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Keltic vs Seltic

2012 November 4
by pam artiaga

My sister and I were at the dining table when she suddenly asked if the “Vikings” were a football team. I told her that I think they were an American football team. (Yeah, yeah, I know there are other sports teams out there called “Vikings” but that’s not what we were talking about, okay.)

When asked how she arrived at that thought, my sister replied that she assumed they were a European team because the Vikings were from Europe. So I pointed out that Boston Celtics is an American basketball team, yet it is named after a group of tribes that once occupied parts of Britain. I tripped over my tongue as I told her that because the basketball team is pronounced seltic while I’ve only ever heard the tribe pronounced as keltic.

I’ve always wondered about that difference in pronunciation, but the question always came to me when there was no computer with an internet connection nearby. I had put the soft ‘c’ pronunciation of Boston Celtics to the arrogance of Americans. I was mistaken — though not about the arrogance of Americans. 😉

It turns out that even the football team from Glasgow is also pronounced seltic. I’ve always pronounced the club’s name as keltic, but I was once again mistaken. (Celtic FC is one of the most popular clubs in Scotland, famous for its rivalry with another club in the Scottish top flight, Rangers FC.)

Apparently, both the hard and soft ‘c’ pronunciations for “Celtic” are correct. The difference in pronunciation is caused by the different influences of the English language — seltic is borrowed from the French while keltic is of German influence.

Seltic was more widely used before the 20th century. Celtic FC was formed before keltic became the widely-accepted pronunciation. Boston Celtics was named by Irish people in Boston who at the time still used the seltic pronunciation. Thus, both teams retained the soft ‘c’ of Celtic, and they are no more incorrect than the modern scholars who use the hard ‘c’ when referring to the Celts.

That said, I still prefer using the ‘k’ pronunciation. I just find it really awkward to say “seltic”. “Keltic” rolls smoothly off the tongue and sounds so much much cooler. Not to mention, it follows the pronunciation rule in Lord of the Rings: a hard ‘c’ sound for names beginning with ‘Ce-‘, such as “keleborn” for Celeborn and “kelebrant” for Celebrant.

Keltic, keltic, keltic.

Yup, definitely cooler.


Sources: [1], [2], [3]

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