[Spellyans] Spellyans, KS, and reconstruction

Daniel Prohaska daniel at ryan-prohaska.com
Sun May 20 12:40:27 IST 2012

On May 16, 2012, at 11:33 AM, Michael Everson wrote:

> The thing about reconstruction is that it's not 1904 any longer. There is a revived language, and it has been the goal of this group to serve a practical function, namely to *improve* the Standard Written Form which was, devised by 8 people after 5 days of discussion. To excerpt from the kernowek.net homepage:
>> The “Outline of the Standard Written Form of Cornish” recognizes that adjustments will need be made to the Standard Written Form in order “to better serve the needs of the contemporary Cornish-speaking community”. While Cornwall County Council and other public bodies, now have an orthography they can use, the Standard Written Form has, in our view, shortcomings which make it less attractive to many for personal use. The range of “alternative traditional graphs provided for writers who would like to use more traditional spellings” is not yet extensive enough to permit truly authentic spelling. And more importantly, we in UdnFormScrefys perceive there to be linguistic inconsistencies and indeed errors in the specification. We believe that the general public requires an adapted version of the SWF in which these are rectified.
>> [...]
>> Outside of official contexts, Cornish users are of course free to write in any orthography they choose. In recognition of this and in anticipation of emendations to the Standard Written Form at a future stage of the Partnership process, we believe that discussion of corrections and improvements to the Standard Written Form should begin without delay. In the interim, we would like to offer the public an adapted version of the Standard Written Form for immediate use. We do not ourselves believe that recognized inconsistencies and errors should be taught, if they can be identified and put right.
> One of the most aggravating things about "reconstruction" in our context is it practically asks for every bloody KK spelling that turns up in the SWF to be examined.

I agree that it was not the best decision to use KK as a starting point rather than examining every word a new and starting fresh. May I remind you that you did the same with KS? You simply used UCR as a starting point. 

> And when people do that, they make all sorts of assumptions.


> They assume that everyone else has read Jackson and Schrijver and whoever else. Not the texts, which are in Middle and Late Cornish. But those books are full of the reconstructions of linguists who aren't interested in *modern* forms of Cornish for the use of *modern* people.

That is not entirely true. There are plenty of professional linguists who are interested in Revived Cornish, but in their academic publications they are not allowed to state that too obviously as it would likely tarnish their work in the subject. I don't know about Peter Schrijver, but there are others such as Nicholas, Albert, Ben, and Talat Chaudhri who are very much interested in RC. But as far as linguistics goes, it is a different subject from the phonological history of Brythonic and Cornish. I see no problem, however, with allowing the study of historical phonology to inform the study and reconstruction of Cornish for the purpose of its Revival. 

> They are interested in reconstructing Brythonic and Proto-Brythonic and Proto-Celtic and the Italo-Celtic unity and so on back to the kurgans. 

Partially, yes, but they also deal with certain phonological issues of the living Celtic languages, which are quite recent and have very much to do with spoken and/or attested forms of the modern languages. 

> Ken George didn't go back all that far. While occasionally he mentions some Brythonic form, mostly he re-spells Cornish because a form in the texts doesn't look like something in Breton. Was there a *Meurth? The texts don't show evidence for it. 

Well there's Welsh ‹Mawrth› which makes */œ/ all the more likely. I don't think this is really in dispute, only the formalism of saying the attested  form overrules the construction, even if it is very likely. It is not so much the question of whether one is more 'correct' than the other, but rather how to deal with this issue in the case of Revived Cornish. Taking your view to the extreme and used only attested spellings, it would be very difficult to achieve a standardised orthography in the first place. How far to take this issue of allowing non-attested spellings for the benefit of standardisation is a matter of discussion, consensus and agreement.  

> The other aggravating thing is that those interested in the ramifications of the reconstructions of Jackson and Schrijver and George and whoever else is that they do not publish their work.

Jackason is published. Schrijver is published, George is published. I can only speak for myself. I have severe time constraints and am dealing with my dictionary, so I simply haven't got the time to do the publishing in that sector. Bt perhaps I will get down to it at some point...

> They do not publish etymologies justifying their tinkering; they expect everybody to take it on faith.

No, anything can be doubted and discussed. there's no faith involved. Just some capacity of informed judgement. 

> "Ah, yes, those fellows over there, they know their Brythonic, they're doing all the checking of the reconstructions just fine." But there aren't any publications showing the work.

That's not entirely true. Albert, Nicholas, Ben and Talat are publishing, tackling questions such as vocalic alternation, consonants, prosodic shifts etc., etc. . 

> Eric Hamp used to publish paragraphs about individual etymologies. Fascinating stuff. Made his case. Do we have this in Cornish linguistics? No. Are changes being made already to the SWF in light of such unpublished work? It appears so, at least in the background. 

Fine, perhaps this is something Cornish Studies departments at e.g. Exeter can concentrate on… 

> In Spellyans we have worked since 2008 in an endeavour to meet the brief quoted above. We didn't wait five years for... whomever to use the SWF and find out what is wrong with it. It was obvious from the publication of the SWF spec what was wrong with it.

Michael, you had a very clear agenda then, some of your views on Cornish spelling and phonology are ideologically charged (as are mine!) have to do with a preference for phonological theories that can be interpreted to fit the evidence, but so can other theories. There are certain features you wanted to see in the SWF and were so adamant about that you derogated from the SWF right after the AHG meetings. 

> It had a Traditional Form that used non-Traditional graphs (the ban on final -y in stressed monosyllables).

I agree this is very unfortunate. 

> It shifted ambiguity from ‹u› to ‹o›.

And ended up with both ambiguity in ‹u› as well as ambiguity of ‹o›. This needs to be tackled in the 2013Review. 

> It introduced ambiguity between the bÿs/bës words and the bys and res words.

Yes. I hope this, too can be tackled in the Review. But your own view on the bÿs/bës words, even the phonetic transcriptions you use, are to some extent ideologically charged. Whether archived, achievable or not, there are those who aspire to make a three-way-front-vowel distinction in RC, something that Nicholas says was abandoned early after the prosodic shift and was no longer valid for Middle Cornish. But there are people who do not espouse Nicholas' views on the PS, rightly or wrongly. This is my problem with many KS spellings. They're not neutral in the context of their spelling system, they are very much choices made on the base of Nicholas' views on historical Cornish phonology. And some of the KS spellings "enshrine" this theory in spelling, whether it's the i/y/e distribution, final voiceless/voiced fricatives etc. etc. etc.  

> It omitted the useful graphs ‹ai› and ‹au› for a set of loanwords.

Yes, I would like to seem them, or equivalent graphs introduced in the SWF, though I may have some minor issues with their distribution across lexemes...

> It imposed KK's etymological vowels, particularly difficult in unstressed final syllables (kegin v. kegin).

‹kegin› v. ‹kegin›, not sure what you mean here. I think this is definitely something we can sort out in the Review, but my approach would be to take the two dialects of RC into account and find a way to represent the differences and commonalities where they are useful to speakers of these respective dialects. 

> It lacked a phonotactic rationale for its use of -dh/-v in unstressed monosyllables. Its distribution of ‹i› and ‹y› was entirely arbitrary (unless one had learnt KK).

No, this is an opinion, a point of view. I have already stated, which you can take on faith ;-) or not, that this has to do with the phonological and positional contrasts that Cornish was capable of. Sure, native Cornish phonology was augmented by loans from English which didn't conform to the native system, but the native phonology contrasted the plosives only in initial position whereas in internal and final position there was no phonological contrast. The fricatives however retained this contrast, at least in internally and so it is disputable whether it was or wasn't given up in final position. Yes, your phonotactic rational for an initial and internal stressed voiced v. unstressed voiceless contrast is neat, but it is not unambiguously borne out by the evidence in the texts. An orthographic solution in RC for a distinction may be called for, and leave the ideological approach to a set of rules that can be applied. This is what a standard (maybe not for everybody but for the greatest number possible) should aspire to, and leave "being right all along" out of the discussion where the evidence is not absolute and unambiguous. 

> From the end of the first month after announcing Spellyans we had 27 members; we now maintain 51 observers. People like Albert Bock and Ben Bruch and Tony Hak, who are concerned with (i.e. in positions of authority concerning) the SWF, do not participate, and do not observe as members. They don't see the discussion: they don't engage with the Traditionalist community. Have they read any of the publications in KS? I wouldn't know. 

And maybe they have their reasons for not participating or even leaving this discussion. Maybe they feel it's too one sided. maybe they feel you are coming on too strong on certain issues and fining you difficult to talk to at times. Not speaking for them, but saying what I feel occasionally. I can get over it, but maybe others don't find this so easy. This, is probably also the reason why several people didn't want you on the AHG meetings. I know nothing concrete, but it's the feeling I get from people who said they had no desire to sit at a conference table with you. I'm certainly not one of these people, but I am wondering, if an exercise is diplomacy wouldn't have got some of your points across more easily... 

> What is an orthography for? A Cornish orthography that has all this etymology built into it... is... to help people do what? To learn Cornish? Or to use the Cornish they've learnt to bolster their investigations into Brythonic? 

Again the pro- and contras-etymology-thing is now becoming idealogical. The texts don't distinguish between ‹y› and ‹i› although certain differences must have been there to warrant LC forms that occur, deciding the vowel in the unstressed syllables has to do with this issue as well. You distinguish ‹mis› from ‹bÿs›, but the texts have ‹mys› and ‹bys›. You also claim that the two vowels had fallen in with each other in some varieties of Cornish (or certain texts thereof), but the same can be said for the ‹melin› : ‹melyn› contrast. If ‹i› and ‹y› are distributed according to give rules in RC, but were not in traitional Cornish, you are doing something different from what the Cornish scribes did. So, the arbitrary ‹i› : ‹y› distribution in TC (traditional Cornish) is standardised according to certain rules in RC, big deal, so discuss how to standardize them. I don't see much pick up for the KS solution, so let's discuss who we can bring our respective views together. That's what I meant when I asked you whether you were open to compromises. You don't seem to be, you seem to want to push the KS solution onto the SWF because you see them as the only possible (or at least very best way) of dealing with the issues. This agin, is a matter of opinion, and as you know, opinions can differ. 

> Have we done a good enough job? Is there a list of etyma that we still need to argue about? Are there serious shortcomings that render KS unworthy of academic support? 

You've done a great job in your publications and the amount of Cornish being published. You have not done a great job in supporting a consensual form of Cornish, because you don't agree with some issues that in your view render the orthography unusable. There's no list of etyma that we need to deal with in KS, but as I potter along with my dictionary and check and come across KS forms that I may find problematic, I'll bring them to your attention for further discussion, if you want. I do the same with the SWF and Albert's dictionary. We are in frequent communication about such issues. 
As far as shortcomings, I don't think there are many, but there are some issues that cannot be answered as there are no traditional speakers of Cornish and only those would be able to answer these issues. So in the context of RC they become matters of opinion and later are somewhat ideologically charged. This is something where I think we can find some room for common ground to allow the SWF to somewhat open for interpretation, while giving users guidelines by rule to make them pronounce the language as correctly as we can determine at this date.

More information about the Spellyans mailing list