[Spellyans] del 'leaves' and dèl/dell 'so, as'

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Sat Dec 13 19:48:47 GMT 2008

On 13 Dec 2008, at 16:09, Daniel Prohaska wrote:

> It’s <del> and <war> in the SWF because they are unstressed. Just  
> like <gwedhen> is spelt <gwedhen> and not **gwedhenn. The SWF rule  
> is that consonants are not doubled in unstressed syllables. E.g.  
> <rag> is /rag/ when unstressed, but /ra:g/ when in stressed in the  
> sentence, i.e. usually when it’s used as an adverb rather than a  
> preposition.

I think the SWF "rule" is incoherent. On the one hand, consonant  
quality of obstruents determines that vowels are long or short. Thin  
in 4.0.1 they say that "Double consonant graphs are used to indicate  
that the preceding vowel is short." But "this applies to stressed  
syllables only because in Cornish all unstressed vowels are short".

(The SWF then goes on to say in 4.0.3 that "some people" pronounce  
double consonants as geminates which everybody knows to be massively  
untrue, and anyway irrelevant as the doubling of consonant graphs is  
evidently intended to indicate vowel shortness (except in unstressed  
words). Rusty Swiss Army knife, anyone?)

Anyway, the rule makes no sense at all. The orthographic form <del>  
doesn't tell you whether it is stressed or unstressed. Sentence stress  
is not marked in any language I know by orthographic means like this.  
(Punctuation is used, of course.) But sentence stress is a different  
level of abstraction that of orthographic forms. If one wanted to  
*mark* unstressed forms in an orthography one could do so. But That's  
not what the SWF is doing. It is setting out a mechanism for  
indicating vowel length, and then undercutting that mechanism by  
making it unreliable for the user.

How is the learner to know when <del> is [deːl] and when it is [dɛl]?  
The learner will know that <pell> is [pɛl] with a short vowel. So if  
[pɛl] and [dɛl] rhyme, what's the rationale for insisting that they  
be spelt differently, particularly where <del> is ambiguous as to  
[dɛl] or [deːl]? Where's the advantage to either the learner or to  
the experienced reader who has to learn a new orthography?

In KS, we might have <del> [deːl], <dèl> [dɛl], <pell> [pɛl]. But  
if the only reason for this is to avoid inconsistency with marking  
words like <wàr> (which we do anyway), I don't see any reason to  
insist on <dèl> here.  I note that KK uses <dell> for this word,  
distinguishing it from <del>. Tregear uses it throughout his text.  
It's in the Passion, Bêwnans Ke, and the Creation of the World.

Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com

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