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Thread: Irish and German: Linguistic Connections

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    Irish and German: Linguistic Connections

    Similarities between the modern Irish and German languages raise the question of the origins of these. There are Celtic names and place-names in France, Germany and farther east. Gaelic folklore, too, deals with events on the European mainland. Such evidence indicates that important cultural influences in Ireland came originally from an historic homeland, shared with other peoples to the north and east of the Alps.

    [I] Early Migrations

    When tribes broke away from the great Indo-European family, the language(s) they spoke gradually differentiated. In the West, Celtic, Teutonic (Germanic), Slavonic, and classical Latin and Greek subgroups were formed. In the East, there was the Indo-Iranian subgroup which comprised Zend, spoken in Iran, and the related Sanskrit, from which modern Hindi derives. Smaller migrations always occurred against the general trend. As recorded in Indian scripts from the 7th and 8th centuries an Indo-European people, the Tocharians, went as far as the Tarim Basin in China. Archaeological discoveries have shown that these people had red hair: the mark of the Celt.

    Within subgroups, languages which have developed separately over some hundreds of years - sister languages - are only mutually comprehensible with some effort. Two close Celtic languages are Irish and Scots Gaelic. When separated for a greater length of time, languages are termed cousin languages - for example Irish and Welsh.

    Germans and Celts seem to have had a common origin in the remaining population of Indo-Europeans coming to Temperate Europe. The two peoples were the most westerly of the migration. They maintained settlements in close proximity, in the pre-Roman period. In consequence, there was on-going interchange – with consequential effects on political and cultural development.

    The ancients often used strong names to impress neighbours. Tribes, whom Caesar encountered, used the general name ‘Celt’. ‘ Gaul’ may be the word ‘ceilt’, without the final ‘t’. Gerhard Herrm said that perhaps they saw themselves as “the people who came from the darkness” (ceilt – concealment). However, the warlike Celts in the Danube Basin around 1000 BC were not hiding away. Their name duly derives from the Indo-European ‘kel’, meaning ‘to strike’. The Greek writer, Pausanius, records that they used the name ‘Celtoi’ - as did ‘all other peoples’.

    The name ‘German’ is itself Celtic. The root gair (near), to mean ‘neighbours’, has been suggested. However the root gaé (spear), to mean ‘spear-carrier’ or ‘sharp-witted’, is stronger. The Roman word germanus (‘real’ or ‘authentic’) takes up the latter meaning.

    Celtic migration westwards first moved from Bohemia and southern Germany to Gaul

    and from thence to Spain. Other groups went south into Italy or back east, through Greece, to Galatia and onwards. This last Celtic settlement lay to the south of Scythia, which is now in the Ukraine. It was from Scythia that the Celts had originally come.

    [ii] Celts and Germans: Historical Accounts

    Historians like Strabo, the Greek, took the view that the Germans were the ‘real (or authentic) Celts’. Both the origins and the Germanic-Celtic interrelations of early northern European tribes, such as the Celtic Cotoni, are unclear.

    At the Battle of Aqua Sextiae, the Romans and their Celtic Ligurian allies were ranged against the Cimbri, Ambrones and Teutones. These latter tribes came from Jutland, not Gaul, and have been regarded as Germanic.

    The name of the Cimbri is related to the Brythonic cymri (‘companions’) from which the name ‘Cymru’ derives. The name of their king is also indisputably Celtic. He was called Boiorix – ‘King of the Boii’ (a tribe of cattle-herders, which gave its name to Bohemia). Plutarch describes how, in Celtic style, the Ligurians heard the Ambrones rallying each other, by calling out their individual and clan names, during the fighting. The Ligurians then followed suit “for the Ligurians are known after their origins as Ambrones”. Linking with the Teutones, ‘Teutates’ was the Celtic god of the Northern Reaches.

    These Celtic tribes were either mistaken for early Germans or were indeed linguistically close to them. They were hardly utter strangers to the rest of their northern neighbours: a satisfactory degree of mutual comprehension probably existed through dialect continua.

    Tacitus’ description of Celtic physical traits is similar to some descriptions of Germans: nobody can now confirm whether he thought that they were different. The confusion in classical texts reflects the final stages of differentiation between Celts and Germans...

    Essay continues

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    Quote Originally Posted by Loyalist View Post
    The name ‘German’ is itself Celtic. The root gair (near), to mean ‘neighbours’, has been suggested. However the root gaé (spear), to mean ‘spear-carrier’ or ‘sharp-witted’, is stronger.
    THis is a highly debated point, and looks likely to remain unsolved. Rather amusing that they try to explain the element 'Ger-' by Irish 'gae' for 'spear', when the Germanic form 'gar' is ten times closer!
    This last Celtic settlement lay to the south of Scythia, which is now in the Ukraine. It was from Scythia that the Celts had originally come.
    Oh dear. "But it's obvious - look how similar the names Scyth and Scot are!" And that's basically the end of the argument.
    The name of the Cimbri is related to the Brythonic cymri (‘companions’) from which the name ‘Cymru’ derives.
    A horrendously common error.

    Cymru is demonstrably from an early form *Kom-broges meaning 'Fellow-Countrymen'. The latter element may be seen in modern Breton 'Bro Weroch' - the land of Weroch.

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