[Spellyans] Cornish Orthography

ewan wilson butlerdunnit at ntlworld.com
Sat May 29 21:32:29 BST 2010

Jan Wheg,

Yes, I can see where you're coming from as Late speaker. I think the grammar of Late ( as I've found it in Tavas A Ragadazow and the likes of Rod Lyons - I think!- and Kernewek Es ) is sufficiently distinct from both Unified and KK to demand, at the very least, greater concentration than would be the case in Unifieds dialogue or KK dialoge. And I imagine the pronunciation/grammar gap between KK and Unified -for all the mutual antipathy - wouldn't be quite such a leap. 

I guess it helps to bear in mind that the one, standard English orthography must do the job of representing a far greater 'fractured' language, with several local accents 'realising it' and some of them virtually mutually incomprehensible: try listening to an Aberdonian in full, broad throttle! Even fellow Scots in the West struggle to know what's being said! 
I think the difference for Cornish was very accurately highlighted some years ago by a very learned fellow who was writing from a sort of PostModernist/Sociological perspective in one of the Cornish Studies back in the 90s. Normally that'd immediately put me off but he spoke some sound common sense. Basically he seemed to be saying because Cornish is bereft of a pool of native speakers it is more subject to fraught orthographic argumentation - and arguments! 

The sad thing for me is that so few of the academic Celticists are willing to accept Cornish( either traditional or revived) as a subject fit for study. I recall years ago that Glasgow University Celtic Dept at least covere every single one of the Celtic languages at Hons level. Cornish formed part of an option paper covering Breton and Cornish with the latter examining the traditional texts. It was taught by genial Welshman, the late Donald Howells.
It is sad to see how neglected these great Celtic texts have become- and also surely a bit silly to consider the Revival phenomenon with its rich body of literature and complex linguistic and social issues, as 'unworthy' of academic treatment! Yet some university departments study comic strips, forsooth!   Even places like Aberystwyth don't seem to cover it. 

Personally, I do hope a SWF or KS will emerge, even if it means tweaking my grammar yet again! 

Oll an gwella!


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: janicelobb at tiscali.co.uk 
  To: spellyans at kernowek.net 
  Sent: Friday, May 28, 2010 11:54 AM
  Subject: Re: [Spellyans] Cornish Orthography

  Ha Ewan
  Welcome to Babel. You have high-lighted another problem! Not only do we have differences in spelling but we also have differences in pronunciation (and grammar). So, as a Late Cornish speaker I frequently struggle to understand Unified and Kemmyn speakers. Nicholas Williams is very patient - he speaks ve-ry slow-ly to me! So, one orthography cannot suit both at the same time. The SWF has "umbrella graphs" - which I do not like. I have yet to be convinced that KS can address the problem.
  Oll an gwella
  Jan Lobb

    ----Original Message----
    From: butlerdunnit at ntlworld.com
    Date: 27/05/2010 22:31 
    To: <Spellyans at kernowek.net>
    Subj: [Spellyans] Cornish Orthography

    I've always been interested in the Celtic languages and indeed part of my degree is in Scottish Gaelic and includes some Irish, Welsh and Manx. Sadly no Breton or Cornish but being a lover of Cornwall ( and Penzance & Penwith in particular!) I began teaching myself Cornish years ago with the aid of both Cornish for Beginners and Caradar's Cornish Simplified Vols1&2. which I acquired from the old Edinburgh University bookshop, James Thin in 1978!

    I have been intermittently 'learning' the language ever since- in tandem with or at the expense of keeping up my Welsh!  And though I find it fascinating comparing the two sister languages I must confess to having a great affection for the Cornish. It is such an expressive tongue, I feel. One of my favourite memories is of visiting a woolen mills in Cornwall where we were all welcomed on the coach by a lady speaking what sounded like fluent Welsh but of course was fluent Cornish!! 

    After the late 80s I must confess the orthographic divergence of the language proved a bit of an obstacle, simply because it was difficult to decide which was the 'best' form to adopt and at a purely practical level it could be very confusing trying to work out which material was in which orthography! Even an enthusiast like myself was a bit daunted! 
    And though I have tried to follow the very technical and high powered arguments from the main contenders I cannot pretend to any wonderful proficiency in understanding phonemics and phonetics or how these impact on spelling. What initially seems a straight forward enough issue soon becomes tremendously complicated!
    If I'm honest my sympathies would lie more with the Unified and Late schools as they seek to conserve what was actually written in the authentic texts but I can see the attraction of KK too! 
    My own feeling on it all boils down to this- can any orthography ever be 'perfect' or even close thereto? O.k., I know the English 'system' can be a bit chaotic having evolved like Topsy but Cornish surely has never been as 'irregular' as that so conserving traditional spellings at least has the virtue of conneting us to the 'real' thing....though as the arguments over Unified have proven even modest 'unifying' or regularising can be a monumental task!

    Finally, a question for the technical linguistic experts- how does one establish which sounds are phonemes and which are not?!

    Ewan W. Wilson       


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