English and Celtic in Contact

Welcome to the ECC homepage!

This project sets out to examine the linguistic outcomes of the historical contacts between English and the Celtic languages spoken in the British Isles. Long neglected in the fields of historical and dialectological scholarship, the English-Celtic interface has received fresh attention in recent years, but there is still a noticeable lack of empirical research and comprehensive accounts of the contacts and their linguistic results.

We have set ourselves the ambitious aim of not only trying to fill the existing gap in the literature but also of adducing and discussing new historical and linguistic evidence which makes it necessary to revise the overall picture of English-Celtic contacts. Recent archeological and historical research suggests that the British Celts were not totally wiped out or driven away from the areas conquered by the Anglo-Saxons from the fifth century onwards. In many places the indigenous Celtic population and the newcomers enjoyed forms of relatively peaceful coexistence, which also led to extensive bilingualism in some areas for a considerable period of time. This, and the subsequent process of language shift on the part of the Celtic population, left more traces in English than has been hitherto assumed. As in language shift situations in general, these influences were not restricted to vocabulary loans: evidence from similar contexts shows that grammatical and phonological influences tend to be much more significant in such circumstances. This is something that has not received enough attention in previous research on the subject.

In addition to the early medieval contacts, our project investigates contacts in modern times. Intensive contacts have occurred between English and the Celtic languages in areas of Wales, Cornwall, Ireland, and Scotland which by now have become mostly English-speaking. The last few years have witnessed an upsurge of interest in the dialects of English spoken in these areas. Indeed, a new term has been coined for them: “Celtic English” or, rather, “Celtic Englishes”. Yet it should be noted that the substratal influence of Celtic is not confined to the Welsh, Cornish, Irish or Scottish dialects of English but also extends to some conservative northern and south-western dialects of English English (EngE). Thus, although there is some justification for the claim that there is relatively little Celtic influence in Standard English, the situation is very different in some conservative regional varieties.

The project is co-ordinated by Professor Markku Filppula, Professor Juhani Klemola and Dr Heli Paulasto (née Pitkänen). During 2000–2002 it was funded by the Academy of Finland. In August 2001 the project organized an International Colloquium on Early Contacts between English and the Celtic Languages. See also the homepages of the UniCont project (2005-2008).

This site is hosted by FLD/English at Joensuu University.