On the origin of Celtic first and second person plural personal pronouns in *-s

Kenneth Shields Jr. 1
  • 1 Dept. of English, Millersville University, Millersville, PA 17551–0302, U.S.A.

Among the etymological puzzles presented to Indo-Europeanists by the Celtic languages is the origin of the first and second person plural independent (or absolute) personal pronouns (1 pl. OIr. sní, MW ni, OBr. ni, MCo. ny ‘we’ [nom., but also oblique ‘us’ in Brittonic]; 2 pl. OIr. , MW chwi, OBr. hui, MCo. why ‘you’ [nom., but also oblique ‘you’ in Brittonic). Traditional reconstruction posits *snēs and *swēs as the etyma for these forms and ascribes an original oblique function to these etyma (cf. Lewis & Pedersen 1961: 215). However, as Katz (1998: 80) points out, in light of the existence of the Gaulish cognate SNÍ ‘us,’ “it is no longer especially felicitous to think of the in the oblique pronoun SNÍ – and thus also the vowel in its Insular Celtic cognates – as going back to the secondary addition of a nominative ending” *-s, at least in the case of the first person plural. Moreover, he plausibly argues that the length of the final vowels here is a result of stress, with *sne and *swe therefore constituting the Proto-Celtic sources of the attested pronouns in question (1998: 80–84). In this paper it is my intention to consider the Indo-European origins of Celtic *sne and *swe. More specifically, I wish to investigate the earlier history of these Celtic forms within the context of the so-called “new image” view of Indo-European morphology and my own theories about the typology and development of Indo-European pronominal morphology – theories which clearly reflect that “new image” perspective.

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Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie (ZcP) was founded in 1897 by Kuno Meyer and Ludwig Christian Stern. It is thus the oldest significant journal of Celtic studies still in existence. In the early period, its focus was on Celtic (mainly Irish) philology and ‘linguistic monuments’ to Continental Celtic (mainly Gaulish) languages. Later, these areas were extended to include new Celtic languages and typological questions.