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“Brittonic languages” is a more recent coinage (first attested 1923 according to the Oxford English Dictionary) intended to refer to the ancient Britons specifically.In English, the term “Briton” originally denoted the ancient Britons and their descendants, most particularly the Welsh, who were seen as heirs to the ancient British people.

The extent of their territory before and during the Roman period is unclear, but is generally believed to include the whole of the island of Great Britain, at least as far north as the Clyde-Forth isthmus, and if the Picts are included as Brittonic speaking people as they more usually are, the entirety of Great Britain.The territory north of the Firth of Forth was largely inhabited by the Picts; little direct evidence has been left of the Pictish language, but place names and Pictish personal names recorded in the later Irish annals suggest it was indeed related to the Common Brittonic language rather than to the Goidelic (Gaelic) languages of the Irish, Scots and Manx; indeed their Goidelic Irish name, Cruithne, is cognate with Brythonic Priteni.The Britons, also known as Celtic Britons or Ancient Britons, were Celtic people who inhabited Great Britain from the British Iron Age into the Middle Ages, at which point their culture and language diverged.They spoke the Common Brittonic language, the ancestor to the modern Brittonic languages.With the beginning of Anglo-Saxon settlement and Gaelic Scots in the 5th century, the culture and language of the Britons fragmented and much of their territory was taken over by the Anglo-Saxons and Scots Gaels.

The extent to which this cultural and linguistic change was accompanied by wholesale changes in the population is still a matter of discussion.During and after the Roman era, the Britons lived throughout Britain.Their relationship with the Picts, who lived north of the Firth of Forth, has been the subject of much discussion, though most scholars now accept that the Pictish language was related to Common Brittonic, rather than a separate Celtic language.The term Pritani may have reached Pytheas from the Gauls, who possibly used it as their term for the inhabitants of the islands.The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was originally compiled by the orders of King Alfred the Great in approximately 890, and subsequently maintained and added to by generations of anonymous scribes until the middle of the 12th century, starts with this sentence: “The island Britain is 800 miles long, and 200 miles broad, and there are in the island five nations: English, Welsh (or British, including the Cornish), Scottish, Pictish, and Latin.Brittonic was spoken throughout the island of Britain (in modern terms, England, Wales and Scotland), as well as offshore islands such as the Isle of Man, Scilly Isles, Orkneys, Hebrides and Shetlands. The language eventually began to diverge; some linguists have grouped subsequent developments as Western and Southwestern Brittonic languages.