This paper will analyze and discuss whether or not the Celtic and English languages are related. It will cover the borrow-word (loan-word) verses influence phenomenon, language trees, influence, and words that are strikingly similar, yet are in no way connected to one another.
It seems that the world will never be able to undeniably prove whether or not the Celtic branch of languages is connected to English.
What is the difference between borrow-words or loan words, and influence? There are many words that have crossed over from language to language. English uses the Australian Aborigine terms "kangaroo" and "koala," but they are just borrow-words. If it was influenced, the whole world would be influenced by Australian. It can be seen by looking at all the different "kangaroos:" The French "kangarou," the Japanese "kangaru," the African "kangaroe," the Dutch "kangoeroe," the Hungarian "kenguru," the Norwegian "kunguru," the Portuguese "canguru," even the Russian "кенгуру". We can see that they are all similar. It is because kangaroos, who only live in Australia, were named by the Australian Aborigines and as the world learned of the kangaroos, they took the closest thing that they could say to what the Aborigines were saying and made it what the animal was called.
Borrow-words are extremely common and will be seen quite often. One should never jump to the conclusion that something influenced a language because of borrow-words. It certainly is an indicator that one could look farther and find something, but not a dead give away.
However, influence is something entirely different. Influence is when some word, has changed so much that one still may be able to see the similarity, however, they usually are settled comfortably into the other language and quite commonly have derivatives before it is taken to the extent of influence. The same initial letter is commonly an indicator, as in the English three, to the Welsh tri. A simple example is the Latin word for father, "pater." The French word for father is "pere". One can see the similarity, but "pere" is very comfortably settled into French, is not leaving, and has some of its own derivatives now.
Definitely, another consideration is when a word entered a language. After finding a word's first appearance in a language one can then look for similar words from other languages with similar meanings. Then one can find what contact the speakers of the two languages involved had with each other. If there is an English word that is similar to, and has a similar meaning to a Japanese word, but the word first entered English in 400 AD, it is most likely a coincidence. However, if a Welsh word weaseled it's way into English during the 1800s, there may be a connection.
One of the biggest lingual families is the Indo-European family. It is the family from which was sprung almost all Asian and European languages with the exception of Oriental languages. As you can see from the diagram below, English and the Celtic branch came from the Indo-European family.
Used by permission
The Celtic branch covers Irish Gaelic, Breton, Cornish, Scottish Dialect, Welsh, Manx, and many other not-as-well-known languages.
The Germanic branch is the branch that encompasses Norse languages, English and German. It is also from the Indo-European family. Here is a more in depth analysis of it.
(Old, Middle, New)
----Low Saxon---------Middle Low German----New Low German
Old, Middle, New) ----Dutch-Flemish
Germanic-- ----Low Franconian----Middle Dutch----
(Old, Middle, New) ----Franconian
Now it is time for the best part. Examples!
One thing that may be a huge influence, though it is subtle, is the fact that even though English is a direct language, people tend to drop articles and other important parts. This is a very Celtic, particularly Irish, practice. For example, the Irish line of poetry, "Is mór an suaimhnease don gheata iad a bheith pósta." When this line is directly translated into English it reads "It's a relief to the gate that they're married." This doesn't really make sense as what it really means is, "Did you know that years before they were married, they used to meet at the wooden gate?" Do you see the huge, important difference? This is mirrored in how where a person using 100 proper English would say "She's at the school," most English-speakers would adopt a very Celtic grammar and say "She's at school." (The Story of English)
It wouldn't be that surprising if English was very influenced by Celtic, considering the history, particularly that of Ireland, whose native tongue is the most commonly talked about Celtic language, Gaelic. Since the Celtic lands were taken over by the English, French, Germans, and Norselanders, wouldn't it make sense for the languages to have a permanent Celtic twinge? In fact, in the 1350s through the 1600s, Irish traditions, dress, languages and even surnames were the popular way among English nobility. Irish was also adopted as one of the official languages of both the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. The Irish language was even dragged into religious dispute! When the Catholics and the Protestants were fighting, if a person was captured by a Catholic, the prisoner would claim Catholicism. To tell if this person was a true Catholic or not, they would be asked to recite the Irish alphabet. If they were a Catholic, they would pronounce the Irish equivalent of h, "haitch." If they were Protestant, they would pronounce it "aitch." (The Story of English)
Celtic languages are greatly beloved by English speakers. It is in fact popular opinion that some versions of Celtic accents are the most beautiful out there. The only Celtic accent uncommonly praised is the Scottish accent. The difference is that where those with Welsh or Irish accents have musical accents, bringing out the words softly, the Scottish tend to clip their words, making a much less desirable sound.
The Irish language has an astonishing influence on Australian English. In fact the supposed true-blue, stereotypical Aussie sheila, was probably originally an Irish word. The Australian football's rules are also very similar to an old Irish sport. (The Story of English)
Typical British and Australian phrases such as to nobble, to peg out, and to take rise out of someone are all probably either Scottish or Irish. One etymological argument is "Is shanty derived from the Irish word, sean-tigh?" The word sean-tigh literally means "old house," and according to the OED, the first appearance of the word shanty, is from the Irish shantytowns of New York, Boston and Chicago. (The Story of English)
Another common etymological discussion is "Where does the word shenanigans come from?" Some etymologists say that it is an American Indian word, others say that it is from the Irish immigrants, either from the term sionnachuighim, or the contraction of the common Irish name "Sean Hannigan." They say there may be a story behind Sean Hannigan. (The Story of English, The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got That Way)
There are also a great many phrases, almost making fun of the Irish, which means that in a way, they have influenced our language. There is the phrase "To get one's Irish up," which means to get angry. There is also the phrase "Irish hoist" which means a kick in the pants.
The term "paddy-wagon" most likely comes from Boston, where, in the 1920s when paddy-wagon was coined, most of the cops were Irish. Paddy was very commonly short for Patrick, a very common name among the Irish immigrants.
There is the word league which assuredly comes from the Gaelic word leuca, which means distance. In political jargon, a person says cúpla focal before a speech. This literally means "couple of words" in Irish Gaelic. The Irish for small pieces is simidirin. "Smithereens?" (The Story of English)
The second most common Celtic language is Welsh. The Welsh were great sailors quite a bit before others around them. Up north there was a bird with a white head, which is now extinct, that was very similar to the penguin, which most likely comes from the Welsh pen guin, which means "white head." Then when the Welsh went down to the south pole with the English sailors, they found birds just like them and called them penguins.
A very common term among all Celtic languages is calling your father "da," or "dad." The Welsh, Irish and maybe even the Scottish most likely eventually spread these to the English. Through the English it spread to the Americans and so on and so forth.
There is the event that some things can be strikingly similar, yet are neither influence nor borrow-words. Other people simply come up with the same words. This particularly happens with onemonepeias. This is things like bang, boom, or animal sounds.
To bring a fascinating paper to an end, which language influenced which? Well, personally the author thinks that English has been influenced by Celtic languages. "How could that be so?" one might say. "We conquered them and bent them all to our wills." Yes, but Europeans stamped them out, not subtly let linguistics flow her merry course. Instead the British chose to press their ways on others and as a result, the Celtic languages are almost extinct. Why don't we attempt to fix the damage we have done and do languages a favor and preserve them. We have animal conservation programs, but what about the musical clefs that nobody can read anymore, the dead languages that no one speaks, the dances that no one dances—what about them? Will we save them, or let them die out of our world forever.