Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Evolution and Extinction
Cumbric was the Brythonic Celtic language centred in Cumbria, and spoken from lowland Scotland south to Derbyshire until about the 11th century. Cumbric was once referred to as North Welsh and Cornish as South Welsh.
The distinction of the Old Brittonic dialects into separate languages begins in about the 5th century, and Cumbric was most likely dead by the 11th century(though extinction dates as late as the 13th century have been suggested) However, in this time, it is possible that it was moving further away from Welsh grammatically, and developing as a distinct, non-intelligible tongue. It is possible that at its height, Cumbric was spoken by around 30,000 people.
The biggest problems with modern-day knowledge of the language lies with the fact that the language may have been merely a dialect of Welsh, not distinct at all. The old northern British kingdoms of Rheged and Gododdin spoke Old Welsh, but given time, many linguists consider that this tongue was distinguishable from Old Welsh at the time of its demise.
Although the language is long extinct it appears traces of its vocabulary persisted into the modern era. In the 19th and 20th centuries sheep counts and children's counting rhymes which are possibly derived from Cumbric were collected throughout northern England: eg Yan, Tan, Tethera, Methera, Pim compared to Old Welsh "Un, Dou, Tri, Petwar, Pimp".
More concrete evidence of Cumbric exists in the place-names of the extreme northwest of England and the South of Scotland, the personal names of Strathclyde Britons in Scottish, Irish and Anglo-Saxon sources,and couple of Cumbric words surviving into the mid-Middle Ages in South West Scotland as legal terms.
Much of the origin and character of the Cumbric language remain a mystery. Apart from several insignificant Latin observational texts and place names, the language is today undocumented. What is known is that the language was Brythonic Insular Celtic, most likely descended from Old North Welsh, related to the presumed Brythonic Pictish language, and progressively more distantly, to Cornish. Due to its location, words of Gaelic and Scandinavian origin may have enriched the language.
Reconstructed cognates in the language only number around 50, and the Celtic Culture of Northwest England has long since been forgotten. Despite this, several forms of "Revived" Cumbric are in their infancies. One is noted to be very similar to Old Welsh, while the other re-creates a hypothetical, distinct language representing what the language may have been like today had it never died out. The internet will no doubt provide a valuable resource for the "revival" of these languages.
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