[Spellyans] Blejyow or Flowrys?

Craig Weatherhill craig at agantavas.org
Mon May 31 08:26:57 BST 2010


I've been remiss in not welcoming you to the Spellyans list, so let me  
put that right.  Wolcum os ta!

Prof. Glanville Price's research interests are listed as: Historical  
French Grammar; Romance linguistics; Channel Isles French; Celtic  
Sociolinguistics; Cornish.  Does that make him a professional Celticist?

Neil Kennedy is still active.  Not as much as he was because he's been  
teaching in Brittany for several years, but is soon returning (I  
believe to study for a Doctorate).  Some of us met up with him  
recently and he's still keen.  I've been encouraging him to get his  
'Nebbaz Gerriow an Moar' published.  If Nance's 'Sea Words' was good,  
then this is outstanding (I have a photocopy which is greatly  


On 30 Me 2010, at 23:10, ewan wilson wrote:

> Michael,
> You mention your work on lexical stuff and I wonder if that means  
> you are intending eventually to produce a new dictionary. I ask  
> mainly because I'm thinking of investing in Nicholas' most recent  
> (UCR) dictionary to help me with his New Testament which I'm also  
> hoping to acquire. If the latter's going to end up in SWF or KS then  
> perhaps I should hold off.
> My own ultimate aim is to attempt a translation of the Westminster  
> Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechism into Cornish. I've made a  
> start to the Catechism but it's halting work!! Is the Book of Common  
> Prayer available in Cornish?
> Gorhemmynadow a'n gwella,
> Ewan.
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Michael Everson" <everson at evertype.com 
> >
> To: "Standard Cornish discussion list" <spellyans at kernowek.net>
> Sent: Sunday, May 30, 2010 9:35 PM
> Subject: Re: [Spellyans] Blejyow or Flowrys?
>> On 30 May 2010, at 18:11, janicelobb at tiscali.co.uk wrote:
>>> Will somebody please explain to my limited intelligence why, if  
>>> two words are known to have existed for something, we have to  
>>> ration ourselves to one.
>> It's a good question, Jan. What Nicholas has been saying that he  
>> believes that the context of word usage is important. In Old  
>> Cornish -- a different language from Middle/Late Cornish (which are  
>> two ends of the spectrum of registers of a single language) -- the  
>> word "enep" is attested with the meaning 'page' (of a book). A good  
>> word. It's not attested in Old Cornish as meaning "a person's  
>> face", though. The word that we know Cornish speakers did use for  
>> that is the very widely attested [fæːs] (in KS spelling fâss).
>> Nance, for some reason (Nicholas suggests that it was purism or  
>> archaism), decided he didn't want to recommend "fâss" for 'face',  
>> but rather "enep". Nance didn't suppress the word "fâss", but he  
>> and some other early revivalists tended not to use it.
>> Nichola doesn't suggest we suppress "enep". He just thinks that  
>> Revived Cornish should be as like the traditional language as  
>> possible -- and that means he prefers in his own translations, and  
>> prefers to recommend to others, that the word "fâss" be used for a  
>> person's face, and "enep" for flat surfaces of other kinds.
>> To my mind, that's all to the good. "Enep" has a place. "Fâss" has  
>> a place. Our Cornish is more accurate if we use words the way the  
>> native speakers did.
>> Sometimes this means that someone like Nicholas, now, after  
>> studying new texts which have come to light and studying the works  
>> of earlier Revivalists, finds that the usage of the earlier  
>> Revivalists isn't as close to the way that native speakers of  
>> Cornish used the language. In my opinion, it's perfectly fine to  
>> criticize the earlier Revivalists when they are found to have  
>> erred. Caradar criticized a number of features of Nance's Unified  
>> Cornish, and Nicholas and I, at least, agree with Caradar's  
>> criticisms. Why shouldn't we? Nance wasn't perfect. Neither was  
>> Caradar. Neither was Talek. Neither is Nicholas. Neither am I. But  
>> what we in the present generation can do is to try to do better  
>> than those in previous generations did. That sometimes means  
>> saying, boldly, "This feature in UC is mistaken, and shouldn't be  
>> perpetuated, since we now know that in Traditional Cornish they did  
>> something else." Or it might mean saying "This feature in UCR is  
>> mistaken, and shouldn't be perpetuated". And one day, certainly,  
>> there will be grounds to say "This feature in KS is mistaken, and  
>> shouldn't be perpetuated".
>> There's nothing wrong with criticizing mistakes in Nance. There's  
>> nothing wrong with criticizing mistakes I make. I for my part just  
>> don't understand why Eddie gets all upset about it. Nance did a lot  
>> of very good things. He was a fine lexicographer. Linguistically,  
>> however, his orthographic system has a number of features in it  
>> which it is quite legitimate to criticize.
>> (1) Unlike Jenner, Nance did not recognize a phonemic distinction  
>> between /y/ and /ø/. We know from the history of sound changes that  
>> Middle Cornish words in /y/ unround to /i/ in Late Cornish, and  
>> that Middle Cornish words in /ø/ unround to /e/ in Late Cornish. So  
>> it was a mistake for him not to recognize this distinction. I  
>> believe it was Caradar who first pointed this out -- this criticism  
>> is not new. UCR, and KK, and KS1, and KD, and SWF, and KS all  
>> distinguish the two phonemes. UC is the odd man out.
>> (2) Nance tended to write voiceless consonants (k, t, p) after long  
>> vowels in stressed monosyllables. This feature of writing is found  
>> in the Ordinalia, but elsewhere it is quite common to find  
>> voiceless consonants (b, d, g) written in those words, and  
>> voiceless ones after short vowels in final unstressed position.  
>> Nance writes "fōk" 'hearth' pl. "fogow" and "crȳk" 'crack' pl.  
>> "crygow"; he actually writes "fōk(g)" and "crȳk(g)", so it's clear  
>> that he knew that both forms were there. But he recommended the  
>> wrong ones! It's now generally accepted that in these words the  
>> consonant was voiceless, so "fōg" and "crȳg" are the better  
>> spellings. In my opinion it's particularly important because  
>> learners of Cornish tend to shorten vowels before voiceless  
>> consonants and lengthen them before voiced ones --  like in English  
>> "back" vs "bag", where the first vowel is a bit shorter than the  
>> second. Nance's spellings of these words tend to encourage wrong  
>> pronunciation. UCR, and the SWF, and KS all use the voiced consonant.
>> (3) Nance in some cases used unattested reconstructed words instead  
>> of the attested loanwords which native speakers of Cornish used.  
>> OK, you might say, what does it matter? Well, first, if we use  
>> words as the native speakers used them, we're not making any  
>> mistakes and our Cornish is authentic. That just speaks to what it  
>> is someone as a learner wants to do. I don't think it's wrong for  
>> Nicholas to encourage learners to imitate the native speakers  
>> rather than to imitate the early Revivalists. Like him, I recommend  
>> that people use "in gwir" since that's attested, instead of "yn  
>> whir" which is not. They mean exactly the same thing. Why would you  
>> prefer a Revivalist's mistake (no matter how well intentioned or  
>> logical) to something that a native speaker used? For my money, the  
>> latter is more authentic. But -- and here is where Nicholas  
>> suggests that Nance's choice did some harm to the Revival -- when  
>> people decide not to want to use attested words, but instead to use  
>> "pure" Celtic words, then they are changing the language.
>> Nicholas didn't say that everything Nance did was harmful to the  
>> Revival. Eddie seemed to me to portray it that way, and it's just  
>> not what Nicholas intended, I believe. But look at what Ken George  
>> does. He regularly suppresses attested loanwords in favour of his  
>> own concoctions. But where did he learn that habit of purism? Oh,  
>> it's much worse than what Nance ever did... but this "puristic"  
>> aspect of Nance's work seems to have had later, negative  
>> ramifications. And that is exactly what Nicholas said:
>>> Nance didn't [use the attested words for the attested meanings,  
>>> and leave the archaisms for poetry and elevated writing] because  
>>> of his idées fixes about what constituted "correct" Cornish.
>> I think the record shows that Nance *did* have strong ideas about  
>> what constituted "correct" Cornish. Unfortunately, in some cases we  
>> can see that what Nance recommended goes against what we find  
>> commonly in the corpus. Why shouldn't it be all right to point this  
>> out?
>>> Nance's purism nourished later less scholarly purism and has, in  
>>> my view, done the revival immense damage.
>> Of course Nance was not a villain. He could not have forseen what  
>> "later less scholarly purism" would do. But at least some of the  
>> purism which Nance did embrace had very unfortunate ramifications  
>> for the Revival later on. And that later purism, building on  
>> Nance's has been very harmful, as we all know from the last two  
>> decades.
>> So what does Nicholas recommend? He recommends that we try to use  
>> whatever words we have attested in the same way that the native  
>> speakers did. That's not "purism". It's authenticity.
>> There is plenty of room for other neologisms and Celtic and non- 
>> Celtic borrowings. But the words we have attested are precious.  
>> Shouldn't we use those as much and as well as we can? It's great  
>> that we have "awen" and "dowr" in place-names. It's great that we  
>> have "ryver" as a general-use word. I can't think of reasons (apart  
>> from rhyme in poetry) to want to use "awen" and "dowr" as general- 
>> use equivalents of 'river'. The closer to the native speakers we  
>> strive to be, the richer and the more authentic the Revival will  
>> be. If that means saying "Whoops! Nance/Smith/Hooper/Palmer/Gendall/ 
>> Williams/George/Bailey/Everson/Climo/WHOEVER got it wrong! Let's  
>> follow the texts instead!" then so be it!
>> And Eddie: Criticism is not slander. To recognize errors in the  
>> work of earlier Revivalists is, in fact, to do their work *honour*.  
>> Much, indeed most, of what all of them did was rock-solid and the  
>> best they could offer. But that doesn't mean that it was any of it  
>> holy writ. When an element of the work of a scientist is proved  
>> wrong, a good scientist says "Thanks for that correction! Now we  
>> are closer to getting it right!" Someone who just digs his heels in  
>> and says "What I've done should not be criticized or changed!" is  
>> not a good scientist.
>> To praise Nance: I have been doing A LOT of lexical work and I can  
>> say that Nance's indications of anomalous stress, and of vowel  
>> length in polysyllables (especially multisyllables), is simply  
>> amazing. We don't talk about it, because we take it for granted.  
>> His is the standard. But that does not mean he got right items (1),  
>> (2), and (3) above. It's appropriate for those items to be  
>> criticized, and it honours his work when we do it.
>> Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com/
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Craig Weatherhill

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