[Spellyans] Nicholas' review of the SWF Glossary (A-D)

Daniel Prohaska daniel at ryan-prohaska.com
Sun Aug 14 18:13:07 IST 2011

Further comments below…

From: spellyans-bounces at kernowek.net [mailto:spellyans-bounces at kernowek.net]

On Behalf Of nicholas williams
Sent: Sunday, August 14, 2011 4:59 PM
To: Standard Cornish discussion list
Subject: Re: [Spellyans] Nicholas' review of the SWF Glossary (A-D)
“I have no preference for loan words.” 
I did say ‘almost’ and it was a little tongue in cheek …
“I just prefer items that we know formed part of the lexicon of the
traditional language to borrowings and coinages.” 
You’re carrying coals to Newcastle as far as I’m concerned…
“I am wholly unsympathetic to the argument that this or that item has been
in use for eighty years and is thus part of Revived Cornish.” 
I know, and I sympathise. But since this was a collaborative issue and we
had to worry about other preferences this is what we came up with. Many
speakers of RC have claimed ownership to the language, and feel that
adopting and defending coinings and neologisms is a natural development of
the Revived Language. I understand this point of view although I don’t
always share it. I still can’t get myself to say ilow or use arhans for
‘money’ – and I won’t, but others do and feel at ease with it. In fact many
feel patronized if they are told what exactly to say, so I just think it’s
wise to respect certain sensitivities and offer better alternatives where
“We are reviving a language that was once spoken and written, and we should
attempt as far as we can to speak and write it as native speakers and
writers did.”
I sympathise, but this will remain a dream. Traditional Cornish expired
around 1800 and whatever is revived is a new start. I agree we should always
endeavour to remain as close as possible to the survivals (texts, names,
Anglo-Cornish dialect words etc.) of the traditional language, but we all
know certain neologisms are necessary and it will be up to the Cornish
speaking community to develop its lexicon as the language becomes more and
more established. It’s happening here and now. 
“I suspect many people ignore what is in traditional Cornish because they
are unwilling or unable to read the texts. No one is compelled to read all
Cornish literature at all. But I do think if someone has not read the texts,
he or she should refrain from criticising lexical items or idioms that are
attested. This is true for inflection as well as vocabulary.”
I hear you! And I agree. But reading the texts is difficult for some and
maybe not as interested in reading them as a Celtic philologist, but the
Revival has several Celtic philologists who do the reading for them and make
their recommendations. It’s still up to the Cornish speakers to take them on
board or not. In an ideal world, yes, we’d all be reading the texts and
working from them. I’m actually surprised how many Cornish speakers, who
have not studied any of the philological disciplines or studied at all,
actually read the texts, quote from them and check them for expressions.
“Nance also reconstructed verbal forms unnecessarily. It is quite possible
to do as the writers of traditional Cornish did and use the auxiliaries bos,
gul, mydnes, gallos, godhvos and dos. Then inflected forms of other verbs
are hardly necessary.”
“Nance's desire for full inflection in all verbs was regrettable. His
willingness to ignore analogical forms as being 'incorrect' was even worse.
Sometimes he didn't even understand analogical forms at all. At JCH §4, for
example, Nance did not realise that Panna weale 'lesta geeal/Panna huêl
allosti guîl 'What kind of work canst thou do?' contained the 2nd person
singular present indicative gyllys of gallos. He thought it was the
imperfect used as present. Yet it was obvious from such forms as rag ty ny
vethys dowtyes 'thou shalt not be feared' CW 523 and cayme na vethys in
della 'Cain, thou shalt not be thus' CW 1178 that the second singular
desinence -yth was being reshaped as -ys by analogy with other tenses and
the second singular present os of bos.”
Yes, but he was doing an incredible job, groundbreaking work. It’s easy to
get lost sometimes and miss certain features. We’ve seen collections and
good presentations of the work and it is easier for us to spot certain
shortcomings. Also, he lived in the day and age when language teaching was
highly prescriptive and there was a strong sense of correctness and what is
wrong, also a grammatical ideal of the humanist sciences with a strong
admiration of Latin and Greek forms, like complex inflectional morphology.

“Nance's filling the Cornish verbal system with reconstructions was as
inauthentic as it was unnecessary. It has been taken to its logical
conclusion by Kesva an Tavas Kernowek in Cornish Verbs (3rd edition 2011).
Here you will see such wholly improbable forms as dismykki, difeutthewgh and
hwibensys. Moreover Cornish Verbs goes further than Nance in providing the
defective verb pewy (KK *piwa) with autonomous forms. We thus find in
Testament Nowydh an ro herwydh an pyth a *biwor mes nyns yw herwydh an pyth
na *biwor, which is intended to mean 'the gift according to what is posessed
but it is not according to that which is not possessed.' I don't think any
speaker of traditional Cornish would have been able to make any sense of it.

Cornish Verbs still contains *piwor, *piwer, piwvedhes, etc. which can
hardly be called Cornish in any real sense. Cornish Verbs was first compiled
by the late Ray Edwards. He had not apparently made any detailed study of
the texts when he produced the work. In fact he based his lists on Browns UC
grammar, which in turn was based on the paradigms in Cornish for All.”
I don’t know whether Ray had studied the texts when he wrote Verbow
Kernewek, but I know he read the texts extensively. It is obvious from his
editions of some of the traditional texts as well as from his Notennow
“It is a pity, I believe, that Cornish Verbs is still being re-issued. Its
relationship to the traditional language is at best tangential.
I agree. All we can do though is provide Cornish learners with the
information that they need to make their own judgements. It would be
preferable to remain as close to the texts as possible, but the Revival also
has its own dynamics, and this has to be taken into account as well. 
On 2011 Est 14, at 12:37, Daniel Prohaska wrote:

 Many developments in RC are reactions to previous attempts at codifying the
language. Nance reacted to Jenner’s Late Cornish based variety by going
further into the past and concentrated on early Middle Cornish. Nicholas,
your, I should almost say preference, for loan words is a reaction to the
excessive purism that has been part of the lexical ‘Ausbau’ (and ‘Umbau’) of
Cornish for the past 80 years, while George reacted to Nance’s preference in
‘mining’ Welsh for loans and loan translations by looking towards Breton,
and Gendall reacted to Nance’s overuse of the letter <y> by getting rid of
it altogether despite its being well attested in the LC material.
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