[Spellyans] The quantity system

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Tue Jun 24 10:59:08 BST 2008

At 09:18 +0000 2008-06-24, Jon Mills wrote:
>Adherents of KK maintain that KK is easier to learn because it is 
>supposedly phonemic. However KK entails a phonology that, for most 
>learners is, in fact, difficult to achieve: 3 vowels lengths and 
>geminate consonants. As a result, KK is more difficult to learn than 
>the other forms of Cornish.

It would be easier if learners were Estonians. ;-)

>Actual realisations of vowel length do not neatly fit in to 2 or 3 
>lengths. For example, with regard to English, Trager and Smith 
>(1957) observed 5 different vowel lengths in the set, bit bid bin 
>hiss his. They write, "The vowel quality is in each case lower high 
>front unrounded: [I]. In bit there is the shortest vowel,in his the 
>longest for most speakers; bid and bin have fairly long vowels too 
>-- some speakers have the longest varieties here, sometimes even 
>with a drawling off-glide effect; in hiss the vowel is longer than 
>in bit, but considerably shorter than in his or bid; in bin there is 
>a marked nasalization of the vowel ...."

For me this is an overstatement. I'd have bit/hiss as short, and 
bid/bin/his as longer. I don't detect more subtlety than that without 
a whole lot of persnicketiness. The bit/bid distinction is easy to 
teach to English speaking learners however, and that's one of the 
reasons it is the core of the vowel system in KS and by adoption the 

English bit/bid is an allophonic distinction, of course, not a 
phonemic distinction.

>However, within the phonological system of English, only 2 vowel 
>lengths operate. These are determined by minimal contrast pairs:
>bit - beat
>bid - bead
>his - he's

I am not sure if I agree with this analysis. Bit and beat differ in 
quality, not in quantity. Bid and bead differ in quality, not in 
quantity. Same with his and he's, and piss and peace.

>With regard to Cornish then, if one wants to argue for either 2 or 3 
>vowel lengths, minimal contrast sets (extracted from the historical 
>corpus) need to be presented. But even this method is questionable 
>because the corpus is written and the actual pronunciation of any 
>forms contained therein is conjectural.

Quite so.

>The only sensible and practical pedagogy is surely for learners to 
>be taught 2 vowel lengths and 1 consonant length. But should the SWF 
>make provision for those who aspire to 3 vowels lengths and long 
>consonants? I cannot imagine that these aspirants are very numerous. 
>My guess is that, given the choice, the vast majority of KK learners 
>would opt for a phonology that is easier to learn.

I agree. And the fact that they are English speakers makes the above relevant.

In English we have qualitative phonemes:

/I/ "bit [bIt], bid [bI.d], piss [pIs], his [hI.z] with allphonic lengthening

/i/ "beat [bit], bead [bi.d], peace [pis], he's [hi.z] with allphonic 

In Cornish we have quantitative phonemes:

/i/  myn [mIn], gwyll [gwIl], loss [lOs] with allphonic lowering

/i:/ min [mi:n], gwil [gwi:l] los [lo:z] with allphonic raising

With the quantity rules in KS/SWF, teachers should be able to use 
English phonology to teach and to improve the pronunciation of 
Cornish phonemic quantity.

Is this scheme agreeable to everyone? (This is key; as editor I will 
use IPA symbols to show both quality and quantity in phonetic 
Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com

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