[Spellyans] tavas in early Middle Cornish

nicholas williams njawilliams at gmail.com
Wed Jul 13 10:41:08 IST 2011

In Cornish Studies 15 (2007) 11-26 I published an article on the Cornish englyn.
The best known example in Cornish of this metrical form is recorded three times
and begins An lavar coth yw lavar gwyr.

In my article I suggested that the original form of the englyn was probably:

An lavar coth yw lavar gwyr:
byth dorn re ver, byth tavas re hyr;
mes collas den heb davas y dyr.

Here there is alliteration in den, davas and dyr.
There is also internal rhyme between collas and davas.

It is even possible, though I did not suggest this in my article, that
the original form of the englyn may have been:

An lavar coth yw lavar gwyr:
byth dorn re ver, byth tavas re hyr:
mes collas den heb davas dyr

'The old saying is a true saying:
a hand is wont to be too short, a tongue is wont to be too long;
but  the man without a tongue lost ground.'

Here the verb collas rhymes with davas and davas and dyr alliterate.
Dyr is lenited because it is the object of an inflected verb collas.
This syntax has not been attested in Cornish but is normal in Welsh.

The whole englyn, in whatever form, is archaic in the following ways.
1. It is in englyn metre, an inherited verse form, which is rare in Cornish.
2. The verbs byth, byth and collas are used without particle. This seems to be a feature of gnomic verse.
3. There is alliteration and internal rhyme (common Brythonic features)
4. The word for 'short' is ber, rather than the more usual cot. Elsewhere in Cornish ber is used only in fixed expressions like a ver spys.

Yet davas, with assibilated final, rather than Old Cornish tauot, shows that the englyn was composed in Middle Cornish, .

I think it very likely that this englyn dates from the earlier part of the Middle Cornish period.
I would put it in the early thirteenth century.

Notice that the word tavas has unstressed -a- in the englyn, which rhymes with collas.
In the earliest Middle Cornish 'tongue' was tavas, not taves.

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