Sunday, April 18, 2010

Joshua Whatmough's Book

If you're going to write a novel set in Gaul the most wonderful collection of names can be found in a 1949 book by Professor Joshua Whatmough called Keltika, being prolegomena to a study of The dialects of ancient Gaul,.

Sometimes Keltica is part of the title; often not. Dunno why the "ancient" is necessary as there's no modern Gaul to confuse it with. Last bit of trivia--while the book was published in the 1940s, most copies seem to be dated 1970.

Need names? The Dialects has got you covered. I'm relatively certain that Professor Whatmough did not intend his scholarly work to be fodder for romances, but where else can you find such lists of Celtic names? Many come from pots, of all places, but potters signed their works using Greek or Roman letters to spell out their names--monikers that would otherwise have been lost. There's also place names and divine names--all sorted out by region.

Got a male character from West of the Rhine? Call him Maro or Firmus (now that's telling), Abbo for comic relief (well, Abbo sound funny to me), or even Voranus, if you're a fan of the HBO series Rome. Those are all legit names from the region.

As to what those names may mean in Gaulish--good luck! I've read that only 200 words of that language is known, but that may be an old figure. I'm not too sure what's known and what's guessed to be a word's meaning based on its similarity to Gaelic or Cornish, also Celtic languages.

I do have a Gaul-French dictionary, but a lot of words seem to be guesses. If someone wants to update me on the status of scholarly knowledge of the Gaulish language, I'd appreciate it.

As for Professor Whatmough, whose name I adore, I found this article on him and his work in 1963. Better, here's a charming portrait and anecdotes from a former student, along with a picture of the man. He wasn't just an expert in Gaulish, but in all Indo-European language families. He was fluent in 8-22 tongues, depending on how one defined "fluent." He died only a year after retiring.

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