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A preliminary search for Galatian words in Turkish


In this study, an attempt was made to identify the words of the extinct Galatian language that survived into the modern times in the modern Turkish language.  There appears to be reasonable signs for considering a longer than originally thought survival of the Galatian language in Turkey.   A review of the Irish and Turkish lexicons was made to search for potential cognates.  The assumption was that if a careful review is made using a reasonably conservative set of criteria, the Turkish and Irish cognates would lead to the words of Galatian origin in Turkish.  As the study evolved and, unexpectedly, hundreds of potential cognates were found, and the criteria were further restricted to increase the level of conservatism to prevent false cognates.  The remaining cognates were tabulated as the proposed Galatian words.  The results of this study may be important in linguistic studies as well as anthropological research of Celtic cultures.

Historical Background

Galatians, a people of Celtic culture,  settled in Asia Minor[1] about the 3rd century B.C. It is of interest to many historians, linguists and laymen alike the language of Galatians.  We have very little knowledge of the Galatians of Asia Minor regarding their language.  Historically, it is assumed that the Galatian language is a branch of continental Gaulish, if not an identical version of it.  Like most nomadic people at the time, Galatians had no writing of their own.  Consequently, there are very few Galatian words known to date.  However, there is one distinctive study[2] covering the Galatian language by gathering data from geographical place names, excerpts from the authors of Antiquity, and a vast collection of archeological findings such as inscriptions, coins, and pieces of graffiti.  Therefore, when researchers talk about the Galatian language, they usually refer to the geographical names, personal names, etc. within the context of the history of Galatians and not, at all, related to daily words, tool names, agricultural terms, etc.  The archaeological research regarding Galatians is nowhere near complete in Turkey, and particularly the research of rural Galatian settlements is in its beginning stage.[3]  In addition, there is abundance of materials that is not readily available to researchers and it is, at best, very difficult for outsiders of the field to do meaningful contributions to the subject.[4]  There are no studies, particularly, integrated and cross-cultural studies that are normally in realm of anthropology.  Clearly, there is much to be researched that may change our entire perspective on the Galatians and their language.

[1] The words Galatia, and Asia Minor refer to the same geography known as The Republic of Turkey.

[2]  Freeman

[3] Darbyshire, p.97

[4] Mittchel, Vol. 1, p.10

Throughout the history of Galatian studies, the survival possibility of the Galatian culture and ethnicity has been grossly discounted, first on the basis of relatively few Celts migrating into Turkey, then on the basis of Galatians’ quick assimilation into Hellenic society,  then warlike nature of Turkic clans and their relatively late entry into Asia Minor (A.D. 1071) and so on.  There appears to be a concerted effort to minimize the survival of Celtic culture and language in Turkey, although one can hardly find a common motivator of this effort or of the many contributors whose life spans randomly spread throughout different centuries.

The number of Galatians crossing into Asia was about 20,000 including man, women and children.[5]  It should be noted that the number given represents an absolute minimum not an upper limit.  As our knowledge on Galatians increased ,the picture has constantly changed and various classical assumptions were successfully challenged.  Contemporary historians write, although reluctantly, that the number of Celts crossing into Turkey may have been more than the traditionally accepted numbers.[6]

In the past, historians believed in a rapid Hellenization of the Galatians in Asia Minor.  Cladianus (AD 370? – 410?) wrote about “Celts putting on Hellen clothes and drinking from the waters of Halys, thus becoming Hellenes.” [7]  It should be noted that Cladianus wrote his above comment in the 4th century A.D., some 700 years after the Celtic migration.  Furthermore, it is quite common for many authors to use the 4th century rhetoricians’ praise of Galatians as a proof of thorough Hellenization of Galatians.  However, the timing of such comments should point at a rather later development of Hellenization in the history of Galatia[8]

The continued scrutiny of the existing literature from the middle ages provide additional information.  The last account of spoken Galatian appears to be in the 6th century.[9]  An extended survival of the Galatian culture and language would open the possibility of a Galatian-Turkic interface and, in turn,  their common heritage surviving into the modern times.  The historically accepted time of the entry of Turkic clans into Asia Minor is following the Battle of Manzikiert in the year of 1071.  During this battle, it is known that the left wing of the Roman army consisted of Turkic Uz and the right consisted of, again, Turkic Pechenegs.[10]  Some of the Pechenegs, and perhaps even the Uz, appear to have been brought from Balkans by Byzantium and settled in Asia, periodically.[11]  On the other hand, Princess Komnena (the daughter of the emperor Alexius Komnena) states that there were Turkish settlements in Damalis (the Asiatic side of modern Istanbul) and later they were moved by her father and resettled further inland to the east of Drakon river,[12] a location that is less than 100 kilometers from the capital, Constantinople.  Clearly, this is a relatively short period of time for the new comers to be acknowledged as having the right to live in Roman territories by any standards.  Our knowledge on the history of Asia Minor during the 7th and the 8th centuries presents an impenetrably obscure picture.[13]  However, there is a rather sketchy agreement of alliance signed between Romans (Byzantium) and a Turkic state of central Asia (Gokturks) in the 7th century.  The general guidelines of this agreement was the protection of the eastern border against Persians.  It is likely that many individual Turkic clans had already settled in Asia Minor without the Roman approval by then, hence the concern of Byzantium for protection of her borders.  There appears to be a certain 8th century Roman general who revolted against Byzantium with a claim to the throne.  The general’s name was Bardanios Tourkos according to Greek sources and Bardanes Turcus[14] per Latin sources (a native of Mistea in Asia Minor, c.740-811.) Could this mean “Turk the Bard?”  Whether his name showed his ethnic background or his name was simply a nickname, the familiarity of the name Turk among the natives is important in that Asia Minor had been exposed to the Turkic presence much earlier than 1071.

[5] Livius, “The History of Rome,” 38.16

[6] Darbyshire, p.78

[7] Cladianus, “Carmina Maiora,” 19-20

[8] Ramsay, p.300

[9] Mittchel, p.50, from “Cyril of Scythopolis,” vita S. Euthymii, p.55 (Ed. E. Schwartz, 1939)

[10] Jenkins, p.365,  (some sources refer to as Patzinaks)

[11]  Ostrogorsky, p.391

[12] Alexiad, pp. 129-130

[13] Mittchel, p.5

[14] Ostrogorsky, p. 195

In the light of the historical information given above, it is now easier to imagine that Turkics and rustic Galatians had sufficient time to interface and amalgamate in a common melting pot.  As a result, it is possible that many Galatian words may have survived into the 21st century and made their way into modern Turkish.  However, at the time of this writing, just as there are no known Celtic researchers who also have thorough knowledge of the Turkic languages, there are no known Turkish scholars who are knowledgeable on the Celtic languages.  There is clearly a vacuum in scholarly studies regarding this issue, and amateurs will attempt to fill it as the laws of physics dictate.

Information on the source languages

For identification of Galatian words in Turkish, an obvious need is a Celtic language of comparison, ideally continental Celtic.  We are immediately faced with a problem here: the scarcity of data on continental Celtic.  For a meaningful comparison, one would desire to have two languages with some abundance of material.  As a solution, Irish appears to be the next best candidate for the purpose.  It is commonly believed that, due to its insular nature, Irish (along with Scotts Gaelic) is the most well preserved Celtic language to date.  Modern Irish is a language that is barely but rather successfully recovering from the brink of extinction since the early 20th century.  There are currently 30,000 speakers of Irish as their mother tongue.[15]  There is a very strong use of suffixes in Irish, although existing linguistic literature on Irish usually evaluates the suffixes in terms of their use in verbal structures and gender formation.  In addition, it is a well known fact that many standard communication phrases that exist in modern European languages cannot be directly expressed in Irish but by using alternate means of expressions.  Irish is considered an Indo-European language.  Many amateur and academician linguists, alike, frequently use Irish to study and reconstruct the extinct Gaulish and to justify their theories regarding language and history.  All one has to do is to search the Internet.  Irish is often said to be a difficult language to learn for the European speakers.  The Irish alphabet utilizes many letters as operators.  For instance, to represent the sounds that are not readily available in the Irish alphabet as single characters, silent letters are added as operators.  These letters are not pronounced themselves but they rather influence the pronunciation of the neighboring letters or syllables in the same word.  In addition, lenitions are also indicated by using silent letters.  An obvious benefit of such use of alphabetic characters is the preservation of the word structures.  However, it also results in elongation of words, and modifications to simplify spellings in Irish have been attempted several times in the history.  As a result, there is an abundance of words that are difficult to analyze for etymological purposes in the Irish vocabulary.  In addition, I have not been able to find a scholarly published etymology work on Irish lexicon, excluding any ongoing studies that I do not have access.

Turkish is an Altaic language with its heavy use of agglutination as its primary character.  Within the Altaic languages, it is placed in a category called Turkic that contains a large spectrum of dialects and languages, with a very few of them mutually intelligible.  The second most significant character of Turkish language is the semantic and structural preservation of the single syllable root verbs.  From these verbs, new words are made as needed.  Therefore, it is usually possible to make an educated guess whether a certain word is Turkic.  The 8th century Orkhun inscriptions written in a Runic alphabet are commonly accepted as the earliest Turkic inscriptions.  However, Turkic clans that migrated to Asia Minor brought a different version of the Orkhun language.  During the Ottoman years, the language of the elite and commons diverged substantially in that the elites spoke and wrote a language called Ottoman with heavy borrowings from Persian and Arabic.  Following the founding of the Republic in 1923, the written Turkish received a radical facelift by adopting the Latin alphabet, by bringing in the common people’s language as the official Turkish, by importing rules and words from other Turkic languages while accepting Istanbul’s (the elites) local pronunciation as a trade off.  The end results may be much debatable[16] depending on who is evaluating.  However, the Turkic character of the language is said to have been strengthened by the changes.  Despite all the changes, basic language spoken by the common people has remained the same for centuries.  Recently, a very respectable study on the etymology of Turkish was prepared by Nisanyan[17].  An evolving copy of the book is available to researchers freely in the Internet[18], although it is in Turkish, only.

[15] Rosenstock, p.12

[16] Eminov, Ali, pp.384-386

[17] Nisanyan

[18] www.nisanyansozluk.com

Criteria and Methodology

Using existing lexicon of fragmentary Gaulish for comparison with Turkish is not a viable method for determination of Galatian words in Turkish.  However, when the volume of data increases, as in the case of Irish and Turkish, then the number of false positive cognates would inevitably increase.  At the end of the day, any false positive cognates discovered (however small in numbers)  among the proposed list of the Galatian words would further set a shadow of doubt on the rest of the proposed cognates.  Therefore, the methodology, in this particular study, is biased towards conservatism by the use of stringent criteria rather than relaxation.  The following are the general criteria in selection of cognates.

1) Words of currently obscure origin or of currently unknown etymology.

2) Words that appear in Turkish only on or after the 11th century.

3) Words of rural, provincial, agricultural, slang, or archaic classifications.


Therefore,   If there are Galatian words in Turkish, they should be of obscure origin per current Turkish etymology.  They should start appearing in Turkish after the appearance of Turkic clans in Asia Minor.  Despite the above argument provided for earlier migration of Turkic clans into Asia Minor, the year 1071 (11th century) was used conservatively for the purpose of identifying the Galatian words.  Therefore, any words that appear to be existing in Turkish or other Turkic languages prior to the 11th century were excluded from the list.  Any words that may have alternate explanations such as being borrowed from Persian, Greek, Arabic, Slavic, Phyrigian, etc., were also excluded.   Naturally, all Turkish words that look obviously imported from European languages during the modern ages were also excluded. On the Irish side, a similar approach was also attempted.  The Irish words that appear to be easily explained via Latin or Germanic origin were excluded.  

By going through several respectable Turkish dictionaries, potential Galatian words were selected with the above criteria in mind.  The Turkish words of common daily conversation, slang words, archaic words, provincial and regional words were scrutinized to find potential Galatian words.  Because of the enormity of the data involved and with the goal of this study in mind, the words that appear to be cognates but have significant semantic and phonetic shifts that are difficult to evaluate were also excluded to a great extent.  Although such an exclusion would significantly reduce the number of potential cognates between Irish and Turkish, it would equally significantly increase the quality of findings. Finally, the remaining words were assumed to be of Galatian origin.

In the process, Turkish-English Redhouse dictionary[19] and Nisanyan’s Turkish Etymological dictionary were used as the primary references on the Turkish side.  In addition, Turkish slang and local dictionaries were also used where the information lacked the primary references.  On the Irish side, Bhaldraithe’s Irish-English dictionary[20] was used as the primary reference along with others as secondary references. 

[19] This dictionary has been around since 1856

[20] De Bhaldraithe

Results and discussion

I found hundreds of potential cognates between Irish and Turkish even after discounting many more based on the stringent criteria given above.  It should be noted that this study was not done to see if the two languages are related but to find Galatian words that survived in Turkish.  A pilot table, by no means complete or exhaustive, is presented.  As one can easily see from the list of select cognates, these words are not really cognates but actually identical words both semantically and phonetically if one considers the rules of writing in two different languages.

Turkish-Irish Cognates via Galatians



Meaning in Turkish

Meaning in Irish

Reference [21]Turkish/Irish




boast, state









sound of surprise

sound of surprise








arcán, arcawn

weak, soft

weakling, little fellow




deceit, lie

lying, falsehood




goose, duck



boduk, potuk

badóg, bodóg

young heifer

buffalo calf


bidik, bıdık

bídeach, bídeog

tiny, small

tiny, small




stupid, fool

stupid, fool




deceit, deception

imposition, burden, toll




short pipe (musical)

short-stemmed pipe (clay)




get tired of, run out of patience

disgust, annoyance


farta furta, fart furt

furtla fartla, futa fata, fut fat

fuss, confused talk

fuss, confused talk



geanc, geince

nasal cavity

nasal cavity




person with nasal voice

person with nasal voice




tease, annoy

tease, annoy




shoo away! (for dogs)

shoo away!




let’s …., go on!  let’s get on! Now then! (urging to do something)

Aha! (admonishing a child)




idiot, ignorant talk

empty talk, talkative




unripe, stupid, honorless

clown, ignorant male, country man




wood pile





mischievous woman

mischievous girl, emaciated woman




wheel (only on a wheel-belt system)





despotic husband

honorable, revered




deceit, treachery

deceit, treachery




shepherd’s hooded coat

hooded jacket




hair ball

curly, curly haired




unripe grapes

small berry



cos, cois


foot, leg




unrefined person, clumsy, a boor

childlike, meek, gentle




unpleasantly particular, finicky eater

nausea from eating too much










dirty, filthy person, disorganized








seo, sin

this, that

this, that





ceiling joist




tired, worn out (slang)

tired, worn out




cry, call, lament

cry, call, lament




sloppy job

loutish, silly



géill, giall

to be afraid, yield, give up

yield, submit




to tire, to exhaust

to tire, to exhaust


[21] For references see Bibliography items 13-18

There are certain other words that jump up as Galatians words in modern Turkish.  However, they did not meet the above criteria but are certainly worth mentioning here. One of them is “reis.”  Reis is traditionally assumed to be a Persian loanword.  However, the word should have been in use in Asia Minor much earlier, because there are many Galatian names that end with “-rixs.”  It is well known that Gaulish “rix” or Irish “ri” does not mean a king in a traditional sense (i.e. a medieval king) but rather a chieftain or a clan leader.  This is precisely the meaning of “reis” in modern Turkish.

“Kambur” is another word that probably came to Asia Minor via Galatians.  Kambur means “hump,” “hunchback” or “crooked,” in modern Turkish.  Current etymology sources do not agree on its origins.

“Karasaban” literally means “black plough”  in Turkish.  When searched in Turkish dictionaries, “karasaban” is referred to the “saban” item that means plough.  The word “kara” means “dark,” “black,” or “unlucky” and it is a well established Turkic word going back to 8th century.  Unfortunately, a “black plough” does not make any sense and, yet, “saban” and “karasaban” are interchangeably used in Turkish.  However, if it were a different type of plough, like the one with wheels and pulled by oxen, then it makes sense to call it with a name like “kara,” because we can now say that the original word was “carrus saban,” or “carue saban” (a combination of Celtic carue or carrus and Turkish saban) to distinguish it from non-wheeled versions.  Indeed, ploughs with wheels are attributed to Celtic use[22]  by Pliny.  Furthermore, such a semantic combination may point at a cultural interface between the Turkics and the Galatians.

[22] Bloch, pp.51-52

The above list was prepared using very simple criteria to avoid any complicated semantic and phonetic shifts that may be, rightfully, subject of exhaustive scientific scrutiny .  In addition, in this sense, the words in the list contain only the most obvious cognates, even then, many more words of similar quality were taken out to keep the article short.  Therefore, more words may be added easily pending careful linguistic analyses.  As it is seen in the list, phonetic, semantic and morphological appearances of the select cognates in both languages are nearly the same if not identical.

Phonetically speaking, the “∫” fricative sound appear to have been preserved in both languages in all occurrences of the select cognates.  The “ş” character in Turkish is pronounced as “sh” in English where the same is accomplished via use of slender silent vowels on either side of letter “s” in Irish as in “seo.”  In this case, a Turkish speaker would write the same word as “şo” or “şu” upon hearing an Irish speaker pronounce “seo.”  And, the word “şu” or “seo” means “this, that” in both languages.

A similar phonetic preservation is apparent for the hard “c” (or “k” sound) as well with occasional exceptions such as “k” to “g” shifts.  However, such shifts are common even in contemporary Turkish where the initial or the final “k” s are frequently softened to hard “g” sound in some local accents, particularly in the highlands of Asia Minor.

Although the purpose of the study did not include phonetic shifts, an interesting but consistent divergence was observed among the cognates that start with the “y” sound in Turkish compared to its Irish cognates.  In all select cognates that start with a “y” sound in Turkish, the Irish counterparts start with a hard “g” or “k” sound without exception.

There are other minor sound shifts in the select list of cognates, as well.  However, I have not been able to observe a pattern of significance.  This and additional sound-shift patterns, if found, could help identify additional cognates in the future.  However, this issue is outside the scope of this work.


It appears that there are many Turkish-Irish cognates found.  The cognates given in the list show a very strong correlation and are consistent within each pair semantically, structurally and phonetically.  Irish and Turkish belong to two different language groups that are worlds apart.  The selection criteria appears to be sufficiently conservative to prevent accidental inclusion of non-qualified cognates from other sources, although I cannot completely rule out such uninteded or accidental inclusions.  Therefore, in the absence of contrary data, these cognates can be attributed to Celtic origin with the common denominator being the Galatian language.  Many words of obscure etymology in Turkish needs to be looked at from the Galatian perspective as well.

In addition, the appearance of so many cognates between Irish and Turkish via Galatian connection raises a new question as to the relationship of insular Celtic languages, and in particular Irish, to extinct continental Celtic languages such as Gaulish.  Therefore, the results of this study may lead to a new perspective and interest in the study of Celtic languages.

Therefore, continued research with peer review and scrutiny of this and future studies would shed light on both Irish and Turkish etymology studies as well as Celtic studies in general.


[1] Freeman, Phillip, The Galatian Language, A Comprehensive Survey of the Language of the Ancient Celts in Greco-Roman Asia Minor,,” The Edwin Mellen Press, New York, 2001. ISBN 0-7734-7470-3

[2] Mitchell, S., "Anatolia: Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor," Volume 1, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995.

[3] Livius, Titus, The History of Rome

[4] Claudius Claudianus, Carmina Maiora, 19-20, In Eutropium I-II, 250

[5] Ramsay, William M., "Historical Commentary on Galatians," Ed. Mark Wilson, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 1997.

[6] Darbyshire, Gareth, et al., “The Galatian settlement in Asia Minor,” Anatolian Studies Journal, pp.75-97, Vol. 50, 2000.

[7] Ostrogorsky, George, “History of the Byzantine State,” Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1969.  ISBN 08135-0599-2

[8] Jenkins, Romilly, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries AD 610-1070, University of Toronto Press, 1987.

[9] Sewter, E.R.A., "The Alexiad of Anna Comnena," Penguin Books, 1969, London, ISBN 0-14-044215-4.

[10] Rosenstock, Gabriel, “Beginner’s Irish,” Hippocrene Books, New York, 2000.  ISBN 0-7818-0784-0

[11] Eminov, Ali, “The Turkish Language Reform: A Catastrophic Success (review)” Language - Volume 77, Number 2, June 2001, pp. 384-386

[12] Bloch, Marc,  French Rural History,” University of California Press, 1970. ISBN 0520016602, 9780520016606

[13] New Redhouse Turkish-English Dictionary, Redhouse Yayınevi, İstanbul, 1979.

[14] Nişanyan, Sevan, "Sözlerin Soyağacı, Çağdaş Türkçenin Etimolojik Sözlüğü," 2. Basım, Adam Yayıncılık ve Matbaacılık, İstanbul, Mart 2004.  ISBN 975-418-743-6

[15] Aktunç, Hulki, “Büyük Argo Sözlüğü,” 4. Baskı, Yapi Kredi Yayınları, Istanbul, Ocak 2002. ISBN 975-363-864-7

[16] Bozyiğit, A. Esat, “Ankara İli Ağzı Sözlüğü,” 1. Baskı, Kültür Bakanlığı, Ankara, 1998.  ISBN 975-17-2041-9

[17] Bhaldraithe, Tomas de, "Focloir Gaeilge-Bearla,"  Mount Sales Press Ltd., Ireland, 1992.  ISBN 1-85791-037-0

[18] Dolan, Terence Patrick, "A Dictionary of Hiberno-English," 1st Paperback Edition, Gill & MacMillan Ltd., Dublin, Ireland, 1999.  ISBN 0-7171-2942-X