[Spellyans] Lhuyd's Cornish
njawilliams at gmail.com
Wed Jul 15 21:18:29 IST 2009
At the risk of making myself even more unpopular, I would say that
George didn't really do the most damage to the revival.
The damage was done by Nance [howls of outrage from various quarters].
Nance was an antiquarian, not a linguist. He was meticulous as a
scholar, but when it came to the reconstruction of Cornish he had some
interlocking prejudices (?preferences) which ultimately did great
He was quintessentially obscurantist. He hated water in pipes and
preferred drawing it from the well. He loathed telegraph poles because
they spoilt the view and because they were new-fangled.
In a word Nance was anti-modern. This is reflected in Unified Cornish.
Instead of developing Jenner's Cornish, based on the later materials
but using the
earlier sources (a process later I described as tota Cornicitas)
Nance went back deliberately to the fifteenth century. His foundation
text was the Passion Poem, the most archaic and indeed obscure piece
of writing in Middle Cornish. This was consonant with Nance's
preferences, but it did mean that the revival was backward looking and
To make matters worse Nance preferred the invented word or the word
found only in Old Cornish (12th century) to the ordinary word in the
Middle and Late periods, because such later items were too English. As
a result for years the revival has been saddled with
stevel 'room', kenethel 'nation', enep 'face', avon 'river', mil
'animal', etc. when the actual words used were rom, nacyon, fâss,
ryver, and best, etc.
Caradar wanted to writes clowes, cowsel because such forms were
commoner than clewes, kewsel. Nance overruled him.
Nance regarded pre-occlusion as a late corruption and banned it from
UC, even though it was all around him in the toponymy of West
Cornwall. And preocclusion was in Lhuyd, whose phonology Nance used
Nance knew perfectly well about anodhans, gansans, etc. but didn't
allow them. He knew about forms like ma's teffons in y'm bus but
wouldn't countenance them.
Nance wanted his Cornish to be a complete, compact perfect language at
once wholly Celtic and wholly medieval. He invented whole paradigms,
which were unnecessary since traditional Cornish used auxiliaries. He
disliked me a vyn mos 'I will go' presumably because it was based on
English. Thus nowadays, 50 years after Nance's death, revivalists are
saying Eus meur a dus a vyn desky Kernowek?'for 'Are there many people
who want to learn Cornish?' when the sentence actually means 'Are
there many people who will learn Cornish?' 'who want to learn Cornish'
is a garsa desky Kernowek. Revivalists are still saying me a drig dhe
Gambron 'I live in Camborne' when traditional Cornish would have said
Yth ov vy trigys in Cambron. This is one of Nance's mistakes.
Me a drig means 'I shall dwell'. Nance also coined the wholly spurious
mos ha bos 'become'.
I suspect that Nance adopted me a drig 'I live' because he thought the
present-future was mostly present. In fact it is mostly future and the
unmarked present is made by bos and the participle, e.g. Nyns esos ov
attendya an laha 'You do not pay attention to the law' BM 848. In fact
this periphrastic form is universal in TH and SA. Because he failed to
notice this, Nance made a drig mean 'dwells' not 'will dwell' as it
does always in traditional Cornish.
Nance does not seem to have allowed fatell, tell, dell, introducing
indirect speech even though it is found as early as the Passion Poem.
I suspect that Nance used in kever with nouns, because Breton e keñver
is so used. But there are further points for which there really was no
excuse. Nance didn't distinguish the vowel in deus 'come' for that in
a dus 'of people', though Jenner did. Caradar even suggested that the
preterite of bos be written bue (as it is in the texts; cf. UCR).
Nance ignored the suggestion.
Nance didn't notice that in the texts -gh occurs at the end of a
syllable, but h at the beginning. So he wrote fleghes and arghans.
This latter he used for 'money', because mona (the actual word in
Middle and Late Cornish) was too like English 'money'. So revivalists
say arkanz 'money' with sound substitution, where neither the
phonology nor the word itself is correct.
If one reads Lyver an Pymp Marthus Seleven one is struck how precious,
quaint and full of inversion is Nance's prose style. It is quite
unlike the down to earth, workmanlike prose that Caradar wrote. I
wonder whether Nance really expected people to use his sort of Cornish.
In fact for the most part they didn't. That is why even now so few
people are really fluent, and this has nothing to do with the spelling
wars. In spite of George's Bretonising and aspirational phonology, all
speakers of revived Cornish have the same sound system, and it is
pretty much the phonology of English.
In this respect George's influence on the revival has been minimal.
The only way in which he has affected it is by his a priori spelling,
which survives in part in SWF M. In the long term these a priori
features will disappear. Unfortunately the Nancean idioms will persist.
The real difference is that everybody, including George, accepted
Nance's morphology and syntax, but George's spelling (and its
aspirational phonology) was clearly a construct and thus subject to
In my dictionary (which was written at the end of the last century, I
followed Nance, because I had learnt from him and from Caradar and UC
was my yardstick. It is only by reading the texts again and again that
I have gradually come to realise just what a large distance there is
between Nancean UC and traditional Cornish. It is to Gendall's credit
that he also realised that and mined the late sources. Whether his
English based spelling was sensible is another matter.
On 15 Gor 2009, at 20:16, Craig Weatherhill wrote:
> When you bear in mind that the revival is now 105 years old, an
> argument for 'evolution' can, I think, have some justification.
> What isn't evolutionary, to my mind, is the drafting and imposition
> of highly non-traditional graphs, such as those brought in by Ken
> George. That was revolutionary and markedly so, not evolutionary.
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