[Spellyans] Cornish Orthography

ewan wilson butlerdunnit at ntlworld.com
Thu May 27 22:31:06 IST 2010


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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