[Spellyans] Diacritics and their necessity

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Tue Feb 1 18:18:39 GMT 2011

On 1 Feb 2011, at 13:17, Christian Semmens wrote:

> As to reform of SWF/T... how do we manage to get it to do what is necessary without using diacritics or being like KK?

It can't be done. 

There are too many vowels between the two dialects. (Note that /ø/ and /y/ are not phonemes in RLC.) There are only six vowel letters that can be used. Now, both SWF and KS have rules which help determine what letters are used for stressed vowels which are either short or long. KS also has rules by which diacritics can be used to indicate anomalous quality and quantity. 

/æ/ [æ] [æː] a à; a â ([ɑ(ː)] before syllable-final -r)
/ɒ/ [ɔ] [ɒː] â; â au (short only in brâssa; au in some loanwords)
/e/ [ɛ] [eː] e è; e ê ë ai (ë in the bÿs/bës class; ai in some loanwords)
/i/ [ɪ] [iː] y i; i î ÿ (ÿ in the bÿs/bës class)
/o/ [ɔ] [oː] o ò; o ô oo (oo for RMC dialect)
/u/ [ʊ] [uː] ù; û oo ou (oo for RLC dialect; ou in some loanwords (never short in Trad. Cornish))
/ø/ [œ] [øː] eu; eu
/y/ [ʏ] [yː] u; u
/aɪ/ ay
/əɪ/ ey 
/ɔɪ/ oy
/aʊ/ aw
/ɛʊ/ ew êw (êw in the bêwnans/bôwnans class)
/iʊ/ yw uw
/oʊ/ ow ôw (ôw in the bêwnans/bôwnans class)
/ə/ a e i o u y in unstressed syllables sometimes with colouring as [ə ᵻ ᵿ]

These are the sounds which people who speak Revived Cornish actually use. 

If you want to retain to traditional orthographic forms, at the very least you must mark ù and û -- otherwise you're immediately forced to use "ou" for short vowels, which is not done in traditional Cornish. And if you don't mark anomalous short or long vowels, then you've got to have recourse to doubling final consonants as in KK, or using silent -e or following vowels with -y as in some of the texts. 

There are a number of problems with the SWF. Marking anomalous vowel quantity and quality is one of them. That problem must be solved for an orthography to be considered accurate and unambiguous. 

As Jon has pointed out, Ken George attempted to improve the pronunciation of Cornish by implementing a phonemic approach to orthography. That approach was certainly flawed in that the phonology he proposed was and is used by nobody. It was also flawed in that it abandoned traditional orthographic forms which 

In KS on the other hand we have analysed the language as it is actually spoken. Even allowing for anglophone diphthongization of pure vowels (which should be discouraged), there is a core phonology in Revived Cornish that we have described, and which KS represents accurately. 

With all due respect to Eddie, who certainly means well, it is a disservice Cornish to pretend that it should behave differently from every other language in Europe. An orthography is a standardization, and as such it is normative. U can write a gr8 deal v txt spelling f U want. That is your choice. Such an orthography deviates from the standard. No other language in Europe distinguishes between "texts for fluent speakers" with a simplified orthography and other kinds of texts with a more precise orthography. To suggest that Cornish should make such a distinction is unwise, and will not lead to better Cornish for anyone. We decided not to make such a distinction when Eddie proposed it in 2008, and that decision has not been changed. 

What will happen in 2013? I don't know. Perhaps the SWF will "not mandate" diacritics but permit them. It depends whether linguistic arguments are permitted and whether or not they persuade. In the meantime, however, we have been honing KS over the past two years as we have proofed the books we have published.

I say "honing" advisedly. The core decisions about KS were taken in 2008. One of these was that diacritical marks would be used. Another was that we would not make them "optional" in some circumstances. 

Kernowek Standard, or Standard Cornish, is a particular normalization. Its raison d'être is to be accurate and inclusive and unambiguous. Its recommendation, therefore, is that diacritical marks are important and should be learned as a proper part of the words which have them. If people write them regularly, they will help everyone to pronounce words more correctly, and they will help everyone to read what has been written more easily. 

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

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