[Spellyans] 'who?' in Cornish

Nicholas Williams njawilliams at gmail.com
Fri Apr 9 12:29:40 BST 2021


My objection to the spellings <piw> ‘who’, <gwiw> ‘worthy’ and <liw> ‘colour’ in the Akademi dictionary is not just a quibble about orthography. It is a question of the implied pronunciation. If the rules were followed fully the diphthong in <piw> would be pronounced with a long nucleus. It is certain, however, that in ‘who’, ‘worthy’ and ‘colour’ in Middle Cornish the nucleus was short. As a result the vowel written <y> alternated with /e/.
We thus find, for example:

pyw OM 261 ~ pew TH 7
gwyw PC 829 ~ guew BK 204
lyw PC 3123 ~ lew CW 1051.

Indeed lyw ‘colour’ clearly rhymes for effect in the line du yw y lyw RD 2001 both with du and yw.  In the SWF if ‘colour’ and ‘is’ are liw and yw respectively, they do not rhyme.
	The spellings piw, gwiw and liw occur in the SWF because such spellings were used for Kernewek Kemyn. The <iw> appeared in these three etyma in Kernewek Kemyn because the spelling system was constructed inter alia around the mistaken view that the nucleus in such words was long (or at least half-long). As a result the ensuing erroneous phonology imitated Breton which has piv ‘who’, liv ‘colour’ and gwiv ‘alive, lively’. In my view, and I have been writing about this since the 1990s, is that it is illegitimate to spell Cornish as though it were Breton. The Cornish scribes knew how to write their own language and we should as far as possible follow them.
	The SWF (M) is the offspring of Kernewek Kemyn. Kernewek Kemyn was not chosen to be the official orthography and pronunciation for revived Cornish because it was seen to be far too alien. In 1995 the late Peter Pool tellingly wrote:

Kemyn is something quite different, an entirely artificial creation which does not resemble Cornish as used by Cornish people at any time in history. To those accustomed to Unified, as indeed to those who prefer Kernuak, Kemyn has an alien and somewhat sinister appearance, as i f the language had somehow been taken over by robots and reduced to the status of a code.

The same, to a lesser degree, can be said of the SWF. Until the SWF is revised in a more authentic direction it will not gain universal acceptance.


Nicholas Williams
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