[Spellyans] final -y in verbal nouns

Nicholas Williams njawilliams at gmail.com
Wed Apr 7 11:51:04 BST 2021


Late Cornish users often write the final segment of verbal nouns in -y with <i>. Similarly the SWF and therefore the online dictionary of the Akademic Kernewek write the final segment in verbal nouns as <i>, eg., dybri ‘to eat’, dyski ‘to learn, to teach’, kregi ‘to hang’, leski ‘to burn’, pedri ‘to rot’, etc. There is no legitimate reason to use <i> in such cases in either Middle Cornish or Late Cornish registers. 
	In the later language historic final -y is usually written as <-e>, for example in the following:

browe ‘to wound’ Rowe; creege ‘to believe’ BF: 31; crege ‘to believe’ BF: 41; debre ‘to eat’ Rowe 14 x 6, 16 X 4, 18 x 3, LAM 226; dibre AB: 244c, Pryce: E e 4 verso, : 242; deske ‘to learn, to teach’ Gwavas MS x 4, Rowe 36; gwarre ‘play’ LAM 224; do gware ‘to play’ BF: 12; do guare ‘to play’ BF: 12; gwille ‘bed’ Gwavas MS x 4; guille ‘bed’ Gwavas MS; tha kelme ‘to bind’ Pryce: F f 2; leske ‘to burn’ BF: 10, 12; tha medge ‘to reap’ Pryce: F f 2; peege ‘to pray’ LAM: 224, 226; pedeere ‘to think’ BF: 27, 31; perthe ‘to tolerate’ BF: 41; tha trehe ‘to cut’ Pryce: F f 2 x 3. 
(LAM = Looking at the Mermaid; BF = Cornish Writings of the Boson Family)

It seems likely that -e in these items was a way of writing final schwa. Rowe writes tha gorthe thotha ‘to worship him’ but ha gortha thotha ‘and worship him’, where gorthe and gortha are variant spellings of the same word. The final segment there is undoubtedly schwa. Similarly ‘to learn’ is deske in Rowe and in the Gwavas manuscripts, but Lhuyd cites the same etymon in Dho desga AB: 55a. Further verbs whose verbal nouns ended in -y in Middle Cornish but are attested in the later language with -a include: 

Molletha ‘to curse’ AB: 84b (y voleythy PA 18b); Dho preva ‘to prove’ AB: 128c (prevy TH 34a. 36); Dho pidzha ‘to pray’ AB: 127c (pygy RD 444); Dho teva ‘to grow’ AB: 52b (tevy OM 275); Dho sendzha ‘to catch’ AB: 3a, Dho sindzha AB: 50a, 162a; senzhia BF: 60 (sengy TH 19a, syngy TH 33; BK 2503).

It seems therefore that by the later Cornish period, if not before, final -y was in some cases pronounced as [ǝ]. This would also explain a further phenomenon noticeable in Late Cornish.
	The reduction of final -y > schwa is not astonishing. After all the Cornish for ‘Wales’ was almost certainly *Kembry (cf. Welsh Cymru < *Kombrogi), yet is attested in Lhuyd and already in BK as Kembra. The final segment in Middle Cornish verbal nouns ending in -y was schwa by the later period.
	The only reason for spelling final -y as <i> in the Middle Cornish register is in imitation of Lhuyd. It is far from certain, however, that Lhuyd should be imitated in this matter. He writes:

The Letter y differing so very little from i, especially in the Termination of words of more than one Syllable, may be in this Infinitive spar’d; and such words written constantly with an i: As Deski (not desky) To learn; Ageri, To open; Sinzhi, To hold; Gysenzhi, to buy; Gulhi, To wash; Leski, To burn; Terhi, To break; Huari, To play; Kelli, To loose, Prediri, To meditate or think upon; Tebri and Dibri, To eat; Gorthybi [and Gorthebi] To answer; Strihui, To sneez; Kylyui, To lighten (AB: 245b).

Lhuyd is admitting here that the traditional spellings with -y can be replaced by spellings in -i because there isn’t really much difference. He may also be thinking of the spelling of comparable words in Welsh. Neither reason is sufficient, in my view, to repudiate the practice of the scribes of traditional Cornish. Leski, Kelli, Gorthebi, etc. are arbitrary spellings by Lhuyd, as he himself admits, they are not traditional. Here are a selection of verbal nouns in -y as they are found in texts written by Cornishmen:

crysy, cresy ‘to believe’
crysy OM 1435, 1508, PC 2883, TH 38, 54a; crygy PC 1482, 1597, 1771, 2963, RD 8, 284, 482, 990, 1016, 1057, 1068, 1078, 1088, 1106, 1114, 1126, 1275, 1345, 1423, 1456, 1462, 1468, 1507, 1514, 1529, 1566, 1709, 2469; cresy OM 233, 241, 1759, 1761, 1784, 2018, BM 834, 971, 4117, 4125, TH 1a, 9a, 19a, 20, 21, 34, 37a, 50, 53, 53a, 54a x2, 55, 57, 58 x2.

There are no instances of either *crysi or cresi.

dybry ‘to eat’
dybry OM 171, 231, 248, 264, 283, 386, 994, 2048, 2706, PC 625, 635, 671, 719, 812, 2632, TH 52a; dybbry PA 43c, 87c, 173a, OM 168, 183, PC 47, BM 134, TH 3a, 4, 4a, 5, 51a, 52a, BK 343, 365; dibbry TH 55, 55note, SA 64a, 66; debry TH 4a; debbry CW 1813

There are no instances of either *dybri or *debri

dysky ‘to learn, to teach’
dysky PA 176c, OM 1554, PC 36, 256, 1250, BM 13, 33, 60, 97, 381, 3300, TH 8a, 9, 14a x2, 18a, 19 x2, 20, 24, 27, 34a x2, 35a, 38 x3, 39, 42; disky RD 1959, TH 10, 20 x2, 21a, 31, 31a, 32;  desky BM 49, 367, 651, 3752, 4020.

There are no instances of either *dyski or *deski

egery ‘to open’
ygery RD 317; egery OM 382, TH 18, 23, 31, 53 x2

There are no instances of either *ygeri or *egeri


golhy ‘to wash’
golhy PC 518, 845, 862, 875, BM 744, 1600, 1716; ȝe wolhy PA 46a; the wolhy RD 22o2

There are no instances of *golhi


gorthyby ‘to answer’
gorthyby OM 301, PC 181, 821, 1317, 1484, 1660, 1674, 1739, 1820, 2273, BK 556; gortheby BM 3532, TH 23, BK 2293; gurryby TH 44; gweryby CW 1145

There are no instances of *gorthybi, *gorthebi


kelly ‘to lose’
kylly PA 241a, BM 3341, TH 17a; the gylly RD 354; kelly CW 840, 2029

There are no instances of *kylli, *kelli


pysy, pesy ‘to pray’
pysy OM 1607, 2140, 2197, PC 37; pygy PC 1013, 1044, 1162, 2090, RD 285, 444, 448, 1338, 1575, 1649, 1932; pesy PA 53c, 54d, 62a, 65a, 72d, BM 404, 520, 537, 613, 707, 1470, 2138, 2141, 2174, 2339, 2420, 2506, 2556, 2725, 2998, 3186, 3359, 3440, 3475, 3638, 3800, 3845, 4128, 4276, 4288, 4425, 4461, 4554, 4561, TH 9a; pegy BK 133, 426, 2335, CW 2207.

There are no instances of either *pysi or *pesi.

synsy, sensy ‘to hold’
synsy PA 62c, 82c, 154a, 159d, 207c, OM 23, 1444, TH 40; syngy TH 33, BK 2503, 2613; sensy PA 75b, 105d, 156d, 166b, 206d, PC 1176, BM 1074, 2279, 2291, 2315, 2588, TH 49, SA 61; sengy TH 19a, BK 65.

There are no instances of either *synsi or *sensi.


tyby ‘to think’
teby OM 3250.

There is no instance of either *tybi or *tebi.

All the above verbal nouns should in any authentic spelling be written with final -y.


Nicholas Williams
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