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

Jon Mills j.mills at email.com
Thu Jul 10 09:08:47 IST 2008

I agree that we do not need diacritics to disambiguate homonyms. The
meaning of bys/bes words is normally deduced from the context. Words have
no meaning until they are used in a context. Consider the English word
'ring'. On its own it has no meaning, but place it in context: 'I heard
the phone ring', 'wedding ring' 'drugs ring', 'boxing ring', etc. I would
prefer to see 'beys' (world) which is attestested (Ordinalia, Beunans
Meriasek, Jordan).Jon

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: "A. J. Trim"
  To: "Standard Cornish discussion list"
  Subject: [Spellyans] More on bys/bes words and diacritical marks
  Date: Wed, 9 Jul 2008 21:49:33 +0100

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

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

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


Andrew J. Trim

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Spellyans at kernowek.net

Dr. Jon Mills,
School of European Culture and Languages,
University of Kent

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