[Spellyans] Rules for the apostrophe

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Tue May 18 10:59:50 IST 2010


I have formulated "best practice" rules for the apostrophe. These rules are typographic in nature. If these rules are followed, typography will always be correct. If they are not followed (and currently the SWF spec does not), the 6-shaped ‘ single quote can be guaranteed to be inserted where the correct 9-shaped ’ apostrophe is desired.

Evertype implement these rules in our publications; I have proposed them to the SWF Corpus Committee.

The apostrophe is an important part of Cornish orthography. It often indicates the elision of a vowel, as in dha’gas (< dha agas), pandr’yw (< pandra yw), or dhodh’ev (< dhodha ev). In order to ensure good typography, it is best not to leave a space before or after an apostrophe. If after, as in *dhodh’ ev, the trailing apostrophe may be confused with a final single quotaton mark; if before, as in *dhodh ’ev, the burden is on the writer to ensure that the apostrophe goes the right direction (that is, that it looks like a 9 ’ rather than a 6 ‘). Much “helpful” word-processing software will turn an apostrophe after a space into a left single “smart quote”, as in *dhodh ‘ev, and this is an unsightly error. The rule “don’t use a space on either side of an apostrophe” will help ensure better typography in Cornish. (In poetry and similar contexts the apostrophe may be written conventionally, however, so long as care in taken in typesetting.) 

It is, therefore, a good typographic to use the apostrophe conventionally after (and not before) the verbal particle th in the colloquial register, e.g. th’erof vy (yth esof in the literary register). This is an orthographic convention, not an error; ’th erof vy is not “more correct”, and the leading apostrophe leads to the *‘th erof vy trouble just described. it is not necessary to insist that the apostrophe only appear in the place where the vowel is dropped. Synchronically, there is no dropped vowel in th'erof vy. It should not be recommended to just leave the th on its own, as it is in effect a bound morpheme (nobody says just [θ] by itself). Again, when in combination with quotation marks, it is easier for software to write “Th’erof vy ow tos” (with correct shapes) than it is to write “’Th erof vy ow tos”.

Indeed it is not necessary to mark where a RMC vowel has been dropped. If you say th'erof vy tos, write it: it is silly to try to write th’erof vy ’ tos or th’erof vy ’tos with an apostrophe standing in for an elided ow. Similarly, there is no reason to write geno’why or genow’why, since these are pronounced identically to genowgh why: it is simply a reading rule that at a word boundary [x#ʍ] reduces to [ʍ]. (An exception might be reasonable in poetry, or in reported speech in a novel where the spoken dialect of a character needs to be emphasized in contradistinction to the dialect of other characters.) Similarly, there is no reason to "shorten" the verbal particle ow to o’, or to write th’ero’vy instead of th’erof vy.

One strange feature of other orthographies of Revived Cornish is that dha was combined with agan, agas, and aga differently from the way it was combined with other prepositions. The SWF should regularize ha’gan ‘and our’, na’gan ‘nor our’, a’gan ‘of our’, re’gan ‘by our’, y’gan ‘in our’ and dha’gan ‘to our’, (not dh’agan). 

Because the apostrophe is used quite frequently in Cornish, it can be recommended that “double quotation marks” be used for quoted speech, and ‘single quotation marks’ for citations within quoted speech. This is advantageous in terms of legibility, because double quotation marks are more easily distin guished from the apostrophe. The choice should remain with the writer, 

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

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