The House of David

"dawnbreak in the west"

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Taffy was a Welshman

My family is from Staffordshire, and the West Midlands aren't far from Wales. I went to Wales quite a bit as a child. One factoid I'd picked up over there, is that the Welsh don't call themselves Welsh. They call themselves Cambrians (Cymraeg). "Welsh" meant "foreigner" in old Anglo-Saxon. So the term is a Dark-Age-era insult, I'd thought.

I stumbled on some German linguistics material a few days ago that challenges this.

The root German word for "Welsh" is something like *welha, and is shared with other German languages. It hardly ever just means "foreigner". It almost always refers to Gallo-Roman foreigners. For instance the (Dutch-speaking) Flemish live by the local Walloons - the old Gaulish Belgae who now speak French. We can add to this the Vlach - "Wallachians", to a nineteenth century Steam Punk.

More: there's this linguistic shift in German, found by no less than the Grimm Brothers, in which old Indo-European "k" becomes "h". So pre-German populations had to deal with the *wolka. It turns out that there did, indeed, exist an ancient Celtic people called the Volcae.

One analogy would be with our habit of calling the Hellenes, "Greeks". The Greeks in antiquity were those Hellenes who settled southern Italy and east Sicily; the Italians beat them, and wrote the history books. Likewise, the *welha in antiquity were those Celts who lived just south of Denmark.

UPDATE 12/12/2016: Chontalli.

UPDATE 11/21/2017: Andalusia.

posted by Zimri on 09:10 | link | 0 comments

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