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

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Sun Jul 13 13:26:21 IST 2008

At 12:30 +0000 2008-07-10, Tom Trethewey wrote:
>When words are sometimes spelled with <i> or <y> and sometimes with <e>,
>there are two explanations.  The one favoured hitherto on this forum 
>has been that there were two different pronunciations, [i:] and [E:] 
>for the words with long vowels.

This is not correct. The distinction we make is [i:] and [e:], not 
[E:]. The overwhelming majority of speakers of every variety of 
Revived Cornish have two phonemes: /i/ [i:]~[I] and /e/ [e:]~[E].

>I find this explanation naive compared with its alternative, that 
>the mixture of <i~y> and <e> (and indeed <ey>) represents a sound 
>intermediate between [i] and [E], say [I].

Ken George is the only researcher who tried to impose a three-way 
phonemic distinction onto Revived Cornish. One of the reasons he did 
so is that he felt uncomfortable with the <e>~<i>~<y> alternation. It 
appears to me that since he rejected dialect differences a priori he 
was therefore obliged to end up with a three-way phonemic distinction 
in his "reconstruction" of Middle Cornish. Revived Cornish has /e/ 
and /i/ however, even despite two decades of attempts to get KK users 
to have three phonemes.

Evidently George felt the same discomfort about dialect variation 
with regard to <s>~<j> alternations, which led him to posit the 
phonemes /dj/ and /tj/. This was disproved, but George has not put 
his discomfort aside and now tries to change Revived Cornish by 
suggesting that the phoneme was /Z/. I don't believe that any of the 
textual evidence we have supports this view.

What this means to me is that traditional Cornish, like Revived 
Cornish, had dialect differences with regard to these phonemes. KS 
supports this analysis, which is also supportive of current practice 
amongst Revivalists.
Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com

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