[Spellyans] "small" in Cornish

Craig Weatherhill craig at agantavas.org
Thu Sep 1 22:20:46 BST 2011

Nance looked at place-name evidence which does attest byghan (quite  
frequently) and even bichan.  Those records, too, are traditional  
Cornish.  I've mentioned before that we need to consider more than  
just the texts, because we have so few texts of Cornish surviving.  To  
revive this language, we must fully consider the principle of tota  

Nance didn't create byghan.  It was there in Cornish record for him to  
see, collect, consider and include.  Yes, the -gh- is archaic, and  
later Middle Cornish reduced it to byhan/bihan and then to byan/bian.   
Place-name records have all of these.  I consider these records -  
particularly those prior to 1550, as textual Cornish that cannot be  
dismissed.  Sadly, all too many people have done so, which is one  
reason why I have collated my place-name archive over the decades.   
Someone had to.


On 1 Gwn 2011, at 21:44, nicholas williams wrote:

> Nance taught that the Middle Cornish for ‘small’ was *byghan. He  
> was, I fear, mistaken. The form *byghan is nowhere attested in  
> traditional Cornish, though PA has beghan twice (PA 53c, PA 166b).  
> Byhan occurs four times in the Ordinalia, while behen and behan once  
> each in BK. By far the commonest spellings for this word are byan x  
> 14, byen x 13 (Ordinalia and BM) or bean x 12 (TH and NBoson). Lhuyd  
> writes bîan passim.
> 	It is quite apparent that the medial fricative had either weakened  
> to [h] in Middle Cornish or had been lost entirely. Nance with his  
> inexplicable desire to render Cornish as archaic as possible,  
> created the unattested form *byghan, presumably by analogy with  
> Welsh bychan. Breton bihan can hardly have influenced his thinking,  
> since if it had, he would have written byhan, a form which has the  
> merit of being attested. Byan, incidentally, was the form favoured  
> by Talek in An Lef Kernewek. As a result of Nance’s archaising,  
> generations of Cornish learners have tried and are continuing to try  
> to pronounce the word for ‘small’ as ['bix at n]. Yet no such form  
> seems to have existed in the earliest Middle Cornish, to say nothing  
> of the later language. The word should be written byan or bian and  
> be pronounced as it is written.
> Nicholas
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Craig Weatherhill

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