It is an undeniable fact the large amount of Celtic elements present in the Asturian and Cantabrian onomastics, fact that we could relate to the Hallstattic and post-Hallstattic finds occurring from Galicia to Navarra, and always more frequent towards the West than towards the East.
According to Richard Turnwald, the Northwest, occupied by Astures and Gallaeci, is rife with Celtic elements.
With regard to hydronymy, and according to González and Fernández Vallés, there is in Asturies a certain number of rivers of non-Celtic Indoeuropean names: Eo, Navia, Nalón, Ibias, Arganza, Narcea, Nora, Ayeri, Güeña… and others which can be classified as Celtic: Sella, Uerna (stemming from “Orna”, Celtic particle similar to that of some Belgian and French rivers), Dobra (from Celtic “dubro”, meaning “water”), Bedón (from Celtic “bedo”, meaning “ditch” or “channel”; parallel to other toponyms in Northern Italy, France and Switzerland), Deva (of religious significance and Celtic nature, as the river would be the dwelling of a god or worth of a god) etc.
In addition to Deva, there are other toponyms possibly derived from names of Celtic gods. Lug, principal deity of the Celts, is reflected in Lloxu (Uviéu), Llugo de Llanera (Llanera) and Llugás (Villaviciosa); beside the ethnonym Luggoni, mentioned in the Classic sources as the inhabitants of the Asturian central area.
There are, likewise, numerous Asturian toponyms which might derive from the god Taranus/Taranis: Taraño (Corvera), Taraña (Sieru), Taranes (Ponga), Tarañu (Cangues d’Onís), Tarañu (Cabrales), Taranos hill (Western massif of the Picos d’Europa)… This is a divinity related to war and thunder.
Other names of Celtic gods have been suggested, such as Cernunnos –deity provided with stag antlers who bestows riches upon its believers, also related to the realm of the dead– in the mountain ranges of Cermoño and Cermuñu.
Likewise, we find Vendonius –Celtic god which was associated to Apollo in Gaul– in Bendueños (L.lena). We have references to this one from Ptolemy, who mentioned it as the name of a mountain or mountain range, namely the Picos d’Europa or more precisely Peña Ubiña, deriving from the Latin “albínea” (white, snowy) and related to the Celtic term “vindios” (white).
Bearing this in mind, from the point of view of toponymy, Celtic presence in Asturies offers some clues which lead us to consider the existence of a Celtic language in Asturies.
We also find some elements containing the term -briga amongst Astures: Aubri(ga), Cadabri(ga), Calubriga, Ercoriobri(ga), Longebriga, Tebriga and Tilobriga.
-Ci desinences: Argamonici, Ablaidaci, Arrondiaci, Cabruagenici, Cilurnigi, Viromenigi and Orniaci.
Notice likewise the following as a curiosity:
«…On the West Irish coast, the suffix to form Celtic diminutives -in is quite widespread and is written as -een by multiple Anglo-Irish writers like J.M. Synge. Thus, the English word “children” is presented as “childreen”, “girl” as “girleen”, “glas” as “glasheen”, “breeze” as “breezheen”…» (excerpt from the book “Lenguas y literaturas celtas, origen y evolución”, Ramón Sainiero, p. 44).
Interestingly, we have the same diminutive -in in Asturian, with the same affective tone: gatín, guah.ín, perrín etc. And although the diminutive -ino -ina exists in Italian, Portuguese and Galician, which would lead us to attribute a Latin substrate to the Asturian one, the issue is that Italian lacks that affective connotation: “signorina” is equivalent to the Spanish “señorita” (English “miss”) –question of age or civil status–, whereas in Asturian “señorina” is equivalent to the Spanish “viejecita” (roughly English “lovely old lady”).
The book “L’Aventure des langues en Occident”, of Henriette Walter, director of the phonology laboratory of the École pratique des hautes études in Paris and professor of linguistics, postulates that the Celtic language of Galicia, in contrast with the other Celtic languages spread across the peninsula which disappeared in the 1st century BC, survived until the 7th century AD. According to the attached map showing the influence of this language in the 7th century, it can be appreciated that although the indicated territory is referred to as Galicia, it also corresponds to present-day Asturies.
Translation from Asturian to English:
Sergio Fernández Redondo.
Photographs and illustrations:
1st.- Map of the pre-Roman languages of the Iberian Peninsula. Source: Wikipedia.
2nd.- Dobra river – Asturies. Author: unknow. Source: Google
3rd.- Peña Ubiña peak – Asturies. Author: Alberto Lastra.
4th.- Roman inscription that says “Asturum et luggonu”. Currently in the Archaeological Museum of Asturies.