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Celtic months (was: Some suggestions)
At 4:19 pm +1300 26/1/99, Andrew Smith wrote:
>A quick glance at comparative Celtic sources suggests that Mehefin might
>have a cognate in Irish gaelic Meitheamh.
That's very interesting.
It suggests to me rather that Mehefin may be not a cognate but rather a
borrowing from Irish.
When the Romans quite Britain, not only were the Britons assailed by Saxons
& other Germanic 'visitors' on the east, but also by the Irish in the west
who, of course, successfully conquered much of Scotland in the 6th cent.
For some time they dominated north Wales also. Indeed, it's now thought
the emigrations of Celts to Amorica had at least as much to do with the
activities of Irish pirates and raiders, as it might've done to the Saxons.
There were quite a few borrowings from Irish taken into Welsh. In the
familar refrain of 'Men of Harlech' = "Cymru fo am byth" (May Wales be for
ever) 'byth' does not mutate to *fyth after 'am' as one would expect
because the word was borrowed from Irish after the mutation rule had
developed & was never affected by it.
Another interesting borrowing is the Welsh for 'penny' - "ceiniog". The
word is ultimately derived from Old English 'penig' (cf. mod. German
'Pfennig'). Old Irish had no initial p- and words borrowed from Latin &
English beginning with p- were rendered with initial qu- which became c-
[k]. Hence the Irish changed our initial p- to c- and palatized the medial
-n- before the Welsh took it into their language, keeping the initial c-
but de-palatizing the -n- to give 'ceiniog'.
If I'm right in thinking that Mehefin is a borrowing, it might also account
for the Cornish 'Metheven' and Breton 'mezeven' ( [T] regularly becomes [z]
or [h] in Breton). The Irish/Gaelic 'th' now pronounced [h] was once [T].
It may be that the Breton-Cornish preserve the older pronunciation (since
they moved southward before the sound change in Irish) while the Welsh
reflects the later Irish pronunciation. Does anyone on our list know when
the change from [T] to [h] took place in Irish.
[Celtic month names]
I don't know the modern Irish names - but I do have the Scots Gaelic ones
and I notice Meitheamh is not there (Doesn't meanto say the Irish don't
still have it, though). But a couple of the names reminded me of the legal
Kernu names & I thought Padraig might be interested. The Gaelic names are
all preceeded by the definite article:
January am Faoilteach
February an Gearran
March am Màrt [hope a-grave comes out OK]
April an Giblean
May an Céiteann [ " e-acute " " " ]
June an t-Ògmhìos [initial o-grave & i-grave after 'h']
July an t-Iuchar
August an Lùnastal [2nd letter is u-grave]
September an t-Sultain
October an Damhair
November an t-Samhain
December an Dubhlachd
Can't help noticing 'dubh' "black" in the last name :) I don't know the
etymologies of the others, except March which is clearly a borrowing from
Legal Kernu 'Cutios' (April) might be cognate with Céiteann (May) and
'Samonios' must surely be cognate with 'Samhain'. But I must admit that
the others do not seem at all related. And the presence of 'Meitheamh' in
Irish all re-inforce mu belief that each Celtic community probably had
their own naming system with the same name occasionally being used by
different communities for the same or roughly the same month - exactly what
find among the ancient Greeks.