Both /kɛlt/ and /sɛlt/ are considered acceptable pronunciations of the noun Celt and similarly of the adjective Celtic. Is there a reason for the different pronunciations? Which is the more common? Is each variant perhaps particular to a geography? Scottish vs. Irish, maybe?

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    In my experience, soft-C Celtic is a Scottish football club. All other usages are hard-C Celtic. But I believe the word may be used differently in the linguistics community.
    – TRiG
    Dec 1, 2012 at 19:37
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    Celtus, Celti, celticus are Latin, representing Greek kelt- and originally pronounced with a /k/; but this changed in the Romance languages through the process of palatalization before entering English. The Celtic peoples I know of use forms with /g/: Gaul, Gaelic, Galicia, Galatians. Dec 1, 2012 at 19:38
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    There's a soccer club in Stalybridge (Greater Manchester) called Stalybridge Celtic, pronunciation as for the Glasgow club. They have famously good pies, but that probably has little bearing on pronunciation. Dec 1, 2012 at 19:52
  • The NBA team in Boston, Massachusetts is always pronounced with the /s/. Dec 4, 2012 at 7:21
  • @Stoney The similarities are treacherous: Celtic isn't related to Gaulish, Gallic, and Galician, which isn't even the same as Gaelic, to make things worse… Dec 6, 2014 at 2:51

2 Answers 2


According to OED 1, Celt is first recorded in English in 1607, probably Anglicized from Latin. At that time it designated the peoples whom the ancients called Celtae (Latin) or Keltoi (Greek): the Gauls and those of Spain and Northern Italy “believed to be of the same language and race”. Celtic first appears in Blount’s Glossography as a French word, Celtique, defined as “pertaining to the people of Gaul”. The modern sense arose in the 18th Century; it

began in French, and in reference to the language and people of Brittany, as the presumed representatives of the ancient Gauls: with the recognition of linguistic affinities it was extended to the Cornish and Welsh, and so to the Irish, Manx, and Scottish Gaelic.

(That recognition, it might be remarked, was in great part due to the labours of the undeservedly neglected Welsh naturalist, antiquarian, and Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum Edward Lhuyd (his reformed spelling of the name “Lloyd”). Lhuyd’s Archaeologia Britannica, 1707, laid the foundations of Celtic linguistics and contributed to his countryman Sir William Jones’ epochal recognition, three generations later, of the kinship of what we now call the Indo-European languages.)

There is no reason to think that the pronunciation at that time was anything other than /ˈsɛlts/, as in both French and contemporary Englishing of Latin. Scholarship had generally recognized at least as early as Leibniz (Collectanea Etymologica, 1717) that the name should “properly” be pronounced with a /k/ (the characterization suggests that the usual pronunciation was with /s/), and spellings with /K/ begin showing up among speculative antiquarians at the end of the 18th Century. These spellings gain a modest currency in the 19th century, but (according to NGrams) never offer a serious challenge to spellings with /C/.

We may presume, I think, that in the 19th Century the pronunciation with /s/ likewise dominated that with /k/. OED 1 (the Cast-Clivy fascicle was published in November 1889) gives this pronunciation first, followed by “Also Kelt (kelt).”

Since the 19th Century, spellings with /K/ have almost disappeared; but my experience is that pronunciations with /k/ have gained ground over the last 50 years.

The pronunciation with /k/ has existed as a minority variant alongside the pronunciation with /s/ for over 200 years. As The Celtic Wiki hints, it is mere linguistic politics to stigmatize either as “ignorant”.

  • This says: There is no such thing as a Celt. There are artefacts of Celtic design and there are languages that are described as Celtic: Welsh, Gaelic, Breton and Gallego... There is no demonstrable link between the Celti or Keltoi of Classical sources and the people who live in Scotland, Ireland, Mann, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany or Spain, popularly identified as Celtic areas today, or indeed their kin elsewhere in the world. These can claim descent from Britons and Cymry or from Gaels and that's about it.
    – tchrist
    Dec 2, 2012 at 2:47
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    @tchrist That says a whole bunch of stuff, some of which is correct, some of which is conjecture, and some of which is pure rubbish. The relationship between language and "race" and "culture" is always tenuous (as OED 1 acknowledged in 1889). But there is certainly a language family which the scholarly literature names Celtic, and its branches are demonstrably related to the language attested in Roman-era inscriptions in the areas where the ancients said the Celtae lived. In any case, I confined my remarks to the origin and development of the term's English spelling and pronunciation. Dec 2, 2012 at 3:04
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    Great summary. The point that is never clearly stated up front in all these discussions is that Celt is not a label the ancient people we are talking about used themselves, but a word used by other ancient Europeans to describe them. The Greeks called them Kelts and this was later latinized into Selts. This is why the assumption by some people that they are being more correct by using Kelt rather than Selt because they believe it is more "Celtic" (more authentic to the Celt's language) is wrong. Either pronuciation can be justified, but neither is the Celtic pronunciation.
    – user47362
    Jul 7, 2013 at 14:06

Following the rules of English pronunciation, the sound of "C" is based on the following vowel e.g. celery, city, cat, cot, cut.

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    Yes, but there are exceptions like sceptic and soccer. How can we tell if Celt, like these words, is an exception to the rules?
    – herisson
    Mar 18, 2018 at 21:17
  • English has no rules. e.g. "I before E, except after C" This is a famously weird rule, which is more often wrong than right.
    – mike
    Jan 12, 2022 at 23:27

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