[Spellyans] More on bys/bes words and diacritical marks

A. J. Trim ajtrim at msn.com
Wed Jul 9 21:49:33 IST 2008

I know that we have covered this topic previously but some further discussion is required.

I assume that we want to write bÿs/bës & bys in KS because the SWF has bys/bes & bys, and we consider that to be "broken", i.e. a poor feature of the SWF.

Firstly, this is because bys [bi:z]~[be:z] "world" or "finger" could also mean [biz] "until", so we should like to spell them differently from each other.

However, Mary said, "I don't think I've ever muddled up these words, I don't know the clever way to say it, but they're just not words you confuse, they don't come in the same places if you follow me."

I think that Mary is correct. It's "world" and "finger" that is the more likely pair of meanings to get confused. We have many words in English that could be confused but somehow people don't confuse them very often. For example, "dear" can mean cherished or it can mean expensive. Then we have "deer" which means kind of beast, often with antlers. I do not believe that the stated reason holds. How many other bÿs/bës type words have another meaning with a different pronunciation?


Secondly, if you were to use ether one of these two spellings (i.e. bys or bes), you couldn't see that the alternative form also exists, whereas if the choice is bÿs or bës, you can.

The graphs <ÿ> & <ë> help the reader to understand and to pronounce text that has been written in the alternative dialect.

Unfortunately, this benefit is at the expense of making Cornish of either dialect (Middle or Late) more difficult to spell correctly, and more difficult to type.

The measure of a good "spell-as-you-say-it" orthography is that you don't need the dictionary to spell words that you know how to say.

In this case, however, some of the expected <i> become <ÿ>, and some of the expected <e> become <ë>. We shall all be left to wonder which do, and which don't.

The forms bïs/bës & bys would be more logical as <ï> is long but the problem of knowing which <i> or <e> have diereses and which don't would be the same.


I'm not saying that diacritical marks should not be used in Cornish, only that their use should be minimised. The dieresis, as proposed for bÿs/bës words, could be avoided through the use of <ei>. This would give us the choice beis & bys. That would be simpler but the spelling problem would remain.

The SWF designers objected to diacritical marks of any kind, and they rejected beis but they failed to give good reasons.

In view of this, perhaps it would be best for KS to adopt beis, regardless of the current SWF.

The spelling <ei> should become more acceptable within the next five years because, by then, the reason for its rejection will have faded, and it would already be in use, at least to some extent.

Opposition to diacritical marks could increase within the next five years. This is because (hopefully) more people will be using Cornish, and they will have got used to writing Cornish without writing any diacritical marks. This is because they will be using the current SWF or continuing to use KK, UC or UCR, none of which uses diacritical marks. (Perhaps some people will be using KS & LRC too but they would be a small proportion only.)

Also, the use of electronic mobile devices as an important means of communication is likely to increase over the next five years. These devices tend to cater poorly for accented characters. Perhaps this is because you type with one finger or a stylus. Perhaps the producers assume a USA market (where diacritical marks aren't used much.)  Either way, those who might otherwise write diacritical marks will tend to leave them off when using these devices. I believe that those habits will soon invade the language as a whole.

We already see a parallel effect with text messaging abbreviations being used in company e-mails. A full keyboard is available for the e-mails, so it is a habit that has migrated from the mobile phone.

I think that we shall see this effect with the partial loss of diacritical marks.

By the way, and I don't know whether this is related but I heard that France has considered reducing use of the circumflex, Germany is losing its double-s <ss> (ß), and Scottish Gaelic appears to be losing its acute accents.


Andrew J. Trim
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