Studies & Degrees in Celtic Languages

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The Celts are a diverse group of tribal societies in the Iron Age and in Europe during the Roman era, and those who spoke their languages. The term Celtic was first used in 1707 to describe the language group of the Celts. The earliest Celtic language was known as the Tartesian language with a written script used in inscriptions largely based on Phoenician script which was then in use at about 800 BC. In 400 AD, the Celtic languages, which form a branch of the larger Indo-European family of languages, broke up into several language groups, spreading to the western continental Europe, Ireland, Britain and the Iberian peninsula. In the 6th century, the Continental Celtic languages ceased to be used before they were limited to the areas on the western border of Europe such as Scotland, Wales, the Brittany peninsula in France, Cornwall at the tip of the south western peninsula of Great Britain, and the Isle of Man, a British dependency in the Irish Sea.

At least six Celtic languages appear to have retained a big number of native speakers. They are the Welsh and Breton languages which came from the British language during the Roman era; the Irish and Scottish Gaelic languages from the Gaelic language then known as the Classical Gaelic; and the Cornish and Manx languages which were regarded as near-extinct in the 20th century but recently considered as “living” on the basis of language revival efforts. As of 2000, the total number of native speakers of Celtic languages was placed at one million, with the Welsh, Breton and Irish having the most numbers. These languages are now part of the study programs in numerous institutions in many parts of the world.

The Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the United States operates a Celtic Department for the study of Celtic languages and literature, offering Master of Arts courses that qualify students to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy study program. To complete the program, students are required to hurdle a 2-hour oral examination, undertake a dissertation, and successfully defend the dissertation before a panel of university officials and professors. The Celtic Studies undergraduate program of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is also an interdisciplinary field of study that includes the history and culture of the people living in the northwestern perimeter of Europe such as Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Brittany and the Isle of Man, and the Celtic languages Irish, Scottish, Welsh and Gaelic that are spoken up to the modern times. The other universities in the U.S. that offer Celtic Studies and language programs include the University of California Berkeley, the Catholic University of America, and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, which has a graduate and undergraduate program in Irish Studies that singles out one of the Celtic languages. In the University of Sydney, Australia, its Faculty of Arts and Sciences offers a program for the study of past and present Celtic languages, including the history and culture of the Celts, to enable students who are interested in several aspects of Celtic Studies to pursue other programs with a wide range of topics.