Language contact in Welsh and Breton: The case of reciprocal and reflexive verbs

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Kevin Rottet


The two closely related Celtic languages Welsh and Breton represent an interesting comparative laboratory for exploring contact phenomena. Here I will trace the development of reflexive and reciprocal verbs, arguing that these languages have, over time, aligned their patterns with those of English and French respectively in a process of convergent evolution which is distinct from, though related to, grammatical borrowing. The historical pattern for marking reflexives and reciprocals deployed reflexes of the prefix IM (Breton em, Welsh ym). Subsequent developments are revealed by tracing the history of this prefix in the two languages and its ultimate replacement in Welsh with postverbal expressions (e.g. ei hun himself, ei gilydd each other). In neither language are the matches with the host language perfect, but the isomorphy with similar constructions in English and French is striking, especially when seen against the backdrop of other effects of intense contact in these languages.


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