Common Brittonic

Common Brittonic was an ancient Celtic language spoken in Britain. It is also variously known as Old Brittonic, British, and Common or Old Brythonic. By the sixth century AD, this language of the Celtic Britons was starting to split into the various Neo-Brittonic languages: Welsh, Cumbric, Cornish, Breton and probably the Pictish language.
Common Brittonic is a form of Insular Celtic, which is descended from Proto-Celtic, a hypothetical parent language that, by the first half of the first millennium BC, was already diverging into separate dialects or languages. There is some evidence that the Pictish language may have had close ties to Common Brittonic, and might have been either a sister language or a fifth branch.
Evidence from Welsh shows a great influence from Latin on Common Brittonic during the Roman period, and especially so in terms related to the Church and Christianity, which are nearly all Latin derivatives. Common Brittonic was later replaced in most of Scotland by Middle Irish and south of the Firth of Forth also by Old English.
Brittonic was gradually replaced by English throughout England; in southern Scotland and Cumbria, Cumbric disappeared in the 12th century and, in the south, Cornish survived until the 19th century, although modern attempts to revitalize it have seen some success. O'Rahilly's historical model suggests the possibility that there was a Brittonic language in Ireland before the arrival of Goidelic languages there, but this view has not found wide acceptance.



Pritenic is a modern term that has been coined to label the language of the inhabitants of prehistoric Scotland during Roman rule in southern Great Britain. Within the disputed P-Celtic vs. Q-Celtic division of the Celtic languages, "Pritenic" would thus be either a sister or daughter language of Common Brittonic, both deriving from a common P-Celtic language spoken around the 1st century BC.
The evidence for the language consists of place-names, tribal names and personal names recorded by Greek and Latin writers in accounts of northern Britain. These names have been discussed by Kenneth H. Jackson, in The Problem of the Picts, who considered some of them to be Pritenic but had reservations about most of them. Katherine Forsyth reviewed these names and considers more of them to be Celtic, still recognizing that some names of islands and rivers may be pre-Indo-European.
The rarity of survival of Pritenic names is probably due to Dál Riatan and Norse settlement in the area.
The dialect position of Pritenic has been discussed by Jackson and by Koch. Their conclusions are that Pritenic and Common Brittonic had split by the 1st century. The Roman frontier between Britannia and Pictland is likely to have increased the split. By the 8th century, Bede considered Pictish and Welsh/British to be separate languages.


Common Brittonic was used with Latin following the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 AD, at least in major settlements. A number of Latin words were borrowed by Brittonic speakers.
The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain during the 6th century marked the beginning of a decline in the language, as it was gradually replaced by Old English. Some Brittonic speakers migrated to Armorica and Galicia. By 700, Brittonic was mainly restricted to North West England and Southern Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and Devon, and Brittany. In these regions, it evolved into Cumbric, Welsh, Cornish and Breton, respectively.




The early Common Brittonic vowel inventory is effectively identical to that of Proto-Celtic. and have not developed yet.
Through comparative linguistics, it is possible to reconstruct the declension paradigms of Common Brittonic:

First declension

SgNom. Voc. Acc.*cradion
PlNom. Voc. Acc.*cradiā


Place names

Common Brittonic survives today in a few English place names and river names. However, some of these may be pre-Celtic. The best example is perhaps that of the River Avon, which comes from the Brittonic abona which translates into "river". As such, these names are tautological.

Examples of place names derived from the Brittonic languages

Brittonic-derived place-names are scattered across Great Britain, with many occurring in the West Country; some examples are:
The words tor, , bere, and hele of Brittonic origin are particularly common in Devon as elements of place-names, often combined with elements of English origin. Compound names sometimes occur across England, such as "Derwentwater" or "Chetwood", which contain the same element translated in both languages.