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Linguistic classification Indo-European
  • North-West Indo-European (?) [1] [2]
    • Italo-Celtic
Glottolog None

In historical linguistics, Italo-Celtic is a grouping of the Italic and Celtic branches of the Indo-European language family on the basis of features shared by these two branches and no others. There is controversy about the causes of these similarities. They are usually considered to be innovations, likely to have developed after the breakup of the Proto-Indo-European language. It is also possible that some of these are not innovations, but shared conservative features, i.e. original Indo-European language features which have disappeared in all other language groups. What is commonly accepted is that the shared features may usefully be thought of as Italo-Celtic forms, as they are certainly shared by the two families and are almost certainly not coincidental.



The traditional interpretation of the data is that both subgroups of the Indo-European language family are generally more closely related to each other than to the other Indo-European languages. That could imply that they are descended from a common ancestor, Proto-Italo-Celtic, which can be partly reconstructed by the comparative method. Scholars who believe that Proto-Italo-Celtic was an identifiable historical language estimate that it was spoken in the third or the second millennium BC somewhere in south-central Europe.[ citation needed ].

That hypothesis fell out of favour after it was re-examined by Calvert Watkins in 1966. [8] Nevertheless, some scholars, such as Frederik Kortlandt, continued to be interested in the theory. [9] In 2002 a paper by Ringe, Warnow, and Taylor, employing computational methods as a supplement to the traditional linguistic subgrouping methodology, argued in favour of an Italo-Celtic subgroup, [10] and in 2007 Kortlandt attempted a reconstruction of a Proto-Italo-Celtic. [11]

Emphatic support for an Italo-Celtic clade came from Celtologist Peter Schrijver in 1991. [12] More recently, Schrijver (2016) has argued that Celtic arose in the Italian Peninsula as the first branch of Italo-Celtic to split off, with areal affinities to Venetic and Sabellian, and identified Proto-Celtic archaeologically with the Canegrate culture of the Late Bronze Age of Italy (c. 1300–1100 BC). [13]

The most common alternative interpretation is that the close proximity of Proto-Celtic and Proto-Italic over a long period could have encouraged the parallel development of what were already quite separate languages, as areal features within a Sprachbund. As Watkins (1966) puts it, "the community of in Italic and Celtic is attributable to early contact, rather than to an original unity". The assumed period of language contact could then be later and perhaps continue well into the first millennium BC.

However, if some of the forms are archaic elements of Proto-Indo-European that were lost in other branches, neither model of post-PIE relationship must be postulated. Italic and especially Celtic also share several distinctive features with the Hittite language (an Anatolian language) and the Tocharian languages, [14] and those features are certainly archaisms.

Also, it is logically perfectly possible for two or even all three of these hypotheses – "there was a Proto-Italo-Celtic"; "Italic and Celtic interacted areally" (which is uncontroversial); "some common traits between Italic and Celtic are inherited archaisms" – to be correct at the same time; they are by no means mutually exclusive.


The principal Italo-Celtic forms are:

A number of other similarities continue to be pointed out and debated. [16]

The r-passive (mediopassive voice) was initially thought to be an innovation restricted to Italo-Celtic until it was found to be a retained archaism shared with Hittite, Tocharian, and possibly the Phrygian language.

Related Research Articles

Italic languages Subfamily of the Indo-European language family spoken by Italic peoples

The Italic languages form a branch of the Indo-European language family, whose earliest known members were spoken in the Italian Peninsula in the first millennium BC. The best known of them is Latin, the official language of ancient Rome, which conquered the other Italic peoples before the common era. The other Italic languages became extinct in the first centuries AD as their speakers were assimilated into the Roman Empire and shifted to some form of Latin. Between the third and eighth centuries AD, Vulgar Latin diversified into the Romance languages, which are the only Italic languages natively spoken today.

Indo-European languages Large language family originating in Eurasia

The Indo-European languages are a language family native to western and southern Eurasia. It comprises most of the languages of Europe together with those of the northern Indian subcontinent and the Iranian Plateau. A few of these languages, such as English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish, have expanded through colonialism in the modern period and are now spoken across several continents. The Indo-European family is divided into several branches or sub-families, of which there are 8 groups with languages alive today: Albanian, Armenian, Balto-Slavic, Celtic, Germanic, Hellenic, Indo-Iranian and Italic and 7 extinct subdivisions.

Tocharian languages Extinct branch of the Indo-European language family

The Tocharianlanguages, also known as Arśi-Kuči, Agnean-Kuchean or Kuchean-Agnean, are an extinct branch of the Indo-European language family spoken by inhabitants of the Tarim Basin, the Tocharians. They are known from manuscripts dating from the 5th to the 8th century AD, which were found in oasis cities on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin and the Lop Desert. The discovery of this language family in the early 20th century contradicted the formerly prevalent idea of an east–west division of the Indo-European language family on the centum–satem isogloss, and prompted reinvigorated study of the family. Mistakenly identifying the authors with the Tokharoi people of ancient Bactria (Tokharistan), early authors called these languages "Tocharian". This naming has remained, although the names Agnean and Kuchean have been proposed as a replacement.

Anatolian languages extinct branch of Indo-European languages

The Anatolian languages are an extinct branch of Indo-European languages that were spoken in Anatolia, part of present-day Turkey. The best known Anatolian language is Hittite, which is considered the earliest-attested Indo-European language.

The laryngeal theory is a widely accepted hypothesis in the historical linguistics of the Indo-European languages positing that:

Phrygian language Dialect of Indo-European language spoken by the Phrygians

The Phrygian language was the Indo-European language of the Phrygians, spoken in Anatolia, during classical antiquity.

Balto-Slavic languages Branch of the Indo-European language family

The Balto-Slavic languages are a branch of the Indo-European family of languages. It traditionally comprises the Baltic and Slavic languages. Baltic and Slavic languages share several linguistic traits not found in any other Indo-European branch, which points to a period of common development. Although the notion of a Balto-Slavic unity has been contested, there is now a general consensus among specialists in Indo-European linguistics to classify Baltic and Slavic languages into a single branch, with only some details of the nature of their relationship remaining in dispute.

The glottalic theory is that Proto-Indo-European had ejective stops, *pʼ *tʼ *kʼ, instead of the plain voiced ones, *b *d *ɡ as hypothesized by the usual Proto-Indo-European phonological reconstructions.

In Indo-European linguistics, the term Indo-Hittite refers to Edgar Howard Sturtevant's 1926 hypothesis that the Anatolian languages may have split off a Pre-Proto-Indo-European language considerably earlier than the separation of the remaining Indo-European languages. The term may be somewhat confusing, as the prefix Indo- does not refer to the Indo-Aryan branch in particular, but is iconic for Indo-European, and the -Hittite part refers to the Anatolian language family as a whole.

Proto-Celtic language Ancestor of the Celtic languages

The Proto-Celtic language, also called Common Celtic, is the partially reconstructed proto-language of all the known Celtic languages. Its lexis, or vocabulary, can be confidently reconstructed on the basis of the comparative method of historical linguistics, in the same manner as Proto-Indo-European, the proto-language which has been most thoroughly reconstructed. Proto-Celtic is a descendant of the Proto-Indo-European language and is itself the ancestor of the Celtic languages which are members of the modern Indo-European language family, the most commonly spoken language family. Modern Celtic languages share common features with Italic languages that are unseen in other branches and according to one theory they may have formed an ancient Italo-Celtic branch. The duration of the cultures speaking Proto-Celtic was relatively brief compared to PIE's 2,000 years. By the Iron Age Hallstatt culture of around 800 BC these people had become fully Celtic.

As the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) broke up, its sound system diverged as well, as evidenced in various sound laws associated with the daughter Indo-European languages.

Proto-Indo-European pronouns have been reconstructed by modern linguists, based on similarities found across all Indo-European languages. This article lists and discusses the hypothesised forms.

The phonology of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) has been reconstructed by linguists, based on the similarities and differences among current and extinct Indo-European languages. Because PIE was not written, linguists must rely on the evidence of its earliest attested descendants, such as Hittite, Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, and Latin, to reconstruct its phonology.

The Neolithic creolisation hypothesis, first put forward by Marek Zvelebil in 1995, contributes to the Proto-Indo-European Urheimat issue and proposes a cultural melting pot in the Neolithic of Northern Europe of foreign Neolithic farmers and indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherer communities that resulted in the genesis of the Indo-European language family.

Osthoff's law is an Indo-European sound law which states that long vowels shorten when followed by a resonant, followed in turn by another consonant. It is named after German Indo-Europeanist Hermann Osthoff, who first formulated it.

Centum and satem languages Indo-European linguistic classification

Languages of the Indo-European family are classified as either centum languages or satem languages according to how the dorsal consonants of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) developed. An example of the different developments is provided by the words for "hundred" found in the early attested Indo-European languages. In centum languages, they typically began with a sound, but in satem languages, they often began with.

The following is a table of many of the most fundamental Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) words and roots, with their cognates in all of the major families of descendants.

Proto-Tocharian language Reconstructed proto-language

Proto-Tocharian, also spelled Proto-Tokharian, is the reconstructed proto-language of the extinct Tocharian branch of the Indo-European languages.

Proto-Italic language Ancestor of Latin and other Italic languages

The Proto-Italic language is the ancestor of the Italic languages, most notably Latin and its descendants, the Romance languages. It is not directly attested in writing, but has been reconstructed to some degree through the comparative method. Proto-Italic descended from the earlier Proto-Indo-European language.

Indo-European migrations Migrations out of the Pontic-Caspian steppe

The Indo-European migrations were the migrations of Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) speakers, as proposed by contemporary scholarship, and the subsequent migrations of people speaking further developed Indo-European languages, which explains why the Indo-European languages are spoken in a large area in Eurasia, from India and Iran to Europe.


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  4. Kruta, Venceslas (1991). The Celts. Thames and Hudson. p. 55.
  5. Tamburelli, Marco; Brasca, Lissander (2018-06-01). "Revisiting the classification of Gallo-Italic: a dialectometric approach". Digital Scholarship in the Humanities. 33 (2): 442–455. doi:10.1093/llc/fqx041. ISSN   2055-7671.
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  9. Kortlandt, Frederik H.H., "More Evidence for Italo-Celtic", in Ériu 32 (1981): 1-22.
  10. Ringe, Don; Warnow, Tandy; Taylor, Ann (March 2002). "Indo-European and Computational Cladistics" (PDF). Transactions of the Philological Society. 100 (1): 59–129. CiteSeerX . doi:10.1111/1467-968X.00091 . Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  11. Kortlandt, Frederik H.H., Italo-Celtic Origins and Prehistoric Development of the Irish Language , Leiden Studies in Indo-European Vol. 14, Rodopi 2007, ISBN   978-90-420-2177-8.
  12. Schrijver, Peter (1991). "V.E Italo-Celtic, The Development of the Laryngeals and Notes on Relative Chronology". The Reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European Laryngeals in Latin. Amsterdam: Rodopi. pp. 415ff. ISBN   90-5183-308-3.
  13. Schrijver, Peter (2016). "17. Ancillary study: Sound Change, the Italo-Celtic Linguistic Unity, and the Italian Homeland of Celtic". In Koch, John T.; Cunliffe, Barry (eds.). Celtic from the West 3: Atlantic Europe in the Metal Ages – Questions of Shared Language. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books. pp. 489–502. ISBN   978-1-78570-227-3 . Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  14. Nils M. Holmer, "A Celtic-Hittite Correspondence", in Ériu 21 (1969): 23–24.
  15. Andrew L. Sihler, New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin, OUP 1995, p.145, §141.
  16. Michael Weiss, Italo-Celtica: Linguistic and Cultural Points of Contact between Italic and Celtic in Proceedings of the 23rd Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference, Hempen Verlag 2012

Further reading