[Spellyans] A little essay for "Penny"

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Wed Feb 11 14:49:37 GMT 2009

On 11 Feb 2009, at 13:17, Jon Mills wrote:

> You write, "The phonemic distinction is voiceless and voiced."
> Phonemes are determined by minimal contrast. Thus /p/ and /d/ are  
> determined to be separate phonemes of English in the minimal  
> contrast pair 'pie' and 'die'. However a phoneme is not necessarily  
> determined by contrast of only one distinctive feature. /p/ has the  
> features: bilabial, plosive, fortis and voiceless. /d/ has the  
> features: alveolar, plosive, lenis and voiced.

It is equally true to say that all of the features are not necessarily  
relevant to determining a phoneme. In English, /p/ and /b/ are  
distinct because of voicing. /p/ whether fortis or lenis is still / 
p/; /b/ whether fortis or lenis is still /b/.

> I still do not understand why you maintain that "It is unlikely that  
> Dolly Pentreath or her contemporaries were speaking English or  
> Cornish with fortis and lenis consonants ...." Since Proto-brythonic  
> and Proto-germanic were not spoken in the time of Dolly Pentreath,  
> they have little bearing on whether Dolly Pentreath distinguished  
> fortis and lenis consonants.

The discussion was with one of our Kebmyn colleagues. They believe  
that fortis and lenis were active features throughout much of the  
Middle Cornish period.

> If the language contact to which you are referring is between  
> Cornish and English, and you are supposing that the phonology of  
> English somehow influenced Cornish phonology, then one must assume  
> that Dolly Pentreath would have distinguished fortis and lenis,  
> because English did. Or are you seriously suggesting that Dolly  
> Pentreath pronounced /p/, /t/ and /k/ as voiceless but not fortis,  
> and /b/, /d/ and /g/ as voiced but not lenis?

I'm saying that fortis and lenis are ancillary to the phonology of the  
English phonemes (as is aspiration, cf. "pit" and "spit") and that  
even if fortis and lenis were a stronger feature in the phonemics of  
earlier Cornish, certainly by 1750 (indeed doubtless by 1650) the  
fortis/lenis distinction had been assimilated to voiceless/voiced due  
to mutual contact with English. That there is no trace of anything  
like a strong fortis/lenis distinction in the English of Cornwall  
suggests that it could not have been a salient feature of Tudor or  
Late Cornish.

(Fortis and lenis are salient features in some northern dialects of  
English; interestingly and not surprisingly one finds similar features  
in Danish.)

Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com

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