An insatiable appetite for ancient and modern tongues

Name Origin. Cumbri was the name of a Celtic people, meaning ‘fellow countrymen’ or ‘compatriot’, a term etymologically identical to Welsh Cymri.

Overview. Cumbric was a Celtic language, close to Welsh, spoken in the Early Middle Ages in Northern England and Southern Scotland, that left virtually no written records. Next to nothing is known about it.

Classification. Indo-European, Celtic, Insular Celtic, Brythonic. It is debated whether Cumbric should be considered a separate language or a dialect of Welsh.

Distribution. Cumbric was spoken approximately between the river Mersey and the Forth-Clyde isthmus, particularly in Cumbria, a region encompassing southern Scotland, and north England (Cumberland, Westmorland, parts of Northumberland, Lancashire and possibly North Yorkshire).

Status. Extinct. Cumbric lasted, perhaps, until the 11th-12th centuries, disappearing with the incorporation of the Celtic Kingdom of Strathclyde into the Kingdom of Scotland.


Main Documents. Some evidence of Cumbric exists in:

  1. Place-names of the extreme northwest of England and southern Scotland.

  1. Personal names of north Britons.

  1. A few Cumbric words that survived into the High Middle Ages as legal terms in the Leges inter Brettos et Scottos (“Laws of the Britons and Scots”): galnes, galnys (‘blood-fine’), kelchyn (‘circuit’), mercheta (‘marriage fee’).

  1. It has been argued that several scores for counting sheep and/or used in children's rhymes are of Cumbric origin.

  1. © 2013 Alejandro Gutman and Beatriz Avanzati                                                                               

Further Reading

  1. -Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopedia. J. T. Koch (ed). ABC CLIO (2006).

  2. -The Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales. M. Stephens (ed). Oxford University Press (1990).

  1. Top   Home   Alphabetic Index   Classificatory Index   Largest Languages & Families   Glossary


Address comments and questions to: