[Spellyans] Etymological vowels in final unstressed syllables

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Fri Aug 10 17:28:08 IST 2012

On 10 Aug 2012, at 15:43, Daniel Prohaska wrote:

> So, you have assigned a new function to the letters ‹y› and ‹i› in KS. This is good and very useful. It is not authentic in the strictest sense of the word. 

No, that was Albert and Ben who did that. KS1 recommended ‹i› for [iː] and ‹y› for [ɪ] in all positions. The rule that ‹i› would be [iː] and ‹y› would be [ɪ] in stressed monosyllables and their derivatives (excepting those ‹y›s in the bÿs/bës class) came from the SWF. We did not assign the new function to those letters. We inherited this from the SWF. We did not devise it.

>> Nevertheless we do not distinguish ‹pyw› 'who' and ‹pyw› 'owns' because there is no pronunciation difference between them: [piʊ], [piʊ]. 
> I don't understand… The word for 'owns' is given as ‹pew› in "Desky Kernowek"… where do you get ‹pyw› from?
> Where this word is concerned, it should definitely contain ‹ew›, not ‹yw›. ALL attestations show ‹ew› (or ‹ev› etc.). There is no occurrence of ‹yw›. This word was mistakenly spelt **piw in KK and is also wrongly assigned to the alternating ‹yw› ~ ‹ew› class in the SWF. It should be ‹pew› only. 

Fine, fine my mistake trying to find a minimal pair. We do not distinguish ‹yw› and ‹iw›. They are both pronounced [iʊ]. 

> As for SWF ‹piw› 'who' or KS ‹pyw›… they essentially mean the same. It's just a convention whether you choose to spell them with ‹iw› or ‹yw›.

The former is not attested in the traditional corpus. 

> Though the SWF isn't consistent about this yet, I wish to propose to formulate a rule for the review that "stable" /i/, i.e. word which have /i/ both in the MC and LC based varieties write ‹i›, while ‹y› is written in SWF/M ('Middle' here, not 'main form') where /i/ alternates with /e/, e.g. the ‹bys/bes›-words or ‹byw/bew›-words…; ‹ew› again would be used for stable /ew/ where both SWF/M and SWF/L show /ew/. 

Then you're going to attempt to copper-fasten ‹iw› into the system although it is unattested, it seems to me. Does the idea have merit? I don't believe so: it doesn't solve the bÿs/bës problem because you still have bys [bɪz] 'until'. So what problem does it solve?

> Furthermore Lhuyd writes ‹piụ›, so a spelling with ‹i› has an historical precedent.

Lhuyd's data is an important resource for our knowledge of the Cornish language. His avowedly phonetic spelling is not a part of the scribal tradition which gives us Traditional orthographic forms. We do not consider "dzh" to be "traditional" for instance. This is not "news" either. 

> Also, as we can see from Lhuyd's spelling of the ‹ew› and ‹aw› diphthongs, the nucleus of the diphthong long, so I phonologically treat them as VVw rather than Vw, as Nicholas does. 

I don't think there are three morae in those diphthongs; perhaps Lhuyd was indicating quality. We write aw [aʊ], ew [ɛʊ], yw [iʊ]. We write ia [iːə] but that's because it's effectively disyllabic, with strong stress on the first element.

> Only BK, TH/SA and CW spell ‹piw› with ‹ew› or ‹eu›, but this was at a time, the second half of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century where there distinction between /iu/ and /eu/ in English had been lost and ‹ew› and ‹yw› could mean the same, and since ‹yw› was rarely used in English, the Cornish scribes were no doubt influenced by English and prompted to write the more frequent ‹ew›. In Late Cornish, after the breakdown of the Cornish scribal tradition the ‹i›-nucleus of the diphthong "resurfaces". The ‹u›-spellings also mean /iw/, as they do elsewhere, e.g. in diphthongised ‹du›... 
> So, I don't believe your above statement to be correct that ‹piw› 'who' and ‹pew› 'owns' are pronounced identically,

‹iw› and ‹yw› would be pronounced identically. There is no [iʊ] vs [ɪʊ] distinction as Ken George suggested. That is the only rationale for ‹iw›.

> I believe we have /i:w/ : /e:w/ here just as we have /i:g/ and /e:g/ in ‹kig› 'meat' and ‹keg› 'cook'.

I don't agree. I don't think these are long vowels with a final -w consonant. I believe they are diphthongs. 

>> It is an issue because this "rule of the etymological vowel" for ‹i› and ‹y› serves no useful function whatsoever.
> It did to a certain extent in KK which had to indicate the quality of the vowel when the unstressed /I/ vowel shifted into stressed position when, i.e. a suffix was added, e.g. 
> ‹kegin› => ‹keginys›
> This was important for Ken George's phonology because phonetically such words would be [ˈkegɪn] => [kɛˈgiˑnɪs]. This explains why Ken George chose to distinguish between ‹y› and ‹i› orthographically. If he had chosen to write more phonetically he would have to have chosen ‹kegyn› ~ ‹keginys›. 

This phonology is not used by any speaker of Cornish I have ever heard. We hear [ˈkɛɡən], pl [kɛˈɡɪnəs] ([ˈkɛɡᵻn] [kɛˈɡɪnᵻs] if you want to note i-colouring of the schwa). 

In KS at least there would be grounds to write *kegin/*kegînys if the pronunciation were [ˈkɛɡən]/[kɛˈɡiːnəs] but I can't think of *any* words that fit that pattern off-hand. 

> It's the same principle why you in KS write ‹tir› ~ ‹tiryow›… for [tiːr] ~ [ˈtɪɹjɔʊ]. You could just as well write KS **tyryow for the /i/ is short, but because the simplex ‹tir› has a long vowel, the orthographic choice of writing ‹i› is carried over into the plural. 

No, it is not the same. First, the rule is that vowels are long in stressed monosyllables with certain spellings, and all vowels shorten in polysyllables. Since /i/ is [iː] when long and [ɪ] when short, the pronunciation of ‹tiryow› is perfectly normal. Notw that we write ‹sîra› [ˈsiːra] because the vowel is long. And as noted above, KS1 would have written ‹tir›, ‹tyryow›. 

> The same applies to the SWF. You have ‹conin› 'rabbit' because when stressed you get /i/ (cf. Pryce ‹kynîngen› 'rabbit skin'). 

What do you mean you get /i/? There is no /i/ vs /ɪ/ distinction in the revived language. If you think there is, then you are making the same mistake George made. He tried to introduce this phonemic distinction, and failed. 

Conyn 'rabbit' pl conynas is [ˈkɔnᵻn] pl [kɔˈnɪnəz]. Not *[kɔˈniːnəz]. That circumflex of Pryce can be ignored; I don't warrant that Pryce heard this word, and it's as likely a printer's error as anything. Ken George himself ignores it, because he writes ‹koningenn› [ˌkɔnɪnˈɡęn]]

> I'm not entirely happy with this feature of the SWF, but there appears to be no other way than to decide on a case to case basis, when to spell ‹y› and where ‹i› according to what reappears when the unstressed vowel in the simplex appears as stressed with an added suffix, but basically it's the same principle as with KS ‹tir› ~ ‹tiryow›.

It's easy. As you know we write i- initially and -y finally. You might or might not like that, but the problem you're discussing is what to do with ‹i› and ‹y› internally. So we do this.

1) ‹i› for [iː] in stressed monosyllables and [ɪ] in their derivatives. 
2) ‹y› for [ɪ] everywhere else.
3) ‹î› for [iː] in polysyllables (relatively rare, nearly all are loanwords too).

With regard to ‹i› and ‹y›, no etymological vowels in unstressed final syllables are needed, because under stress they shift from [ə] (coloured [ᵻ] if you like) to [ɪ]. None of them shift to [iː]. So, simply use rule 2) above, and hey presto! you're done. 

> Where I definitely agree with you is in the cases where there is no alternation with a stressed  vowel, i.e. in the verbal and prepositional pronoun endings. I see no reason why, e.g. vb.adj. ending ‹-ys› and 3.sg.pret. ending ‹-is› should be distinguished. 

I agree, but isn't this the same? 

> So what I wish to propose for R13 is not so much to keep the "etymological vowel", but to look at how the pattern can be used in the revived language, i.e. if you have a word like ‹conin› with a "stable" /i/ in stressed reflexes such as ‹conina›

What's this?

> or ‹coningen› then the word is spelt with ‹i›. If the reflexes have the alternating ‹y› ~ ‹e› pattern then SWF/M should have ‹y› and SWF/L ‹e›.

I would agree with you this far:

If there *were* [ˈkɔnᵻn] pl [kɔˈniːnəz], KS *would* write ‹conin›, ‹conînas›. But since there *is* [ˈkɔnᵻn] pl [kɔˈnɪnəz], KS writes ‹conyn›, ‹conynas›. If you think there are words that fit the former pattern, could you list them for us? I think you are wrong about *conîngen though: Are there more examples of this type of word in Pryce? Certainly I see no evidence for this reading anywhere in the revived language; even Gendall has cunnen pl cunednaz. No length there. 

>> It simply invites learners to make a spelling error.
> Who cares. Spelling errors in Cornish are the least of our worries, I think...

We should all care. I don't think that an orthography should be set up to encourage either pronunciation errors or spelling errors. 

We have also implemented a change in the -or/-oryon vs the -er/-ers words in order to help learners not make spelling errors (or plural errors due to the wrong analogy). Jenner, Nance, George, Williams all have -or/-er words with a plural -oryon for instance. It's all just due to the variety in the MSS and nobody having computers way back when. When we looked at it we found the same pattern as in colon/colodnow. I hope that this non-controversial change will be accepted during the review. 

What it does, though, is help reinforce patterns for learners. That *is* important. Way more important than etymology.

>> Now in words like ‹colon› [ˈkɔlən], pl ‹colodnow› [kəˈlɔdoʊ]
> I take it you meant [kəˈlɔdnoʊ]?

Yes, thank you. Was it necessary to point that out? You could have just silently fixed it as an obvious typo.

>> we preserve a distinct written vowel because that vowel reappears under stress. And so for ‹melyn› [ˈmɛlən], ‹melynyow› [məˈlɪnjoʊ]. But I don't know of any words where in this pattern (polysyllables in -in or -yn) exists where [iː] returns under stress. In the pattern which we have observed, [iː] is always long, as in ‹despît› [dəˈspiːt], ‹despîtya› [dəˈspiːtjə]. 
> I realise what you do, and the SWF basically does the same, without the diacritic length marker in ‹despit› which makes the pronunciation less predictable than KS where the long vowel before ‹p t k› in concerned.

It isn't "less predictable than KS". It's "not predictable whereas it is predictable in KS". Example:

‹despit› ‹despitya› would be [ˈdɛspɪt] [dɛˈspɪtjə] in KS and SWF
‹despît› ‹despîtya› is [dɛˈspiːt] [dɛˈspiːtjə] in KS

I think the revived language and its learners are not better off with ambiguity. 

> I would like to see this remedied but I doubt this will be possible because of the dislike of diacritics of many current Cornish users.

All that is required is explicit *permission* in the spec to use diacritical marks (without restriction as to what kinds of publications). Then, at least, one can't be accused of dissenting because one uses diacritical marks. The permission to use them was promised and we still have never had a report as to why it was removed from the spec. Spite, I suppose. 

(Note: if the use of diacritics will be sanctioned, we ought to insist that the particular uses made of them accord with those of KS, since there is so much KS text out there; the last thing that the Revival needs is two different sets of diacritic rules in use.)

> As I said above there is room to move away from the strict Georgian etymological vowel, to a workable and applicable system within the context of the SWF, but more often than not, they coincide. 

The SWF is as hopeless a mess as any of the other orthographies when it comes to marking long vowels in polysyllables. Essentially, it doesn't. There seems to be a very basic rule that long vowels are common in monosyllables but that in polysyllables in the huge majority of words all vowels just shorten. How do I know? Because in working out the rules we had to *find* the polysyllabic words that needed to be marked. And so we did. Most of them are loanwords. 

The general rule is that in monosyllables vowels are short before single voiceless consonants. ‹Cot› 'short' for example, and ‹hat› 'hat'. Because of the ‹i›/‹y› distinction introduced by the SWF, we can write ‹fyt› 'bout' with a short vowel, and could write ‹spit› 'spite' [spiːt], though because of the rule we redundantly write ‹spît› (because we know that learners will tend to use a short vowel if we don't). Even if we did though, we would have to write ‹spîtys› 'malevolent' and ‹spîtfùl› *precisely because* of the ‹tir›/‹tiryow› rule that says that vowels in polysyllables are short! 

>> The only reason for writing SWF ‹colyn› 'puppy' and SWF ‹melin› 'mill' is that Ken George thought it was cool to know that one word has the origin of Common Celtic *koligno- and the other word has the origin of Latin molîna.
> As I explained above, this wasn't the only consideration. It was the exact reverse from what you do with ‹tir› and ‹tiryow› where the simplex has [iː] but the suffixed form has [ɪ] usually spelt KS ‹y›, but here written ‹i› because of its being a derivation of ‹tir›. See above for why KK also writes thus…
> (Just to be clear, I'm not defending KK here, just explaining it.) 

Again, if the revived language has tends to have words like ‹conyn›, ‹conynas› and does not have ‹conin›, ‹conînas›, there is no need to write etymological ‹i› and ‹y›. ‹Y› throughout is simpler and works better. 

>> But who the hell cares?
> See above. Despite its many shortcomings and mistakes KK appeared simpler in word recognition and this is obviously what many people went for. Not that I agree with this, but that may be one of the reasons why KK had such an uptake when the Kesva and the Cowethas changed from UC to KK. 

I shan't enter into that discussion, Having said that, I do find that the ‹tir›/‹tiryow› has a logic to it, and it enabled us to devise a distribution of ‹i› and ‹y› which is easy to read, to learn, and to write. 

>> Most learners of Cornish don't have any Latin, and nobody can learn Common Celtic because it's entirely reconstructed. Now, etymology helped me learn Danish very quickly, because when I started I had English and Old English and German. I could apply sound changes in my head and got good results. I don't think that etymology is much of a help for learners of Cornish or Breton or Welsh -- well, that's not true, there are many things about some consonants and vowwls which can be rather helpful. Perhaps it would be more precise to say that I don't think that the etymological vowels of **these unstressed final syllables** helps anybody in the least bit.  
> As I said, it's not just about the etymology alone, but also which vowel is written in derived forms. I'm sure there's plenty of room for improvement! 

I believe that we all in Spellyans have identified the problems and provided practical and simple solutions. Often the ideas you say you have for the Review seem to be complicated Windows-like patches rather than structural improvements. 

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

More information about the Spellyans mailing list