Celtic languages

Formerly widespread in Europe; today Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Chubut Province, Nova Scotia and the Isle of Man
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
ISO 639-2 / 5cel
Linguasphere50= (phylozone)
Celtic expansion in Europe.png
Distribution of Celtic speakers:
  Hallstatt culture area, 6th century BC
  Maximal Celtic expansion, c. 275 BC
  Lusitanian area; Celtic affiliation unclear
  Areas where Celtic languages are widely spoken in the 21st century

The Celtic languages (usually k/, but sometimes k/)[4] are a group of related languages descended from Proto-Celtic. They form a branch of the Indo-European language family.[5] The term "Celtic" was first used to describe this language group by Edward Lhuyd in 1707,[6] following Paul-Yves Pezron, who made the explicit link between the Celts described by classical writers and the Welsh and Breton languages.[7]

During the 1st millennium BC, Celtic languages were spoken across much of Europe and in Asia Minor. Today, they are restricted to the northwestern fringe of Europe and a few diaspora communities. There are four living languages: Welsh, Breton, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. All are minority languages in their respective countries, though there are continuing efforts at revitalisation. Welsh is an official language in Wales and Irish is an official language of Ireland and of the European Union. Welsh is the only Celtic language not classified as endangered by UNESCO. The Cornish and Manx languages went extinct in modern times. They have been the object of revivals and now each has several hundred second-language speakers.

Irish and Scottish form the Goidelic languages, while Welsh and Breton are Brittonic. Beyond that there is no agreement on the subdivisions of the Celtic language family. They may be divided into a Continental group and an Insular group, or else into P-Celtic and Q-Celtic. All the living languages are Insular, since Breton, the only Celtic language spoken in continental Europe, is descended from the language of settlers from Britain. The Continental Celtic languages, such as Celtiberian, Galatian and Gaulish, are all extinct.

The Celtic languages have a rich literary tradition. The earliest specimens of written Celtic are Lepontic inscriptions from the 6th century BC in the Alps. Early Continental inscriptions used Italic and Paleohispanic scripts. Between the 4th and 8th centuries, Irish and Pictish were occasionally written in an original script, Ogham, but the Latin alphabet came to be used for all Celtic languages. Welsh has had a continuous literary tradition from the 6th century AD.

Living languages

SIL Ethnologue lists six living Celtic languages, of which four have retained a substantial number of native speakers. These are the Goidelic languages (i.e. Irish and Scottish Gaelic, which are both descended from Middle Irish) and the Brittonic languages (i.e. Welsh and Breton, which are both descended from Common Brittonic).[8]

The other two, Cornish (a Brittonic language) and Manx (a Goidelic language), died in modern times[9][10][11] with their presumed last native speakers in 1777 and 1974 respectively. For both these languages, however, revitalisation movements have led to the adoption of these languages by adults and children and produced some native speakers.[12][13]

Taken together, there were roughly one million native speakers of Celtic languages as of the 2000s.[14] In 2010, there were more than 1.4 million speakers of Celtic languages.[15]


Language Native name Grouping Number of native speakers Number of people who have one or more skills in the language Main area(s) where the language is spoken Regulated by/language body Estimated number of speakers in major cities
Irish Gaeilge/ Gaedhilge / Gaeiluinn / Gaeilig / Gaeilic Goidelic 40,000–80,000[16][17][18][19]
In the Republic of Ireland, 94,000 people use Irish daily outside the education system.[20]
Total speakers: 1,887,437
Republic of Ireland: 1,774,437[20]
United Kingdom: 95,000
United States: 18,000
Ireland Foras na Gaeilge Dublin: 184,140
Galway: 37,614
Cork: 57,318[21]
Belfast: 30,360[22]
Welsh Cymraeg / Y Gymraeg Brittonic 562,000 (19.0% of the population of Wales) claim that they "can speak Welsh" (2011)[23][24] Total speakers: ≈ 947,700 (2011)
Wales: 788,000 speakers (26.7% of the population)[23][24]
England: 150,000[25]
Chubut Province, Argentina: 5,000[26]
United States: 2,500[27]
Canada: 2,200[28]
Y Wladfa, Chubut
Welsh Language Commissioner
The Welsh Government
(previously the Welsh Language Board, Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg)
Cardiff: 54,504
Swansea: 45,085
Newport: 18,490[29]
Bangor: 7,190
Breton Brezhoneg Brittonic 206,000 356,000[30] Brittany Ofis Publik ar Brezhoneg Rennes: 7,000
Brest: 40,000
Nantes: 4,000[31]
Scottish Gaelic Gàidhlig Goidelic Scotland: 57,375 (2011)[32]
Nova Scotia: 1,275 (2011)[33]
Scotland: 87,056 (2011)[32] Scotland Bòrd na Gàidhlig Glasgow: 5,726
Edinburgh: 3,220[34]
Aberdeen: 1,397[35]
Cornish Kernowek Brittonic Unknown.[36] 3,000[37] Cornwall Cornish Language Partnership (Keskowethyans an Taves Kernewek) Truro: 118[38]
Manx Gaelg/ Gailck Goidelic 100+,[12][39] including a small number of children who are new native speakers[40] 1,823[41] Isle of Man Coonceil ny Gaelgey Douglas: 507[42]

Mixed languages