Published in Dungarvan Leader Page 15 on Tuesday 16th of November 2021
THE MISSING LINK BETWEEN SPANISH AND IRISH
Like all European languages, Irish received certain influence from Latin, particularly in the lexical fields of scientific or ecclesiastic matters. Irish vocabulary of Latin origin will normally find an equivalent in Spanish, as in the case of ifreann-infierno (hell), peaca-pecado (sin), sagart-sacerdote (priest) or dochtúir-doctor (doctor). In some instances, a common Latin origin might have yielded different results, as in the curious case of póg related to the Spanish paz (peace), stemming from the custom of giving someone the peace in mass by means of a kiss.
But there is a more intriguing and fascinating link between Irish and Spanish. Although most Spanish vocabulary is Latin in origin, with some Germanic and Arabic additions, there is also a small group of words of Celtic origin which would find equivalents in Irish, a Celtic language itself. This vocabulary entered Spanish either via Latin, having been acquired from the Gauls (who also spoke a Celtic tongue), or remained in people's speech from Celtiberian and other Celtic languages spoken on the Iberian Peninsula before the Roman invasion.
One of these words is camino (path, way, walk, road), widely popularised by the celebrated Pilgrimage of St. James, which finds an Irish relative in céim (step).
One of the most international Spanish words, cerveza (beer), also belongs to this category, and its Irish relative is the archaic word for ale coirm. By association, this word went on to mean "party" or "fest" and it is now mostly found in its musical manifestation coirmcheoil (concert) and the expression coirm agus ceol.
Carro (wagon, cart) is the next one, with two Irish relatives, namely carr (car) and carbad (chariot). As the eagle-eyed reader might have guessed, carr is not béarlachas (Anglicism); the English "car" has the same Celtic root as the Irish, so do not feel guilty for using carr instead of gluaisteán. That old Celtic root also yielded the Spanish carpintero (carpenter), as it would have been applied to a person versed in building chariots, and which we find in Irish as cearpantóir.
We also have caballo (horse), sharing roots with the Irish capall, and berro (watercress), related to the literary term for water bior. The Spanish taladro (drill) has an Irish relative in tarathar (auger), whereas brío (vigour, strength) has a direct equivalent with the same meaning in brí. The Spanish arándano (blueberry) and arañón (blackthorn) are both related to the Irish airne (sloe).
As we have seen, a great part of this vocabulary refers to agricultural matters or the rural world. The Romans might have found local tools, devices, plants or food that were unbeknownst to them and adopted the indigenous Celtic terms. Or perhaps lack of Latin nomenclature made the locals use their vernacular names even when trying to speak Latin.
Either way, these words bear testimony to the ties that Ireland and Spain have had since time immemorial.
* Here is your weekly dose of Spanish: El caballo tira del carro por el camino con mucho brío [The horse pulls the cart down the road with great vigour]
Sergio Fernández Redondo
Sergio hails from Asturias in northern Spain and has recently relocated to Dungarvan, where he is a Spanish teacher and PR specialist at Spaniology. Having an eclectic background in engineering, translation and linguistics, he is also a keen aficionado of history and languages.
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