[Spellyans] Blejyow or Flowrys?

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Sun May 30 21:35:14 IST 2010

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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