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

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Sun Dec 14 20:43:38 GMT 2008

On 14 Dec 2008, at 18:35, Daniel Prohaska wrote:

> “I think the SWF "rule" is incoherent.”
> Not more so in this case than any other orthography that doesn’t  
> mark stress unambiguously.

You're wrong, Dan. The rule in this case is not about word stress.  
(Spanish marks word stress unambiguously.) The example of "del" is not  
one of word stress, but one of sentence stress. Yes, the word is  
typically unstressed in sentences. If you were to use the word in  
stressed position, however, it would rhyme perfectly with "pell".

What's the word for 'so' in Cornish? "Dell".
What's the word for 'long' in Cornish? "Pell".

Perfect rhymes.

No orthography I know of indicates sentence stress, or as in this  
case, cherry-picks a handful of unstressed words with short vowels and  
writes them so they look like words with long vowels in an attempt to,  
somehow, distinguish them from a handful of words which happen to be  
stressed monosyllables.

> (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?)”
> The latter statement is appeasement towards Ken George and KKers who  
> believe they make this distinction, even if they don’t.

Of course, I am aware of this. Now, there's a splendid criterion to  
follow in orthography design. "The ghost pronunciation." The SWF  
specification gives a false picture of the pronunciation of Revived  
Cornish. In particular its description of "RMC" is positively  
scandalous, as it bears no relation whatsoever to the pronunciation of  
UC-using speakers of RMC. It's a fantasy. Very sad.

> Other speakers, if few, actually pronounce long consonants, among  
> them even some Revived Late Cornish speakers who would pronounce  
> <scaffa> “faster, fastest” as [ˈskæfːə], for example.

Not applicable to the monosyllables we are discussing. We know that  
secondary gemination in superlatives is a feature in later Cornish.  
(One might consider writing <scafha> alongside <gwelha>.)

> “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.”
> Precisely, which means you have to know how to stress words in a  
> phrase.

If you know how to stress words in a phrase, you won't be led astray  
by "dell", now will you? It rhymes with "pell", but it won't have a  
lot of stress.

That is pragmatically BETTER for the learner than to have a word which  
looks as though it should have a long vowel but might not depending on  
sentence context.

The SWF rule is not an example of elegant orthography design.

> It is also impossible to know that words like <y>, <a>, <dhe> etc.  
> are unstressed and their vowel is short, but I don’t see you  
> arguing to spelling <ì>, <à>, <dhè>. In my opinion <del> and <war>  
> fall into the same category.

Vowels in final position are a different thing from closed syllables.  
We have good rules for closed syllables, easy to follow -- except for  
this handful of words which breaks the rules for closed syllables.  
Now, there's no real reason not to spell <dell> as the pronunciation  
is [dɛl] whether stressed or unstressed. Also this form is well- 
attested in traditional Cornish. Tregear writes it all over the place.  
The reason not to write <warr> is one of familiar word-shape. There  
are no examples of <warr> for this word in Traditional Cornish, and  
nobody in the Revival would want to write this prepositiom this way.

The rule about single consonants in unstressed words is just a way of  
wiggling out of the problem of "jyn", and I don't think we should  
pretend that it was a brilliant example of orthography design. (The  
problem of "jyn" is that the SWF should want to write this "jynn" even  
though this must by any sane rules imply *"jydn" to RLC users.
(Unless one wants to disadvantage RLC users, which the SWF in this  
matter clearly does.)

Vowels in final position are subject to a range of pronunciations. In  
KS, I believe, we write a good many of these words unambiguously,  
certainly where there is a minimal pair with a long vowel in one word  
and a short vowel in another. Thus we write <war> 'aware' and <wàr>  
'on', and we write <a> 'particle' and <â> 'goes', and we write <bò>  
'if' and <bo> 'would be' and I'd have to make a list of all our  
monosyllables with final vowels. We distinguish <te> 'thou' and <tê>  
'tea' orthographically (both rhyme [teː]). Since <dhe> doesn't  
contrast with anything there's no strong need to write <dhè> which  
would be [ðɛ] rather than [ðə] anyway.

I have actually thought about this stuff a lot.

> It’s impractical to mark all these high frequency unstressed words  
> as unstressed. They form a relatively short list of words that can  
> be learnt or even absorbed by having good sound examples.

We don't mark vowels as stressed or unstressed. It's not "impractical"  
to write diacritics on the high-frequency words à or für or på or ó  
or léi in other languages. Irish writes sé 'he' and sí 'she'.  
Italian writes è 'is'. Romanian writes și 'and'. I really don't buy  
this argument.

> “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?”
> How is the learner to know when <y> is the unstressed particle, or  
> the stressed personal pronoun?

That's not an answer to my question. [pɛl] and [dɛl] rhyme when the  
words are said in isolation. Sure one gets reduced when stressless.  
That's not a reason to write the stressless one so that it looks as  
though it has a long vowel. That's really not smart orthography  
design, from a pragmatic point of view.

Ambiguity in <y> and <y> might be a problem, but even if there is  
ambiguity there, that's no reason that this ambiguity should be  
extended to [deːl] and [dǝl]. I side with KK users here: 'so' should  
be written <dell> and one should not expect any problems from it.  
Indeed in the Gerlyvrik we find <dell> [del] and <pell> [ˈpell] and no  
one was expected to be confused.

> How is the learner to know that the preposition <dhe> is not to be  
> pronounced **[ðeː]?

Where's the minimal pair contrast that makes this a problem?

> “In KS, we might have <del> [deːl], <dèl> [dɛl], <pell>  
> [pɛl].”
> But <del> is not just [dɛl], but also [dəl], [dər] and [dr],  
> alternatively spelt <dr’> in SWF/Late.

If in writing dialect or poetry you feel that you *must* write <d'll>  
or <d'l> to indicate a schwa, go ahead. But I don't believe that <del>  
can serve that purpose. <dèl> might, but there's nothing wrong with  
<dell>. I will say that <dr'> is pretty awful design choice. <d'r>  
would be a better recommendation, and I have nothing against writing  
it. KS does write <drè> and <dèr> 'through'.

> Writing <dell> would go against the SWF rules because the double  
> consonant would indicate stress. Writing <del> in the SWF is more  
> consistent within that system, than writing <dell>.

I don't believe that an attempt to mark sentence stress for a few  
monosyllabic words is a useful distinction that has much chance of  
achieving much in terms of making Cornish easier for anybody. Even if  
it were a good idea (and John Tregear surely knew how to pronounce  
<dell>), sentence stress (or other word stress) is not consistently  
marked in the SWF, so this simply stands out as one of its less well- 
motivated features.

Accuracy in vowel length is the most important feature of Cornish  
pronunciation that learners need to tackle. Where the SWF is based in  
KS, indicating vowel length by consonant quality, the SWF does a good  
job handling this. Where it mixes in strangeness like trying to use  
spelling to show a few words to be weak in sentence stress, it does  
not serve its learners, whether they have a lot of Cornish or a little.

To put it another way: which is worse, to accidentally stress <dell>  
in a sentence, or to pronounce it with a long vowel when it should  
have a short one? I think the latter error is worse. So that's the one  
we should be careful about marking.

This is the same argument for <jyn>, which the SWF wants to spell  
<jynn>. Is it really <jynn> because people might think it a stressless  
particle [dʒən]? Of course, KS can distinguish <jin> [dʒiːn] and  
<jyn> [dʒɪn] and <jynn>~<jydn> [dʒɪn]~[dʒɪdn]. The SWF can't, and  
I believe it is this particular failure that led to the silly rule  
which is supposed to explain <del> v. <dell>.

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

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