[Spellyans] "small" in Cornish

nicholas williams njawilliams at gmail.com
Fri Sep 2 08:24:12 BST 2011

I cannot agree. Place-names are often archaic. No one disputes that byghan occurs in place-names, but byghan is not attested in the written texts. Byghan does not reflect the spoken facts of Middle Cornish, but rather the inherited and perhaps no longer understood vocabulary of a previous generations. If we had current place-names as our source, we would write Budock, the Old Cornish form, but OM has the more recent Middle Cornish buthek. If we based our English on place-names we would not go to the supermarket but to the Over-Chipping.
Place-names are of enormous importance but they cannot be used as an indication of the spoken language. Nance may well have been led to believe that *byghan existed in Middle Cornish because he had seen the form in place-names. This is essentially a question of the periodisation of Cornish, the different eras and historical forms of the language and Nance, not having been trained in historical linguistics, did not understand such a question. Indeed his innate purism and desire to see a wholly "Celtic" Cornish meant that he was blind to it. This is why UC is such a jumble of OC, MC, Lhuyd and unnecessary calques on Breton and Welsh.  My rule vis-à-vis place-names would be this: place-names can corroborate a form found in the texts. They should not be used as evidence against the witness of the texts.
The word Cader occurs in the names of rocks, but the word in the texts for 'chair' is chayr. The forms bighan, byghan, beacon, biggan, biffin are all attested in place-names. So, however, are bean, bian and byan. Place-names in this case cannot settle the question. The texts can: the earlier Middle Cornish form of the word for 'small' is either byhan; the later Middle Cornish and Late Cornish form is byan, bian.  


On 2011 Gwn 1, at 22:20, Craig Weatherhill wrote:

> 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 Cornicitas.

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