[Spellyans] Rules for the apostrophe

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Sun Jun 6 10:22:19 IST 2010

On 5 Jun 2010, at 20:27, Eddie Climo wrote:

> 'Smart' quotes: some further thoughts.
> Let us recall the small problem mentioned recently of words beginning with an apostrophe, and one's software automatically substituting a '6' quote mark for the correct '9' one.

Oh,  it is a genuine problem. And one encounters it very regularly in Scottish Gaelic, and quite regularly in Irish poetry. Having typeset books in both, I (as a professional) know what it is like to get in a manuscript from an ordinary writer of either. It's a mess we don't need to saddle the Cornish Revival with (and which is easy to achieve, with a simple rule "Avoid a space before or after an apostrophe").

> It was suggested that we add yet another class of diacritic to the already over-large set in KS, one which might be dubbed the 'dum-laut',

Could you leave off the C24-style satire, Eddie? It doesn't do your argument any good here.

> as it's intended for those who are too ignorant to know how to get their software to display what it should (but yet are of sufficiently refined typographical sensibility that they're appalled by the punctuational solecism they're committing!)

Your characterization of this as a "new" diacritic is incorrect.

> These (numerous) dissatisfied souls, we were told, would find themselves typing 6gan, 6gas and 6ga instead of 9gan, 9gas, 9ga. The proposed 'solution' was to apply the 'dum-laut' so they'd type gàn, gàs, gà.

No. The proposed solution was not to use the apostrophe with certain words. This happens to make syllables with anomalous vowel length, which is regularly marked with a grave in KS.

> Alas, these accentomaniacs in their overweeing diacritophilia forgot to consider one small problem: the 'dumb-laut' is being forced to do 3 jobs all at the same time:
> 	— to show a missing '9' apostrophe,

No. That's a cringe to RMC. And there's a linguistic difference you have 

> 	— and to indicate an irregular short vowel,

It's the regular rule for all monosyllables with an irregular short vowel.

> 	— to keep LC users happy who (allegedly) don't want any sort of apostrophe at all.

An interesting parallel in Scots: There used to be Scots orthographies peppered with apostrophes to show where the "missing" letters from Standard English were. Nowadays they do not cringe before Standard English, and they omit those apostrophes and write <wi> and not <wi'> (for "with"). 

> The problem comes when you have a word with both:
> 	— a leading '9' apostrophe

But you needn't.

> 	— and a predictable long vowel (where no diacritic is used in KS).

Then you need no diacritic.

> Example of this include:
> 	— 9vas (contraction of < a vas > )
> 	— 9ves ( contraction of < a-ves > )
> Concoctions like *vàs and •vès give the wrong pronunciation, while *vâs and *vês are incorrect.

Your analysis is not correct.

(1) The word for 'our' has two linguistic forms, which differ in stress. We have "ágan" [ˈæɡən] and "agán" [əˈɡən]. (I have used the acute to mark stress here in case the IPA doesn't come through for you.) In LC the unstressed schwa of the second is (quite regularly) dropped. In KS we can also drop it, but this gives us "gan" [gæːn] according to the regular orthographic rules, which is, regularly, written "gàn" in KS, just as other words with short vowels in positions which ought to be long are. There's nothing new here. 

(2) "Mas" is mutated in "a vas", but the word "mas" ‘good’ has a permanently mutated form "vas", which means ‘of use, of worth, acceptable’: nyns yw an margh vas ‘the horse is no good’. In KS when particles like this are dropped (as they often are in LC) we just drop them. "Me a vydn ow tos" = "Me a vydn tos". We don't ask LC users to write "Me a vydn ’tos" or "Me a vydn ' tos". So if "a vas" is shortened it's just "vas" [væːz] which regularly has a long vowel. No problem.

(3) KS writes "aves" [əˈveːz] not "a-ves", and here again, when the unstressed first syllable is dropped, no apostrophe is inserted. Since "ves" is regularly long [veːz] there is nothing to mark.

> No, the 'dum-laut' offers no help with cases such as these, and therefore should be discarded as a flawed idea. 

The grave in "gàn" does NOT, as you suggested above, stand in for an apostrophe. We just don't write an apostrophe in these words, and we mark their length according to the same way we mark the length of any monosyllable.

There is nothing "new" here.

> But no more bluddy diacritics. Please!

This isn't an instance of "more". 

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

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