Question 8: CELT/CELTIC Is Celt pronounced with a hard C (i.e. K sound) or with a soft C (i.e. S sound)?

At this point, it is only possible to underline a few historical facts and point to current trends. Since language is alive and changing, one can expect to discover both pronunciations as well as parochial, political and promiscuous usage of the word "Celt". At the outset, we can eliminate the celt (pronounced "selt" in most dictionaries), which is an archaeological term for a prehistoric axe made of stone or metal. We can also set aside the kelt, which refers to a salmon or a sea trout after spawning and before returning to the sea.

Celt and Celtic (pronounced with the hard C or "K sound")

The early Picts purportedly extended back to the Bronze Age, but the first record of their existence was in 84 AD by the historian Tacitus, who was the son in law to Julius Agricolus. Their origins were probably from the southern valleys of the Rhine River and they spoke a P-Celtic form of language, but we must admit that there are no records of their spoken words - - - not even a tape recording. King Bridei ruled the tribes of Picts in Northern Scotland from 554 to 584 AD, and for the latter years he was nominally the king over the defeated Scots as well. A visit by St. Columba of the Celtic Church of Culdees on the Isle of Iona to King Bridei's court near Loch Ness was recorded by Columba's biographer, Adamman, in which we are told that interpreters were needed. Thus, it is clear that the Picts did not speak the Gael version of the Celtic tongue, which was introduced to Britain's Isles by waves of settlers between 2000 BC and 400 BC. Historically, there has been no K in Celtic phonemes, and that is because it has always been represented by the hard C.

The ancient Greeks used the term Keltoi when they referred to the red-haired people at their trading posts from the upper Danube and middle Rhine Valleys to far away colonies at Marseilles and Barcelona. According to the Greeks, the Celts were fairly astute as traders, since they would only sell off their most decrepit slaves in exchange for the very best liquour. As far as I know, the Culdees of the ancient Celtic Church did not exclude marriage or drink from their lives.

Around 150 BC, there was another wave of Brythons to southern England and Bretons to Northern France. Still others, such as the Cimbri of Belgium and the Cymri of Wales were part of a migrating group of Cimmerians. The Celtic people of France came to be known as Gauls, but they were the same peoples as the Celts and the Cimmerians even though the Gauls of France would eventually become assimilated into that culture. I checked back to my classical Latin and confirmed that the Romans called these Celts "Celtae", pronounced "Keltai". The ancient Teutonic language used "Kelte" or "Keltin" for Celt, and they used "keltisch" for the adjective Celtic and "Keltisch" for the language.

In relation to the rest of the British Isles, the term "Celtic Fringe" applies to the Highland Scots, Irish, Welsh and Cornish. The "c" in these languages uniformly represents the "k" sound.

Celt and Celtic (pronounced with the soft C or "S sound")

The soft S was definitely an introduction from France. The term had possible origins in the Norman Invasion of 1066 as well as a later reinforcement after the French Revolution (1789-1799). Scottish King Malcolm III and his Hungarian second wife, Margaret (who became the Roman Catholic saint), ensured that their sons retained the throne at the expense of becoming vassals to the Norman king ... and St. Margaret almost single-handedly promoted her priests to replace the ("K"-) Celtic Church of the ("K"-) Culdees, who originated with St. ("K"-) Columba of Iona. Following the French Revolution, the term Celtique, pronounced "Selteek", was introduced by the French to differentiate between the languages of the Brittanic Welsh and those Celtic "Gauls" of France.

No matter what the rest of us say, they always use the "Seltic" pronunciation at the Paradise Football ground in Parkhead in the east end of Glasgow when they cheer their Celtic Football Club. Similarly, the Belfast football fans call their team the Celtic, pronounced "Seltic". The term Celtic is an adjective in both cases. Never fear ... the Irish basketball fans in Boston call their team the Celtics, pronounced "Seltics", to declare their independence from the English language by creating an ungrammatically plural adjective. Aside from the Francophones, persons from these areas may be the final vestiges of the sibilant Celts.

Celt and Celtic - Is it a cultural thing?

It is noteworthy that British dictionaries give preference to the "K" pronunciation, and American dictionaries usually place the "S" pronunciation first. The words Kelt and Keltic are (from my viewpoint) a lazy man's invention to avoid confronting the facts about the real word, but they can be found in many American references; truthfully, I have never seen them used, except to advertise cheap "Keltic" jewellery (often spelled "jewelry") with signs similar to "50% OFF tonite only".

Those, reared in the shadow of the East Glasgow Celtic, the Dublin Celtic and the Boston Celtics, will be the exception to the trend among Scots.

Francophone-Canadian Scots once referred to the (S-) Celtic music in Cape Breton, but Anglophone-Canadian Scots have discovered a new genre of (K-) Celtic music in the rest of Nova Scotia.

Celtic Festivals (pronounced "Keltic") are definitely on the rise across Canada and the United States.

Pronunciation is a matter of choice, but cultural background is not.

While searching for information about the Celts, I learned about the "Celtic toe". WWII doctors began to notice certain soldiers from the "Celtic Fringe" had the second toe the same length as the big toe. Many of these soldiers also had red hair. Following the war, a study confirmed the observations of the doctors, and the researchers had strong hopes of using the existence of the "Celtic toe" to trace patterns of migration of the Celts. These features tend to blend due to intermarriage. Check your toes.

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