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Originally Posted to the Celtic-Hist Mailing List

by Sharon L. Krossa
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Last updated 28 Oct 2000

Note that the article below was originally written as a posting to a newsgroup or mailing list; it has not benefited from the same level of research and review as my web articles. Please keep its extemporaneous nature in mind while reading!

To: celtic-hist@egroups.com
From: "Sharon L. Krossa" [...]
Date: Sat, 2 Sep 2000 12:29:52 -0700
Subject: Re: [celtic-hist] keltic/seltic...


I guess I will do my keltic/seltic rant...

"Celtic" and "Celt" come into into the English language via French and (Early Modern British) Latin. Until relatively recently, and in many circles still today, the standard pronunciation of the word has been \SELL-tick\, as is natural and normal and to be expected of an English word starting "ce-", especially one that came into English via French (which pronounces all its words stating "ce-" with an \S\ sound) and Latin (which in British pronunciation pronounces all its words starting "ce-" with an \S\ sound).

(Remember that the pronunciation of Latin changed greatly over the centuries since Classical Latin, so it is not the pronunciation of Classical Latin that matters, but rather the pronunciation of Latin in Britain at the time the words came into English.)

I invite everyone to contemplate the number of _English_ words starting "ce-" that are *not* pronounced with an \S\ sound. (For the dictionary deprived, there is "cello" and..., well, I can't find any others in my quick scan, though I'm sure there must be one or two others borrowed from Italian with a \TCHEH-\ sound. ;-) In particular, notice all the Latin origin words starting "ce-" and pronounced with an \S\ sound, such as those words starting "cent-" and the various Latin based medical terms such as "cerebrum", "cerebrovascular", and so on.

The reason the Boston Celtics and Glasgow Celtic and all those other sports teams founded around 1900 (give or take a couple decades) pronounce their names \SELL-tick[s]\ is not because they were founded by ignorant folk who didn't know any better, but because they spoke English and *did* know the proper pronunciation of the English word "Celtic".

So what happened? Well, any number of things might explain why the in-crowd pronunciation shifted to \KELL-tick\ (such as the German influence on Celtic studies, which was strong in the 19th and early 20th centuries) but the upshot is that it is now fashionable -- almost obligatory -- in certain circles to pronounce the word with a \K\ sound rather than the original \S\ sound. In fact, in certain circles (both in and out of academia) it is something of a litmus test -- if you don't use the \K\ sound, it will be assumed you are not knowledgeable about things Celtic. But the one and only reason \KELL-tick\ is now one of the _correct_ pronunciations of the word is because *that is how many educated people pronounce it*.

Let me repeat that. The reason \KELL-tick\ is a correct pronunciation is because that is how many educated people pronounce it. That is the only logic in the \KELL-tick\ pronunciation's favor. The standard rules of English, the rules of language, long use and practice, all argue in favour of \SELL-tick\, not \KELL-tick\. The only thing \KELL-tick\ has in its favor is that \KELL-tick\ is how many people actually do pronounce "Celtic". Because, and only because, enough people do it, it is a correct pronunciation. (This is, by the way, the standard way for variant pronunciations to become considered correct -- simple weight of numbers.)

But it still remains that \SELL-tick\ is a long-established, traditional pronunciation of the word in English. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pronouncing "Celtic" as \SELL-tick\.

Now, I can hear some of you revving up your arguments. I'm sure many of you have heard the argument that it "should" be \KELL-tick\ because the original Greek word "Keltoi" used a \K\ sound. I'm sure many of you have heard the argument that it "should" be \KELL-tick\ because Classical Latin pronounced "c" as \K\. I'm sure many of you have heard the argument that it "should" be \KELL-tick\ because Gaelic or Welsh or whatever pronounced "c" as \K\. But all of this doesn't matter -- none of these arguments justify the \KELL-tick\ pronunciation in English.

Why? Because the pronunciation rules of other languages don't apply to English. By the arguments above, we should all be pronouncing "Caesar" like the German word "kaiser", since that is how the Romans pronounced the word, and we should pronounce the name "Cecilia" as \keh-kill-ia\, and so on. But we don't -- and anybody who tried to convince us we "should" would be thought more than a little odd. Only English pronunciation rules apply to English words -- rules that say a word starting with "ce-" is pronounced with an initial \S\ sound, especially if it came into English from French and/or Latin. So the fact is English and English pronunciation rules have considered \SELL-tick\ a correct pronunciation of "Celtic" for four centuries or so, since the word first came into English.

The end result is that "Celtic" *ought* to be pronounced \SELL-tick\, but because so many pronounce it \KELL-tick\, that is also *a* correct pronunciation. I know quite eminent professors in Scotland who pronounce it \SELL-tick\. I know others of equal stature who pronounce it \KELL-tick\. I don't recommend anyone try to tell any from either group they are wrong.

Myself, I am trying to switch back to \SELL-tick\, simply to defy the \KELL-tick\ mafia because some are so insistent on using faulty arguments when trying to convince people with perfectly good pronunciations of the word how wrong they are -- and I invite any and all language purists to join me! (Though remember that litmus test issue mentioned above -- make a considered choice ;-)

So, another mantra for y'all:

*Anyone who says "Celtic" is not pronounced \SELL-tick\ is wrong; so is anyone who says it is not pronounced \KELL-tick\.

Sharon, ranting a lot... ;-)

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