The Myth of the “Maple-Apple”: Laying a Gaulish Ghost Word to Rest

Full PDF thesis can be found here.

Abstract

In spite of some strides that have been made, Old Celtic plant names are an area of study that has not been developed to its potential. The case of acerabulus (etymon of French érable) is a good example of this, where current literature repeats a flawed analysis for the term from over one hundred years ago, with little-to-no improvement since. The goal of this paper is to shed a new light on acerabulus, to reveal that our conventional wisdom of it meaning ‘maple-apple’ is in fact a fundamental misunderstanding. The paper gives an overview of influential publications on the matter and analyzes the primary source of our conventional theory. It then turns a critical eye on the supposed supporting evidence for this theory, demonstrating its flaws and misrepresentations that have been essential to propping it up for decades. Afterwards, the paper discusses the theory’s phonological failures while proposing a potential alternative etymology that could better fit. Lastly, the provenance and significance of this alternative etymology is discussed.

Yextis Keltikā : A Classical Gaulish Handbook, by Olivier Piqueron—Now Available in English

Olivier Piqueron’s full and comprehensive guide to the ancient Gaulish language is now translated into English and available here at Tegos Skrībbātous.

The language of the ancient Gauls remains little-known to the general public, with only a modest amount of works available for a popular audience on the subject (virtually none of which can be found in English). So for an Anglophone enthusiast, knowledge of Gaulish can be hard to come by. Luckily, just a few years ago the most accessible, engaging, comprehensive—and free—guide to the Gaulish language was written in French. And now for the first time, it is available here, fully translated into English:

Yextis Keltikā: A Classical Gaulish Handbook, by Olivier Piqueron

About the Author

Oliver Piqueron is a member of the Société Belge d’Études Celtiques (SBEC), and describes himself as an amateur Celticist with emphasis on linguistics (his formal education being a Master’s in the field of economics). As an informal researcher himself, he is well-poised to understand the needs of a non-professional audience. In that vein, his work takes the form of a free PDF e-book that synthesizes findings from a range of scholarly publications (as well as his own original research) into a concise, yet comprehensive guide that should sate the appetite of any Gaulish enthusiast who has been looking for a straightforward approach to learning this dead and obscure language.

The original French edition (Yextis Keltikā : Précis de gaulois classique) can be found at academia.edu.

Click here to download the unofficial English translation

Please note that this translation is termed “unofficial” because it was produced by Tegos Skrībbātous rather than the original author, meaning no translation errors or flaws may be attributed to him. If the reader is ever in doubt about the content of the book or the author’s official view, please always refer to the original French edition.

What’s Inside

This work is intended above all for amateur Celticists who, like me, feel invested in a language whose reach was nearly as extensive as that of Latin or Greek and which must have played a role that was hardly inferior to them, but which had the great mistake of not being a written language—and so, did not leave a material trace in a world where materialism is everything.

— Olivier Piqueron

The book is over 180 pages, ranging from introductory concepts to technical linguistic details. Its contents include:

  • An overview of the Celtic language family and its history
  • An overview of key linguistics terms and concepts
  • Noun and adjective declensions
  • Numerals
  • Verb conjugations
  • Phonology
  • Word formation
  • Syntax (e.g. word order)
  • A glossary with over 1,000 entries, including over 100 verbs, both in Gaulish-English and English-Gaulish formats
  • A comparative essay on several major theonyms
  • An in-depth analysis and translations of several key Gaulish texts, ranging from funerary, magical, and religious inscriptions to legal and accounting documents
  • A list of over 240 French words thought to have Gaulish etymologies, as well as their hypothetical Gaulish etymons
  • An extensive collection of Gaulish, Lepontic, Brittonic, Celtiberian, and Lusitanian inscriptions that have been transliterated and accompanied by an assortment of photos or facsimiles of the artifacts

Of special interest are Piqueron’s writings on the topics of verb conjugation and word formation, both of which are little-covered elsewhere. Gaulish verbs are particularly difficult to reconstruct due to a paucity of evidence we have about them. This has been a major pain point to anyone attempting to make use of the Gaulish language. While Piqueron cautions that his work in this area is hypothetical and necessarily approaches a “conlang” that is based largely on reconstructions from Old Irish, Brittonic languages, and Proto-Indo-European studies, it remains without doubt the most emminently thorough, plausible, and practical framework for conjugating Gaulish verbs yet published.

Additionally, the Gaulish speaking community has a frequent need to coin hypothetical words and neologisms in order to express our present-day realities. The “Compounding & Derivation” section is a must-read reference for this purpose, filled with an assortment of prefixes, suffixes, and other strategies for extending the Gaulish vocabulary indefinitely.

It can’t be stressed enough that this book is essential to every student of Gaulish for these two sections alone, besides the wealth of other material it has to offer.

Special Notes

It should be noted that Piqueron’s conclusions are his own, and should not be assumed to represent Tegos Skrībbātous’ views on all matters, and vice versa. For example, Piqueron has arrived at a different conclusion for Gaulish accentuation than Tegos Skrībbātous has (for those interested in reading our alternative take on that subject, you can find the four-part blog series about Celtic prosody here). Another example would be his analysis of selected theonyms. While that section presents a range of interesting arguments and viewpoints that remain recommended reading, Tegos Skrībbātous does not endorse or share all viewpoints within it.

On a separate note, when reading the verb “Conjugation Models” section, it should be noted that the verbs for each tense are unmarked but listed in order of person. E.g., 1st sing., 2nd sing., 3rd sing., 1st pl., 2nd pl., 3rd pl.; or in other words, “I, you (sing.), he/she/they (sing.), We, You (pl.), They (pl.)

For any typos or errors found in the work, please don’t hesitate to notify here in the comments so they can be corrected. For any inquiries regarding the original French edition, please contact Mr. Piqueron directly via the contact information he provides in his book.

Special Thanks

I would like to extend my thanks to Olivier Piqueron, who has made a great stride in advancing the nascent “Gallophone” community. It was an honor to translate Piqueron’s work and help make it accessible to an English-speaking audience, which I hope will assist many students and researchers as a launchpad for further reconstruction and development of the language.

A special thanks is also in order to the Free Software community, whose countless hours of volunteer efforts have provided the programs needed to make this work a reality. The translation could not be presented to you today without them, so please take a moment to check out and support these invaluable and empowering projects:

A Preliminary Reconstruction of the Coligny Calendar — Kowarisagetus Arewedonālos Wlidyās Koliniākī

The Coligny Calendar is a large, 2nd Century bronze tablet that records the only known pre-Christian Celtic calendar. Its smashed remains were fatefully unearthed in 1897, in an unsuspecting field just North of Coligny, Ain. It did not take long for scholars to piece the artifact’s fragments together and begin poring over its remarkable contents. In 1926, Seymour de Ricci drew a precise facsimile which stands as the essential reference work for the calendar today.

Seymour de Ricci's facsimile of the Coligny Calendar
Seymour de Ricci’s 1926 facsimile of the Coligny Calendar (a public domain work).

For additional reference, a high-resolution photo of the Coligny Calendar can be found here.

(Note: some of the smaller and more isolated fragments in that display were placed in the wrong location, cf. Seymour de Ricci’s facsimile. Also note that this photo must be presumed to fall under copyright.)

The tablet records a lunisolar calendar such as those of Ancient Greece and that which continues to be followed devotedly in Hinduism to this day, pointing to a probable Proto-Indo-European source. The calendar likely would have played a critical role in the timing of festivals and holy days, as well as instructing on the auspicious and inauspicious times for other activities. As such, reconstructing the Coligny Calendar should be a top priority for Celtic Pagan praxis.

But as can be seen, the Coligny is badly damaged and survives only in fragments. Ultimately, any practical lunisolar calendar must be made complete enough, convenient enough, and ideally beautiful and automated enough, that any Celtic pagan regardless of their means or skill can and will use it, allowing them to break free from the inadequate Roman solar calendar typically used today.

Clearly there is much work to do. To lay one cornerstone towards this collective reconstruction project, Tegos Skrībbātous is contributing a transcription of the Coligny Calendar with its blank portions filled in as completely and plausibly as could be mustered:

Tegos Skrībbātous' reconstruction of the Coligny Calendar
Tegos Skrībbātous’ reconstruction of the Coligny Calendar. For a dark mode version, click here. Images are licensed under (CC BY-NC-SA)

The Calendrical System

In brief, the Coligny Calendar is a parapegma (pegs were inserted into the holes to keep track of time) that appears to record a cycle made up of five years plus two intercalary months. Each year is divided into twelve true months (cf. PIE *mḗh₁n̥s ‘moon, month’), “true” meaning they are actually defined by lunar phases rather than merely being subdivisions of a solar year as in the modern Gregorian calendar.

As a lunar cycle averages 14.77 days, each month is thus divided into two periods that are either 15 or 14 days long. The second period, or fortnight, of each month is marked with the word ⟨ ATENOVX ⟩. This system bears comparison to those found in Germanic and Greek cultures as well as the Hindu lunisolar calendar that is still in use today.

By comparison with OIr cóicthiges and W pythefnos < Br *pempedecan + *nos ‘fortnight’, we could describe this as something like kʷenkʷedekam·kʷe noxtiom or (lit. ‘fifteen night’), although similar to English ‘fortnight’ (‘fourteen’ + ‘night’) the neo-Celtic forms appear heavily elided. While their meaning is clear, they are formally irregular and opaque, so more study is needed to arrive at a secure back-formation.

Lunisolar years are more complex and irregular than solar years, as they compromise between following both the Lunar and Solar Cycles. The Coligny Calendar’s keepers had devised and maintained a sophisticated system of intercalation in order to prevent it from drifting too far off of either one. (Intercalation simply means inserting extra time units into the calendar to correct a shortcoming. For a familiar example, cf. “Leap Day” in February). With the Coligny Calendar, intercalation took the form of adding an entire month every two-and-a-half years as well as possibly adding and removing days in the month of Equos.

The tablet also records many cryptic symbols and abbreviated words that mark various days as being significant in some way. It is presumed that these markings refer to feast days, lunar phases, and what could be some sort of interlinking wherein each month has days that refer to the month prior or the one yet to come. But the ongoing attempt to decipher these markings is beyond the scope of this post.

It is known that a 19-year Metonic Cycle arrives at a common multiple of the solar year and lunar month, so it is perhaps the simplest cycle to keep a lunisolar calendar in sync. The Coligny Calendar tablet is a quinquennium, or five-year cycle, which may have fit within a larger cycle similar to the Metonic one. Alternatively, Pliny speaks of a 30-year age that the Celts adhered to, so perhaps this five-year cycle is ⅙ of a 30-year cycle.

Reconstructive Methodology

The calendar, no doubt, has extensive gaps in its record. But thanks to the fact that the tablet records a quinquennium, as well as owing to the inherently repetitive nature of timekeeping, it is possible to extrapolate patterns from the surviving fragments to fill in many of the gaps.

The method used here was a simple heuristic: First, each iteration of each month was collected (for example, the month of Samonios in years 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). Then, patterns within the month were identified. If a pattern was discerned of any length (even if it only repeated one time) and it was not contradicted elsewhere in any of the other surviving pieces for that month, it was treated as reconstructible and thus projected onto its corresponding positions in the blank portions of the calendar. All surviving text is represented in black while reconstructed text is bright red so there can be no mistake about which is which.

This heuristic, like any heuristic, is an imperfect one. There are occasional instances, for example, where we may see a pattern in the surviving fragments repeat three or even four times, but then the pattern is broken after that. So it is always possible that what had repeated in the surviving fragments might have differed or not existed in the missing ones. For this reason, the bright red text should not be taken as a citable or authoritative reference. It does, however, allow us to imagine what might have existed in the missing fragments and it certainly helps facilitate the reading and comparison of the calendar.

It is worth noting that the creators of the tablet themselves appear to have made some errors. They also extensively used abbreviation and shorthand. So even if a pattern is not consistently written out in every instance, we cannot be certain that it wasn’t implicitly followed or meant to have been included.

Another shortcoming in the heuristic is its inability to anticipate the content of the intercalary months, since they are each unique. Luckily, the second intercalary month is largely intact. But unfortunately, the first one is mostly destroyed. The first fortnight of the following months was likewise too poorly preserved for the heuristic to be of much use there: Ogronios, Giamonios, Elembiu, and Edrinios.

Question marks appear in cases where it is evident that there was additional text that cannot be determined. The color of the question marks is insignificant, and I apologize that it was not made more consistent.

Hopefully deeper and more meaningful analyses of the content can be drawn from this reconstruction in the future.

For further reading about the Coligny Calendar, see Mac Neill’s On the Notation and Chronography of the Calendar of Coligny (1928). It can be read for free on JSTOR’s website with a registered account.

The reconstructed images were made with GIMP and are published by Tegos Skrībbātous under the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license, a form of copyleft. They are typeset with Astigmatic’s Marcellus font family, which is published under the Open Font License.

Terminology

Kowarisagetus ‘reconstruction’ — cf. OIr. córugud ‘arrangement, order’, cóir ‘proper, fitting’, W. cywair ‘proper condition, restoration, repair’.

Arewedonālos ‘preliminary’ — cf. OIr. fedan ‘conveying, leadership’, W. arweiniol ‘leading, preliminary, introductory’.

Wlidyā ‘calendar’ — calque of OIr. félire which derives from Lat. vigilia (source of OIr. féil ‘feast-day’) + -āria (abstract noun-forming suffix)

→ Proto-Celtic *Wlidā ‘feast’ (cf. OIr. fled, W. gwledd) + *-yā (abstract or collective noun-forming suffix), so equivalent to saying a ‘feastery’, or collection of feast-days.

Koliniākom — proto-form of ‘Coligny’, attested as Cologniacum, Coloniacum in Medieval times. Root *kolino- ‘holly’ + *-(i)akom (neuter substantive of an adj. suffix), essentially meaning a place where holly grows.