Irish nouns and adjectives, and the attested stems of Old Irish verbs.

In the next field the PIE root of the Proto-Celtic etymon is given, together with a reference to the page in IEW where that root is discussed. After that, there follows a discussion of the proposed etymology and the alternative proposals found in the literature. I have tried to make the derivation of the attested forms from PIE and Proto-Celtic as explicit as possible, without concealing any of the uncertainties or unresolved problems. This field also contains the discussion of other possible cognates of the reconstructed Proto-Celtic etymon. In many cases the etymology proposed here is not the only possible one, but all of the etymologies in this dictionary are meant to be consistent with the Celtic sound laws accepted in this Introduction (see above). I have tried to be maximally clear in making the distinction between mentioning various possible etymological proposals and claiming that a particular etymology is true.

The last field contains the references. The list of references is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to include the most relevant books and articles, published during the last fifty years, in which etymological discussion of the etyma in question can be found. They are ordered in such a manner that the more general reference works precede publications dedicated to a particular word, or specific problems of phonological development relevant to the lemma in question.


[1] See, e.g., McCone 1996: 70, 74.

[2]  Cf. McCone 1996, Isaac 2007, Kortlandt 2007: 117-120 for similar attempts.

[3]  For the alleged loss of laryngeals after PIE *e, *o in pretonic position see the lemmata *siti- and *omo-.

[4] A clear counter-example is the length of Lat. fūmus vs. Skt. dhūmá- < PIE *dhuh2mós. I find none of the explanations of this exception compelling (e.g. the analogy with fūligo "soot", de Vaan 2008). However, the general impression is that Dybo’s law solves more problems than it creates.

[5] Isaac 2007 attempts to limit the operation of Dybo’s depending on the nature of the laryngeal in question, but I do not find his argumentation persuasive.

[6] Note that this explanation will certainly not work for PCelt. *wrasto- (the PIE root is *h1wers-, not **h1wres-).

[7] Joseph 1982: 50-51, McCone 1996: 52, Isaac 2007: 73. It appears that the sequences *#h2L-, *#h3L-, on the one hand, and *#h1L-, on the other, also gave different reflexes in Proto-Tocharian (Hackstein 1998).

[8] All of the attested reflexes have the geminates, cf., e.g., the reflexes of PCelt. *koslo-, *kasninā, *kīsrā, *alyo-, and cf. 1 sg.  pres. of the copula, OIr. am, Gaul. immi. It is quite clear that Proto-Celtic was in the process of developing geminates, because some of the assimilations that produced geminates are certainly early (see above). The reconstructions in this dictionary contain geminated stops, fricatives, and resonants.

[9] This branch of Celtic languages is referred to as "British", "Brythonic", and "Brittonic" in the literature; I tried to be consistent in using "Brittonic".

[10] Cornish is often divided into Middle Cornish (from 12th until the end of the 16th centuries) and Modern Cornish (17th - 18th centuries), cf., e.g., Lewis 1990. I have grouped the words attested from the beginning of the 13th century onwards under a single label, "Cornish".


The non-Indo-European elements in the Celtic lexicon

Although standards for mentioning possible Indo-European etymologies are rather liberal in this dictionary, there is still a large number of words in the reconstructed Proto-Celtic lexicon that cannot be attributed to any PIE root, and that are, therefore, quite likely to have been borrowed from some non-IE source. In some cases, there are a number of probable cognates in the neighbouring IE dialects (usually Italic and Germanic), but the reconstructed shape of the root distinctly shows non-IE features, which again makes it probable that the Celtic etymon in question was borrowed from some non-IE substratum language, perhaps shared with Italic and/or Germanic.

A number of such words, for which a substratum origin can be assumed, have reflexes only in Brittonic and Goidelic. This can, of course, be the consequence of the poor attestation of Gaulish, Lepontic, and Celtiberian, but in principle we cannot exclude the possibility of substrates shared by Insular Celtic languages, but not by the Continental Celtic.

The following is an alphabetical list of Proto-Celtic forms for which a substrate origin can be assumed; in each case it is indicated whether the etymon in question is attested in Continental Celtic, and whether it has likely cognates in the neighbouring IE dialects (Germanic and Italic).


1.      *alten- ‘razor’

2.      *amaro- ‘wailing, crying’

3.      *anderā ‘young woman’ (probably attested in Gaulish)

4.      *bando- ‘peak, top’ (attested in Gaulish; possible cognates in Germanic)

5.      *banwo- ‘young pig, piglet’ (attested in Gaulish)

6.      *baski- ‘bundle’ (probable cognates in Italic)

7.      *birro- ‘short’ (attested in Gaulish)

8.      *blVdV- ‘wolf, large predator’

9.      *bodyo- ‘yellow’ (attested in Gaulish, probable cognates in Italic)

10.  *brano- ‘raven’ (attested in Gaulish)

11.  *bratto-, *brattino- ‘mantle, cloak’

12.  *brokko- ‘badger’ (attested in Gaulish)

13.  *bunno- ‘awl, bittern’

14.  *bussu- ‘lip’ (probably attested in Gaulish)

15.  *butā ‘house, dwelling, hut’

16.  *druko- ‘bad’

17.  *durno- ‘fist’

18.  *esok- ‘salmon’ (attested in Gaulish)

19.  *gweno- ‘smile’

20.  *gulbV-, *gulbīno- ‘beak’ (probably attested in Gaulish)

21.  *gurmo- ‘dun, dark’

22.  *kag-o- ‘get, receive’ (probable cognates in Italic)

23.  *kagyo- ‘pen, enclosure’ (possible cognates in Germanic)

24.  *kalmiyo- ‘skilful, skilled’

25.  *kani- ‘good, nice’

26.  *karbanto- ‘war chariot’ (attested in Gaulish)

27.  *kasninā ‘garlic, leek’ (probably attested in Gaulish)

28.  *katrik- ‘fortification’ (probable cognates in Germanic)

29.  *kayto- ‘wood’ (cognates in Germanic)

30.  *klamo- ‘sick, suffering from leprosy’

31.  *klukā ‘stone, rock’

32.  *knū ‘nut’ (probable cognates in Italic and Celtic)

33.  *koligno- ‘pup, small animal’

34.  *koret- ‘palisade, stone wall’ (possible cognates in Germanic)

35.  *korkkyo- ‘oats’ (probable cognates in Germanic)

36.  *kotto- ‘old’ (probably attested in Gaulish)

37.  *krittā ‘body, frame, shape’

38.  *krok(ke)no- ‘skin’ (probably attested in Gaulish)

39.  *krumbo- ‘round, curved’ (probable cognates in Germanic)

40.  *krundi- ‘round, compact’

41.  *krutto- ‘round object, womb’

42.  *kwezdi- ‘piece, portion’ (attested in Gaulish)

43.  *lēro- ‘diligent’

44.  *liro- ‘sea, ocean’

45.  *lomanā ‘rope, thong’

46.  *lubī/ā ‘herb, plant’ (probable cognates in Germanic)

47.  *lukot- ‘mouse’

48.  *luxtu- ‘content, crowd’

49.  *makinā ‘bellow’ (probable cognates in Germanic and Baltic)

50.  *maylo- ‘bald’ (possible cognates in Germanic)

51.  *mazdyo- ‘stick’ (cognates in Italic and Germanic)

52.  *mesal-kā ‘blackbird’ (cognates in Italic and Germanic)

53.  *menādo- ‘awl’

54.  *metto- ‘decay, blight, shame’

55.  *mokku- ‘pig’

56.  *molto- ‘ram, wether’ (probably attested in Gaulish)

57.  *ninati- ‘nettle’ (probable cognates in Germanic and Baltic)

58.  *nino- ‘ash-tree’ (possibly attested in Gaulish)

59.  *nūsso-, *nowsso- ‘first milk, colostrum’

60.  *rem(r)o- ‘fat, thick’

61.  *rendi- ‘point, peak’

62.  *rowk(k)- / *ruk- ‘tunic, mantle’ (cognates in Germanic and Slavic)

63.  *rūnā ‘secret’ (possible cognates in Germanic)

64.  *sēbro- ‘demon, spectre’

65.  *sfrawo- ‘crow’ (possible cognates in Germanic, Baltic, and Italic)

66.  *sido- ‘elk, stag’

67.  *skamo- ‘light’ (possible cognates in Germanic)

68.  *skublo- ‘bird of prey’ (probably attested in Gaulish)

69.  *slad-yo- ‘hit, slay’

70.  *slattā ‘stalk, staff’ (possible cognates in Germanic)

71.  *swanto- ‘treasure, what is desired’

72.  *smēro- ‘berry’

73.  *subi- ‘strawberry’

74.  *sukko- ‘pig’

75.  *tago- ‘strangle, choke’

76.  *torrV- ‘belly’

77.  *trussko- ‘dirty, leprous’

78.  *trusto- ‘noise, cry’

79.  *wesakko-, *wesākko- ‘grebe, raven’

80.  *wēt(t)ā ‘stream, swamp’

81.  *wimonā ‘sea weed’

82.  *wriggant- ‘vermin’ (possibly attested in Gaulish)

83.  *wroyko- ‘heather’ (possible cognates in Balto-Slavic)

84.  *yoyni- ‘rushes, reed’ (probable cognates in Italic and Germanic)

85.  *yutV- ‘pap, porridge’ (possibly attested in Gaulish)


The number of substrate words in Proto-Celtic is actually surprisingly low. Only 85 out of the total 1490 Proto-Celtic words can be ascribed to a non-IE substrate, which is under 6%. This number is probably slightly higher, since several of the IE etymologies proposed in the dictionary might turn out to be false, but even so, it probably does not exceed 10%. Since many of the nouns listed above have probable cognates in other Western Indo-European languages (primarily Italic and Germanic), we might argue that there was no pre-IE substrate exclusive to Celtic, i. e., there was no common substrate in Western Europe from which Celtic, and only Celtic, borrowed words. There are, of course, many words in Welsh and Irish with obscure, presumably non-IE etymology, but it is rather surprising how few of those words go back to Proto-Celtic, or Proto-Insular Celtic (if one believes in that). Again, this may point to the conclusion that there was no single substratum language (or a group of closely related languages) prior to the arrival of the Celts in the British Isles. Judging by the amount of language diversity before the Roman conquests in other parts of Europe, for which we have more data (e.g. for Spain or Italy), this is not so surprising.

It is not surprising that most of the non-IE words in Celtic are nouns, since nouns are much more often borrowed than verbs, or words belonging to other word classes. It is also understandable that nouns of substrate origin often denote birds, plants, and small animals.

On the formal side, one should note that substratum words in Celtic often have geminates and the vowel *a in the root. Both of these features have been recognized as characteristic of substratum words in other European language groups, especially in Germanic. What is more surprising is the fact that words of non-IE origin in Celtic have the vowel *u in the root much more often than could be attributed to chance (24 out of 85 words, or more than a quarter of the total). Moreover, the donor language(s) seem not to have had a length contrast in their vowel systems. The only long vowels that appear in the roots of non-IE loanwords in Celtic are *ē (which can be from the diphthong *ey) and *ū (in two instances, once alternating with *ow). Finally, labiovelars are extremely rare (they occur in only two words), which probably means that the donor language(s) lacked them. The significance of these findings is yet to be evaluated in the realm of the Celtic linguistics.


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