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

Daniel Prohaska daniel at ryan-prohaska.com
Sun Dec 14 23:15:09 GMT 2008

-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Everson
Sent: Sunday, December 14, 2008 9:44 PM

“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".”


“Pink elephants fly on a bright night.” A grammatically correct sentence, but will it occur realistically? No. Neither will stressed <del>.


“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>.)”


How do we know this? How can we be sure that Brythonic s-superlatives didn’t always cause gemination throughout the Old Cornish and Middle Cornish periods?  


“> “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.”


No, you wouldn’t. But it would go against the SWF rule that final double consonants indicate stress. Since the unstressed words are a special case they would always violate one rule or another. I’m merely showing how and why the SWF deals with it, which is obviously different from how you want to deal with the issue. 


“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.”


Maybe, possibly, and there are a few more examples, I’m sure…


> 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.”


This is a cop-out. It’s exactly the same case, and the same rules can be just as well formulated for unstressed words ending in a consonant, like <del>.


“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 preposition this way.”


But the inconsistency would be to write <del>, but <war>, that is, if you’re not “allowed” to write diacritics.


“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.)”


Well, it was not apparently agreed that SWF <nn> and <dn> are always interchangeable, rather than a short vowel followed by <nn> that doesn’t pre-occlude in LC, simply doesn’t have the pre-occluded variant with <dn>. So, in the SWF/M <penn> has the variant SWF/L <pedn>, but <jynn> is <jynn> in the SWF/M and SWF/L.


“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.”


I believe you and if that’s what we do in KS that’s fine, but this is not what the SWF does.


“> 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.”


The diacritics on G <für> and S/D/N <på> are a different case, because they deal with vowel quality rather than quantity or stress. R <și> is the same, it deals with consonant quality. Diacritics have not been accepted as part of the SWF. If you want to work within the SWF you can’t use diacritics. If you talk about diacritics you are talking about KS and not the SWF. We’re turning in circles. 

It is impractical to write the high frequency words with diacritics if you can write them just as well without them by formulating a rule that says unstressed vowels are short and the following words always occur in unstressed position in the sentence…


“> “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.”


It’s an equally legitimate question! Why do you need to indicate that <e> is short in <del>, but you need not indicate that <y> is short. By rule, a vowel in an open syllable is long. So, wouldn’t you need to write <ì> (and isn’t it about time to encode y-grave?)?

In answer to your question. In an orthography for Cornish that I like and I would design I could imagine distinguishing <del> “as” and <del> leaves, by writing <del> and <dêl>. To me this would make sense because <dêl> would always be long and stressed, whereas <del> would not. 

I don’t have a problem with <dell>, personally. I can just follow the reasoning why SWF doesn’t use it. I can follow your reasoning, too. 


“[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.”


In your opinion. Since you’ll have to know that /del/ is unstressed to speak Cornish, it doesn’t matter if you spell it <dell> or <del>. The whole discussion isn’t very smart, because it just shows two differing opinions and at least three possible solutions that will always be somewhat problematic given the set of rules in the various orthographies.  


“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.”


OK, let’s hold our breath until 2013 on this…


“> 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?”


The learner may or may not be aware of a minimal pair /del/ ~ /de:l/. Smart orthography design would want to give him or her the chance to know how to pronounce one word without being aware of the other. So it’s not just a question of minimal pairs. If the learner has learnt the rule that a vowel in open syllables is long, then s/he will have to know that <dhe> is unstressed.   


“> “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.” 


Of course it can.


“<dèl> might, but there's nothing wrong with <dell>.” 


No, there isn’t. But that wasn’t what was decided in the SWF.


“I will say that <dr'> is pretty awful design choice.” 


In your opinion.


“<d'r> would be a better recommendation, and I have nothing against writing it.”


Perhaps, but this /dr/ contracts with the verb forms that have an initial vowel and I find <d’r’yw> more unsightly than <dr’yw>. My opinion, of course... 


“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.”


The SWF is not marking sentence stress. For the SWF writing <dell> would be marking stress. There’s no mark where there’s no stress. 


“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.”


That may be true, but we don’t know how learners will handle this. How do UC/R speakers and learners handle it? UC and UCR have <del> for both “leaves” and “as”. 


“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.”


I think they’re both pretty bad…


 “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>.”


According to SWF rules <jyn> could not just be pronounced [ʤɪn], but also [ʤɪːn]. So <jynn> makes sure it’s [ʤɪn]. It is not SWF/L *jydn, because this variant doesn’t exist. There is thus no systematic correlation between SWF/M <nn> and SWF/L <dn>. I’m not passing judgement on this feature, just stating what is being done in the SWF.


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