[Spellyans] "small" in Cornish

Craig Weatherhill craig at agantavas.org
Fri Sep 2 08:44:26 BST 2011

No, they don't settle questions, but they do provide valuable evidence  
that we can't afford to ignore.  I find 14th century examples of  
byghan (in West Penwith!), which is exactly the period Nance was  
looking at, the Ordinalia also originating in that century.  I even  
have a 13th century bichan (the very same location).  Place-names  
provide the only evidence that the variant bygh/bigh was also in use -  
as far as I know, that word isn't in the texts but is in several place- 

Chayr is found in several names, as well as cader.  Immediately  
springing to mind are Mawnan Cheer (chayr + saint's name in Eng. word  
order); Carn Cheer and Chair Ladder (chayr + lader 'thief' - this  
isn't leder 'slope, cliff', as this feature is also referred to as  
'Tutton Harry an Lader' - seat of Harry the Thief [N.Boson]).


On 2 Gwn 2011, at 08:24, nicholas williams wrote:

> 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.
> Nicholas
> 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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Craig Weatherhill

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