[Spellyans] reDistribution of <i> and <y>

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Thu Jul 24 12:34:08 IST 2008

At 22:59 +0200 2008-07-23, Daniel Prohaska wrote:

>>Not in dictionaries. Regularly. Nance's "write 
>>the marks in the dictionary but leave them off 
>>in plain text" is *not* something to be 
>>emulated. We know that Revivalists learning 
>>from Unified made mistakes in vowel length when 
>>there was no system to mark it; we know they 
>>made mistakes distinguishing between /y/ and 
>>/u/ when there was no system to mark it."
>Yes, I'm aware of your proposed solution. It was 
>not accepted in the SWF discussions, so I'm 
>looking for alternative solutions.

Please explain what it is you are trying to do. I 
don't understand it. We decided to use diacritics 
to distinguish <bÿs> [bi:z]~[be:z] from <bys> 
[bIz], and to distinguish <bës> [bi:z]~[be:z] 
from <res> [re:z]. There are three categories of 
words here. The SWF does not offer any way of 
distinguishing them. I'm only talking about 
monosyllables here. KS's proposed 
<beis>|<bys>|<res> would have solved this 
problem, but that was rejected, and 
<bys>~<bes>|<bys>|<res> was put into the SWF. 
That ambiguity is intolerable, so we 
<bÿs>~<bës>|<bys>|<res>. That is a decision we 
have taken for KS. Did you want to propose an 
alternative solution? I can't see what it could 

We, for our part, appear to have no status with 
or influence on the CLP. As Nicholas has 
indicated, this is simply for reasons of spite on 
the part of the Kesva representativs there. No 
matter: we are here, and we have not abandoned 
traditional Cornish as the basis for Revived 
Cornish. Howeer, having neither status with nor 
influence on the CLP, it is difficult to see how 
*anything* we say might have an effect on the 
CLP, whether now or in 5 years' time. All we can 
do is our best to correct the faults of the SWF 
and use the corrected form.

>>"Both KS and the SWF correct the first problem 
>>because they have a system where regular vowel 
>>length is marked by consonant quality. The SWF 
>>fails to be able to mark irregular vowel 
>>length, but KS corrects this failing by using 
>>the grave <`> for anomalous short vowels and 
>>the circumflex <^> for anomalous long vowels."
>Yes, I know, I was there. You are repeating 
>yourself. As I said, I'm looking for 
>alternatives, because your solution was rejected 
>in the SWF discussions.

I don't understand what it is that you are doing 
or how you are going to do it. Discussions led to 
the SWF. That gives us an SWF which fails to be 
able to mark irregular vowel length. We wish to 
use an orthography which *does* mark irregular 
vowel length. In general, this can be 
accomplished without changing basic word-shapes 
by the use of diacritics. What alternative is 
there? Do you propose to change basic word-shapes?

>>"The SWF fails to correct the second problem 
>>because it cannot distinguish between /y/ and 
>>/u/ since the graph used is <u>. I do not 
>>believe that <ou> can be used throughout for 
>>[u:] and [U] alike; it is absurd to contemplate 
>>writing <Louk> for 'Luke' [lu:k] and <louck> 
>>for 'luck' [lUk]. KS corrects this failing by 
>>using u-circumflex <û> for [u:] <Lûk> and 
>>u-grave <ù> for [U]
>><lùck>. (Both KS and the SWF take advantage of 
>>using <k> and <ck> to mark final vowel length 
>Yes, I know, I was there.

Your point? Do you agree? Disagree? As far as I 
know the SWF spells 'Luke' as <Luk> (which is 
[ly:k]~[li:k]) and 'luck' as <luck> (which is 
[lYk]~[lIk]). We tread lightly on the SWF by 
spelling <Lûk> and <lùck>. We will reject as 
absurd *<Louk> and *<louck>. What's the 

>>"I do *not* believe that we can recommend that 
>>diacritical marks be optional. That 
>>"philosophy" is childish, and does nothing to 
>>help learners or fluent readers either. Let's 
>>accept that a mature orthography for Revived 
>>Cornish must accept diacritics due to the 
>>nature of the language, and neither apologize 
>>for it nor try to weasel out of it by offering 
>>them as "optional". To write correct Irish, 
>>Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, or Cornish, 
>>diacritical marks are *required* and 
>Whatever - compulsory use of diacritics has been 
>rejected and I don't see that decision being 
>reversed any time soon, no matter whether we 
>consider it childish or not. I'm looking for 

Yes, it is true that compulsory use of diacritics 
was not accepted for the SWF, and indeed the 
promise which its authors and the Arbitrator made 
to us (that *specific* mention of the permission 
publishers would have to use them) was broken.

Nevertheless, we cannot use the SWF as it is. 
(Maybe you can. We can't.) Not for one year, 
never mind five. Its errors and inconsistencies 
are intolerable. The "system" is unsystematic 
enough not to be understandable -- and so it 
cannot be taught easily or learnt easily. I 
cannot think of "alternatives" within the SWF's 
"ban" on diacritics which can fix its problems. 
When people have raised them, I don't find them 
tenable. I'm open-minded, but honestly, we've 
thought about these questions for a LONG time. 
The corrections we are proposing will give us an 
orthography which is authentic (the SWF's 
Traditional Form is not) and accurate (the SWF is 
not) and with which we can publish teaching and 
learning materials.

>>  >Examples:
>>  >SWF <brentin>; RMC /"brentin/, RLC /"brentin/;
>>  >SWF <kegyn>; RMC /"kegin/, RLC /"keg at n/;
>>  >SWF <tir>; RMC /ti:r/, RLC /ti:r/;
>>  >SWF <bys> ~ <bes>; RMC */bI:z/ = [bi:z] ~ [bIz] ~ [beIz] etc., RLC /be:z/;
>>"I think Dan is really mixing up things here, 
>>because on the one hand he is talking about 
>>stressed monosyllables and on the other 
>>unstressed final syllables. These are not the 
>>same things."
>In the SWF both <i> and <y> is written in 
>stressed and unstressed syllables alike. Thus it 
>is legitimate to discuss <i> and <y> in both 
>stressed and unstressed syllables. That does not 
>mean that I'm mixing anything up, thank you very 

I don't set out to insult you, Dan. Please don't assume that I am doing so.

Condition I:

(1) In stressed monosyllables, <i> is used in the SWF for [i:]. No problem.

(2) In stressed monosyllables, <y> is used in the 
SWF for words which have the alternation 
[i:]~[e:]. Problem: clashes with (3).

(3) In unstressed monosyllables, <y> is used in 
the SWF for [I]. Problem: clashes with (2).

We have solutions for Condition I.

Condition II:

(4) In polysyllables derived from (1), <i> is 
retained though it is short (i.e. [I].

I don't think there are any other *rules* in the 
SWF about how <y> or <i> are distributed in 
polysyllables. We have been trying to work out a 
set of rules which *will* work.

>>"KS writes <tir> and <bÿs>~<bës> in 
>>monosyllables. We all know that [bI:z] is a 
>>failed "aspirational" pronunciation of KK, 
>>which is either realized as [bi:z] with correct 
>>vowel length or as [bIz] in erroneous 
>>hypercorrection. [beIz] would, I think, be an 
>>English-influenced [be:z] and so need not be 
>Note the different brackets, phonemic and 
>phonetic transcriptions, or are you mixing 
>things up now?

No, I was not. I wrote <> (graphemic, not 
phonemic) and then cited your [] (phonetic) in my 
discussion. Please look at the context (your 
message) again.

>>"But KS is happy with <tir> and <bÿs>~<bës>."
>KS is an entity that can be happy - interesting personificationŠ

In KS we are happy with <tir> and <bÿs>~<bës>.

>>"Where Dan has seemed to me to mix things up is 
>>in his other examples. What does /'brentin/ 
>Well, what do you think it means? I think you 
>would recognise a phonemic transcription when 
>confronted with one!

I do, but I don't think that phonemic 
transcription is helpful here, since you were 
positing <kegin> and <kegen> I found it difficult 
to follow what you were saying within the 
phonemic transcription. I used phonetic 
transcription for accuracy.

Also: when I cite phonemic forms, I know what I 
mean, because I work from the KS phonemic 
description. I don't know what frame of reference 
you are using. The SWF dodges the phoneme 
question pretty completely. (The phonetic 
descriptions in the SWF document are, I believe, 
wilfully deceptive in terms of the vowels. The 
SWF claims that <y> in stressed monosyllables is 
pronounced [I:] in RMC. This isn't true. UC and 
UCR speakers say [i:], and so do most KK 
speakers, except for those who misunderstand the 
rules and mistakenly pronounce [I] with no 

>>"Surely ['brEnt at n] though likelier ['brEnt1n] 
>>with i-coloured schwa. How does this differ 
>>from /'kegin/? Surely this is ['kEg at n] though 
>>likelier ['kEg1n] with i-coloured schwa. That 
>>is to say, the two words are pronounced 
>>identically in both RMC and RLC -- both with 
>>[1], i-coloured schwa as in English <wicket> 
>OK, to spell it out /i/ = [I] and /i:/ = [i:].

I think that the unstressed vowel in both these 
words is i-coloured schwa [1], allphone of /i/. I 
think both should be written with <y>.

>>"We may have need for <ÿ>~<ë> distinction in 
>>some short vowels, but not, I think, in short 
>>unstressed vowels. I don't believe that a 
>><kegÿn>~<kegën> distinction is found in Revived 
>>Cornish -- and if we were to mark this, we 
>>would certainly be multiplying the use of the 
>>diaeresis many many many times."
>That is if the use of diaeresis has in any way 
>been accepted - which officially, as far as the 
>SWF goes, it hasn't. So, I wouldn't stop looking 
>for alternative solutions just yet.

I don't follow you here. It has been promised 
that the SWF will remain unchanged for five 
years. We *know* that the SWF has not accepted 
the uise of diaeresis. Not will it consider doing 
so for five years. I was told by Jenefer Lowe, by 
Trond Trosterud, and by Albert Bock that I (and 
my colleagues) were free to use whatever 
orthography we liked. So we're going to put right 
what is wrong with the SWF and use that.

>>"I don't believe that the distinction KK makes 
>>between <i> and <y> in unstressed final 
>>syllables is defensible. <-yn> and <-in> in 
>>unstressed position are pronounced identically. 
>>KS writes <-yn> for these words and uses final 
>><-in> in words where that final syllable is 
>>stressed and the vowel is long, as in <desin> 
>>[dE'zi:n] 'design', constrin [kOn'stri:n] 
>I know, I was there. Still looking for alternatives.

Evidently you are, but it's hard for me to see 
what you are thinking in terms of systematic 
revision of the SWF. And who's going to accept 
your alternatives? Are you asking us to do so? Or 
are you going to implement them in your SWF 
dictionary? (I do ***not*** mean to sound 
aggressive or unsupportive -- I just don't know 
what you are doing. And I don't know where you 
stand with regard to the CLP. Nicholas and I were 
shut out and discouraged from trying to 
participate in the SWF process. Your work found 
favour with the SWF authors. No rancour here -- 
but we don't even have Albert's current e-mail 
address, though he was recently in Cornwall. I 
assume he's not interested in what we are doing 

>>"The <-yn>/<-in> distinction in the SWF is indefensible. Here's why:
>>In GKK 1993, George explains (p. 20) that KK 
>><i> /i/ is [i:] when stressed, and "when 
>>and short, the same but reduced in duration". 
>>He also explains that when unstressed it is 
>>[I]. He then explains that KK <y> /I/ is [I] 
>>when short, and "when half-long and long, the 
>>same sound extended appropriately". So in 1993 
>>he says nothing about unstressed <y>."
>OK, you obviously didn't listen to my proposal, 
>so here it is again. SWF spells <i> for this /i/ 
>where it is [I] in both Middle and Late Cornish, 
>but allows for <y> or <e> where Late Cornish 
>based Revived Cornish has [@] and Middle Cornish 
>based Revived Cornish has [I].


Do you believe that the SWF makes provision for 
the option of <y> or <e> in *unstressed* 
syllables? This was to my knowledge *never* 
discussed in the AHG. I believe you are mistaken 
as regards the scope of that option. In §3.5 the 
SWF states: "Speakers of RLC or Tudor Cornish who 
pronounce [e:] in the monosyllabic forms of these 
words my write them with <e> instead of <y>." (In 
KS we write this alternation <ë> and <ÿ> (I'm 
saying this for the benefit of those who mightn't 
be sure, Dan).)

So... I don't think the SWF allows for 
<kegyn>~<kegen>, If it did, we would have to 
write this as <kegÿn>~<kegën> -- and there are 
many many unstressed syllables in Cornish that 
could be affected.

>>  "In the Gerlyvrik 2005, however, he gives the following table:
>><i> when stressed is [i:] [i:\] [i], when unstressed [I]
>><y> when stressed is [I:] [I:\] [I], when unstressed [I]
>>Then he writes <bryntin> ['brIntin] and <kegin> ['ke:\gIn]."
>Yes, that is unfortunate, but George wasn't considering LC which I am.

Neil Kennedy's dictionary writes both <kegin> and 
<kegen>. Attested forms include <kegon>. I find 
it very difficult to believe that this is 
anything but an orthographic distinction -- not a 
phonetic or phonemic distinction -- and one that 
doesn't add value or simplicity to readers or 

>>"What does this mean? That the suffix in the 
>>first word is *stressed* but in the second 
>>*unstressed*? Yet George writes both <-in>. How 
>>is the learner to make any sense of this? And 
>>the SWF doesn't even write both <-in>: it 
>>distinguishes them. How? On the basis of the 
>>Gerlyvrik's phonetic respellings? Why is it 
>><brentin> not <bryntin> then?"
>When a new proposal comes along, it would be 
>nice if you could abstract and leave the 
>confines of your own proposal, just for the sake 
>of discussionŠ

I'm sorry I've displeased you. It wasn't my 
intention. But I don't believe that the premise 
of what you propose (<y>~<e> are permitted to 
alternate for schwa) is correct, and I don't 
believe that offering options in unstressed final 
syllables is warranted. I may say, for <kitchen> 
either ['kItS1n] or ['kItS at n] and the difference 
is not significant. (I wonder, idly, thinking of 
vowel harmony, if I use the former in the phrase 
"kitchen sink" and the latter in "kitchen 

>>"On this matter I have no confidence in the 
>>SWF. And if I can't work out how these choices 
>>were made, what choice has any learner in 
>>working out when to write one letter and when 
>>to write the other? I don't believe the AHG 
>>decided explicitly on this alternation 
>><-yn>/<-in>. I have a feeling it has to do with 
>>the word "etymology" -- and since that concept 
>>is left undefined in the context of these 
>>choices, it is no wonder that there are 
>Yes, and that's why I'm trying to look for alternatives with an open mindŠ

Alternatives for the SWF? That won't be revised 
for five years. Alternatives for KS? Your 
suggestion would have us multiply the visibility 
of diacritics manyfold, since we would have to 
write <kegÿn>~<kegën> for the same reasons we 
must write <bÿs>~<bës>. But in the former case I 
don't believe we have a significant dialect 

I don't believe that my taking this view shows 
that my mind is closed to the alternative. But I 
don't see the benefit of what you propose.

>>"We have heard that the Partnership has 
>>recognized a series of edge-cases. For once I 
>>am copying the authors of the SWF and the CLP 
>>officer in charge of the process. The problem 
>>of the edge cases most likely has to do with 
>>the word "etymology" which was probably 
>>introduced into the AHG discussions by Andrew 
>>Climo, on the basis of work we had done on KS.
>>In that context, we had said we would retain 
>>"etymological" spellings in words like <colon> 
>>because in the derived form the unstressed 
>>vowel was restored as <colonow>. (We needed to 
>>describe this because the earlier drafts of KS 
>>would use <-an> throughout for final [@n]. The 
>>context here is important.) This use of the 
>>word "etymological" was mine, and it was 
>>imprecise. Somehow, however, it seems to have 
>>been taken to mean "as in Ken George's KK 
>>reconstructions". As such it is a recipe for 
>>conflict. Why should <tavas> be respelt 
>><taves>? On the basis of "etymology", in that 
>>the form "should" be <taves>? In Revived 
>>Cornish, the word has two plurals: UC has 
>><tavasow> and we have <tavosow> from Tregear 
>>which was unknown to Nance. The Welsh is 
>><tafod> pl <tafodau>; the Breton is <teod> pl 
>><teodoù>. Old Cornish <tauot>. In the texts 
>><tavas> is something like 5 times more common 
>>than <taves>. On the same "etymological" basis 
>>as <colon>/<colonow> we might write the wholly 
>>unattested *<tavos> but of course, neither 
>>*<tavos> nor *<tavesow> are known."
>Yes, we've had this discussion before and as 
>Nicholas pointed out */e/ is the correct 
>etymological vowel, AND it is attested, which 
>means that the only reason for being against the 
>spelling <taves> is because it is <taves> in KK. 
>Though I may be mistaken.

Not "the correct etymological vowel": "the 
expected etymological vowel". A lot of things are 
attested. That's not sufficient. And wielding the 
word "etymological" as though it were a magic 
wand is not sufficient either, in my view -- 
though that is what the SWF does, pointing 
evidently to GKK as the magic box wherein lie the 

I'm aware of some singular/plural alternations 
with e/o: <noweth>/<nowodhow> for instance. 
Perhaps <taves>/<tavosow> is defensible on 
grounds like these -- a declension class -- 
though the fact that <tavasow> had currency in 
Revived Cornish might mitigate against that, if 
both <tavasow> and <tavosow> are permitted 
alternates (since a/o alternations in 
singular/plural may not be part of the language 
pattern). If we were to contemplate <taves> (in 
particular, as something people feel strongly 
about) we'd damn well better have good solid 
linguistic grounds for it. Better than "it's the 
expected etymological form" and "it's a weakly 
attested spelling in the texts". Because I am 
sure that where it is weakly attested it was 
['tav at s] <tavas>/<taves> and not ['tavEs].

>>  "And from here the whole enterprise brings us 
>>to the question "Do we trust George's 
>>reconstructions and etymologies?" And the 
>>answer is No. We do not. Not everything is 
>>wrong. Of course not. How could it be? But KK 
>>has been under sustained academic criticism 
>>since it was introduced. It is not "safe" 
>>enough to serve as the base for the 
>>distribution of vowels in unstressed position. 
>>The "edge cases" are not really "edge": this is 
>>a fairly fundamental problem."
>Yes, but there are many instances where George 
>is correct and we may not dismiss them because 
>they're George's etymologies. That would be very 
>silly indeed.

I don't believe that "Accept all of George's 
etymologies and then check his work for errors" 
is the right way to approach orthography design 
for Revived Cornish. It's clear that the authors 
of the SWF thought otherwise, since the phonology 
they show is so firmly based in KK theory (for 
RMC, ignorning UC). Nicholas has shown so many 
errors in KK -- stemming from the 
computer-assisted algorithms and the 
"orthographic profiles" -- that I would err on 
the side of caution and distrust.

>>"In any case, to get back to Dan's original 
>>question... I do not believe that a distinction 
>><kegyn>~<kegen> is defensible. KS can write 
>><-yn> for final unstressed i-coloured schwa and 
>><-in> for final stressed [i:].
>The variants <kegyn ~ kegen> are completely 
>acceptable because that is exactly what occurs 
>in traditional Cornish.

Completely acceptable for what purpose, Dan? For 
normalized orthography? Why? Is there a 
significant pronunciation difference that needs 
to be marked, taught, and learnt? We have seen 
that <flehes> and <flehys> and <flehas> all occur 
as spellings for the plural of <flogh> in 
traditional Cornish. We aren't going to permit 
*all* of these, are we? Why would we? 
Orthographic normalization does not simply accept 
any orthographic form because it simply "occurs" 
in traditional Cornish. I don't believe that 
<kegyn> ~ <kegen> is a significant distinction 
that needs to be preserved in standard 
orthography and taught and learnt. I believe that 
<bÿs> ~ <bës> is, however.

>PS: Š still very pissed off at the tone of your dismissalŠ

I wasn't feeling nasty while I was discussing 
your posting. I intended no offence. You've taken 
offence. I regret that. But I did not set out to 
insult you. I apologize if I have caused offence 
and bad feelings.
Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com

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