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Saturday, July 09, 2016
Ps and Qs
There's two forms of Celtic: Q- and P-. The division seems to be polyphyletic, in that Welsh and Celtiberian are both P-, with negligible direct contact; the same for the Q-s, Irish and Gaulish. How to account for that?
Over Iron Age Europe, this held true over lots of languages, not just Celtic. For a start we should consider Oscan as "P- Italic", and Latin as Q-. We can see Q- even now in (overcorrected) Latin words like quinque. As for Oscan, we see the P- words also in Latin, in its semantic-field of herding; the word that should be cognate to "cow" is "bovine", and the word that should be like Greek "lycos" is "lupus". They got those particular words from the non-Latin Italians living upon more marginal land. This process must have impinged Greek as well, where Mycenaean had "hiqqos" for horse like Latin and modern Greek has "hippos". As of 1200 BC was Doric already P-? I'll leave that much to the professionals...
In Indo-European studies Q- is considered the more antique form. This is in part because Greek has given to us the longest record - at least if we disregard Doric; in the Greek record we can watch Q fall off, and its words turn to P and K. Our departed sister and cousin, Tocharian and Anatolian, also were Q- tongues. And then there are the Satem languages which turned Q and K generally to S; they could not have done this from a P base.
That is a powerful tool to reconstruct the origins of words. But one must take care here. I've already mentioned quinque in Latin. The Hibernians, it seems, were so aware of being Q- Celts that they remembered Saint Patrick as "Cothriche" (Ostler, 129); "Padraig" came later, after the Irish had sobered up some.
The Q>P shift across western and southern Europe could be coincidence, that there is no "how it happened". That said, I propose that a vehicle does exist, during the Iron Age. In those Lelantine-War days, when the Greeks were subliterate but even then proficient sailors, their language remained, at least, Indo-European. They could talk to Italians and to Celts; which their rivals the Etruscans and the Phoenicians couldn't, as well. (The Semitic Phoenicians, for their part, might have held the advantage among the Berbers.) So perhaps the Q>P shift represents the old Greek zone of influence: Spain, coastal southern and eastern Italy, Cornwall. And Greece itself of course. Those languages which didn't take that shift were under foreign rule (Rome and the Faliscans, under the Etruria) or were far from the best trade-routes (inner Gaul and Ireland).
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