Celtic Pathways – Bards and Poets

In this episode we’re looking at words for bards, poets and related people.

Eisteddfod Maes 2009

In Proto-Celtic one word for bard was *bardos, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European *gʷr̥dʰh₁-ó-s from *gʷerH- (to express approval, praise, elevate) [source].

Descendants in the modern Celtic languages include:

  • bard [bˠɑːɾˠd̪ˠ / bˠæːɾˠd̪ˠ] = poet, bard, scold in Irish
  • bàrd [baːr̪ˠd] = poet, versifier, bard, rhymer in Scottish Gaelic
  • bard = poet, bard in Manx
  • bardd [barð] = poet, bard, literary person, author, prophet, philosopher, priest in Welsh
  • bardh [barð] = bard, poet in Cornish
  • barzh = bard, poet in Breton

The English word bard was borrowed from Scottish Gaelic in the 15th century. The Proto-Celtic word *bardos was borrowed into Latin as bardus (bard), which became barde in French and bardo in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese [source]

The Proto-Celtic word *weless means seer or poet. It comes from the Proto-Celtic *weleti (to see) from the PIE *wel (to see) [source].

Descendants in modern Celtic languages include:

  • file [ˈfʲɪlʲə] = poet, song-maker, lyricist, satirist, scold in Irish
  • filidh [filɪ] = minstrel, poet (traditionally a member of one of the seven ranks of poets, all of which are above the bàrd) in Scottish Gaelic
  • feelee = poet in Manx

Words for to see in Welsh (gweld), Cornish (gweles) and Breton (gwelet) come from the Proto-Celtic *weleti, as to parts of the verb to be in Irish (bhfuil), Scottish Gaelic (bheil) and Manx (vel) – apparently they came from the imperative form of the verb and the meaning shifted from “see!” to “there is” to “is” [source].

The Swedish word leta (to search, look for) comes from the same PIE root, as does the word lait (to seek, search for, inquire), which is or was found in some UK dialects of English [source].

More details about these words on Celtiadur, a blog where I explore connections between Celtic languages in more depth.

I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog.

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