Celtic Languages and Literatures

The Celtic languages - now spoken mainly in Ireland, the British Isles, and Brittany - were once spoken over much of Europe and in Asia Minor. Speakers of Celtic languages are passionate about the survival of their languages, and many people in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany choose to live their lives in the Celtic languages native to their countries, despite the dominance of English or French. In addition to preserving a strong sense of cultural community, the Celtic languages are treasure troves of story, poetry, and song ranging from the medieval to the contemporary. The languages are fascinating in themselves, quite different in their syntax from the Germanic and Romance languages that underlie English, and extraordinarily rich in idiom. They offer a direct link to the literary traditions of early medieval Europe, while at the same time holding an important position in the growing cultural pride and economic vibrancy of their societies. The speakers of Celtic languages have an important place in the history of European culture, and the splendid medieval literatures of Ireland and Wales constitute a hugely rewarding field of study. The languages are of great linguistic interest, and can boast some of the finest contemporary writers in the Celtic countries. The Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures offers courses in the medieval as well as the modern Celtic languages, and in the literature, folklore, and mythology of the Celtic-speaking peoples. 

Classes in the Celtic Department are small, and there is a strong sense of community among undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty, enhanced by social gatherings, talks, and an annual colloquium to which undergraduates are most welcome. 

The department offers a secondary field that is flexible enough to cater to students with a broad interest in the Celtic cultures or in Celtic folklore and mythology, and for those who are more particularly interested in the Celtic languages and literatures of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. 

Students who complete a Secondary Field in Celtic may expect, not only to become familiar with the origins of the Celtic peoples and the growth of their cultural traditions, but also to understand better the foundations of ethnicity in any people that understands itself as possessing a distinct identity; to develop a keen critical awareness of the nature and vitality of oral traditions in their vibrant interrelationships with literary traditions; and to be aware of the precarious state of many of the world’s seven thousand languages, and why it matters. 

REQUIREMENTS: 5 courses (20 credits) 

Any General Education course, and one Freshman Seminar, offered by members of the Celtic Department may count towards the secondary field. At least one 100-level course offered within the Celtic Department is required. One Harvard Summer School course or study abroad course may be counted upon the approval of the department's Secondary Field Coordinator. All other courses should be selected from the offerings of the department. 


With the exception of the freshman seminar, all courses must be taken for a letter grade, with a minimum grade of C. 


For more information on the secondary field, contact the Department Administrator, Mary Violette (617-495-1206, violette@fas.harvard.edu) or the Secondary Field Coordinator, Professor Natasha Sumner (nsumner@fas.harvard.edu).