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Celtiberian

Joss Gospatrick

Celtiberian is an extinct Celtic language, once spoken in modern day Spain. Over 2,000 years
ago, the Ebro river divided the Celtiberians from the non Indo-European speaking tribes. They
occupied a region of inland Iberia where rivers like the Tagus and Júcar rivers flow from their
upland sources. The Celtiberian people have sometimes been identified as ‘Celtic’, and their
language was certainly Celtic. But these people were not the same culture as the ‘Celtic’ cultures
in Gaul, in Britain nor in Ireland.

Celtiberian has been extinct for over 2,000 years, but is attested from various inscriptions in the
2​nd​ to 1​st​ centuries BC. Celtiberian is not especially similar to the modern day Celtic languages,
its grammar is closer to that of Latin, Sanskrit or other literary Indo-European languages which
date from that period.

Celtiberian was closely related to Gaulish, spoken to the north in modern France, and to the
Proto-Brythonic language of Britain.

‘this man’

Irish:​ an fear seo


Welsh: ​y gwr hwn
Celtiberian: ​so uiros

Pronunciation

The pronunciation of Celtiberian is quite straightforward. In the Celtiberian Script used to write
the language there is no distinction between voiced and unvoiced stops. So ​k​, ​p​, ​t​ ​are written
with the same characters as ​g​, ​b​ ​and ​d​. In the Latin rendering of Celtiberian, this distinction is
made, but distinction is not made between vowel length. However this is shown where necessary
using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). The IPA marks long vowels using a colon, for
example ​tu​ ​[tu:] ‘you’ (singular).

a ​- ​as in the Spanish word ​baño​ but sometimes longer [a], [a:].
e​ ​- ​a pure vowel sound, as in the Spanish ​e​, sometimes longer [e], [e:].
i​ - ​as in ‘seen’, with long or short length, [i], [i:].
o ​-​ a pure vowel sound as in Spanish [o], [o:].
u​ - ​a pure vowel sound, as in ​uno ​[u], [u:].
Diphthongs

ai ​- ​as in ‘like’ [ai].


au​ - ​similar to the German ​au​, [au].
ei -​ ​similar to the vowel in ‘same’ [ei].
oi​ - ​as in ‘soya’, [oi].
ou -​ ​an ‘o’ followed by a ‘u’ [ou].

Consonants

b​ - ​as in English [b].


d​ - ​as in English [d].
g ​- ​as in ‘good’.
gu​ - ​as in ‘Gwen’ [gʷ].
k​ - ​as in English ‘king’ [k].
ku -​ ​as in ‘queen’ [kʷ].
l​ - ​as in English [l].
m​ - ​as in ‘moment’ [m].
n​ - ​as in ‘near’ [n].
r ​- ​rolled as in Spanish [r].
s ​- ​as in ‘same’ [s].
t​ - ​as in English [t].
z ​- [ð], [z] this often comes from an earlier ​d​ ​but its pronunciation is uncertain. This happens in
intervocalic position and also to final ​t​.This may have been pronounced like the ‘th’ in this, or
may at least have come from a stage where an original ​d h​ ad this pronunciation before becoming
z​.

I have decided to use the traditional transcription of Celtiberian here.

Notes:

-ks​ ​could have become [xs] as a variant of [s], and along with changes to​ ​d ​and ​t​ ​represents early
lenition in the Celtic languages, although not in line with the changes which evolved in those
insular and coastal dialects. For example ​retukenos​ ​[rextukenos], [rextugenos], [rektukenos].

The Proto-Indo-European form ​*nm- b​ ecomes​ ​-lm​. This is unique to Celtiberian, for example
melmanzos​ 'gifted with mind', Primitive Irish ​*menm-​ 'mind'.

Final -​m ​in the genitive plural forms of nouns does not become ​-n ​as it does in some other Celtic
languages, for example ​bezom uirum ​‘the men’s mine’.

There is some debate on the exact pronunciation of Celtiberian, because the Celtiberian script
combines vowels and consonants together, as do the other ancient Iberian scripts. For example,
the letter used for​ ​t c​ an be altered slightly to spell ​ta​, ​ti​,​ ​to​ etc, rather than a separate vowel being
needed. De Bernado Stempel’s interpretation is that words such as ​otanaum ​may have mute
vowels, this word may be pronounced [odnaum] for instance. This interpretation is not accepted
by everybody however.

Celtiberian does not mark vowel length, and the vowels ​i ​and ​u ​may have sometimes represented
[j] and [w] in certain positions, for example ​uiros​.

Basic words:

klounia​ - ​meadow (f), ​okris​ - ​mountain (m) ​kentis ​‘family, male clan lineage’, ​bezom​ ​- mine?
(n), ​arkatobezom - s​ ilver mine? , ​ueizos - ​‘witness, seer’, ​-kue​ ​- and, e.g. ​kentisum tuateroskue​ -
‘of the family and of the daughter’, ​terba - ​‘town, settlement’, ​sues -​ six, ​aila - ‘​ stone building’,
ku - ​dog ​eni​ - ​in, ​bouitos -​ ​cattle road (m), ​toutam - ​settlement, ​tirikantam - ​third,
toutam tirikantam kentizum - ​‘the third settlement of the family/clan’, ​kantom - h​ undred,
*​loukios ​- ‘bright, light’, ​entara - ​within, *​entera okrim - ​‘within the mountain’, ​kar -
friendship, love, ​uentanaka kar - ‘​ friendship of Ventana’, ​nertos - ​strength, ​*mailos - b​ ald, ​ue -
or, ​ne - ​not (negative particle), ​nekue - ​nor, ​koloutios - ​hearer, listener, ​ueramos - ​‘highest
person’, ​konsklitom - t​ o be coined, *​litanos ​- broad, great, ​kuezontikum - ​asker, seeker, knower,
Lugus -​ a deity.

Celtiberian also has numerous prefixes which can be attached to other words. For example ​ambi-
‘around’, ​es- ​‘out of’, ​us- ​‘above’.

bezom okrei -​ ​a mine at the mountain, ​okrei ​is the locative form of​ o​ kris​.
bezom eni okrei​ - ​a mine in a mountain. ​Eni​ ​‘in’ specifies the meaning. ​Eni ​may also occur as a
postposition, or it may be attached to a noun as in ​eniokrei ‘​ in the mountain’,

Celtiberian nouns are either masculine, feminine or neuter. The gender of a noun doesn’t
necessarily define how it is declined in the various different cases, this depends on the particular
noun stem. For example ​uiros​ ​‘man’ is an -o stem noun, and is masculine. -o stem nouns are
usually masculine.

uiros -​ ​man, nominative case, used as a subject


​uirom​ - accusative, ‘to the man’, when ​uiros​ ​is the object rather than the subject.
uiro ​- ​genitive ‘of the man’. This form is quite unusual for Celtic languages, Proto-Brythonic
would have had ​uirī.
​uirui ​- dative [uiru:i], when ​uiros​ ​is the indirect object. Similar to the function performed by the
English word ‘by’ or phrase ‘by means of’.
​uiruz ​- ablative case, and ​uirei i​ n the locative. The locative case is used for saying what is in, or
at a place or other noun, and hasn’t been recorded in other Celtic languages. ​Uiriu i​ s a possible
instrumental form.

Demonstrative pronouns
Demonstrative pronouns include ​so​, ​sa a​ nd ​soz m ​ eaning ‘this’ in the masculine, feminine and
neuter forms. In the plural these are ​sos​, ​sas ​and ​soizos.​ For example, ​so uiros ​‘this man’, ​sa
klounia ​‘this field’, ​soz bezom ‘​ this mine’. The forms ​to​, ​tas m
​ ay also have been demonstrative
pronouns attached to nouns, the form ​taskue ​is also seen. A form based on ​sto-/sta- ​may have
also existed.

Texts

The following is an example of a Celtiberian text:

eni orosei uta tigino tiatunei erekaias to luguei araianom komeimu eni orosei ekueisuikue
okris olokas togias sistat luguei

Æ lot of Celtic inscriptions are dedicated to different deities, in this case to Lugus/Lugh. It
translates as:

Eni orosei -​ ‘in Orosis’, ​uta - ​‘and, also’, ​tigino - ​‘of the Tigonos river’, ​tiatunei - ‘​ in the
surroundings’, ​erekaias ​- ‘the fields, acres’, ​to Luguei ​- ‘to Lugus’, ​araianom - ‘​ bright’,
komeimu - ‘​ we dedicate’, ​eni orosei -​ ‘in Orosis’, ​ekueisuikue -​ ‘and in Equeiso’, ​okris ​- ‘the
hills’, ​olokas - ​‘the food gardens’, ​togias -​ ‘the houses’, - ​sistat ​- ‘are dedicated’, ​luguei ‘​ in
Lugh, to Lugh’.

This text translates roughly as: “In Orosis and in the surroundings of the Tigonos river, we
divinely dedicate the fields to Lugus, in Orosis and in Equeiso the hills, farms and houses are
dedicated to Lugus”. Lugh was one of the most important deities to the Celtic speaking peoples.

References

.La gramática celtibérica del bronce de Botorrita. Nuevos Resultados,Palaeohispanica 9 (2009) -


de Bernardo P.
.Proto-Celtic dictionary, University of Wales ​www.wales.ac.uk