[Spellyans] <l>, <ll>, and <lh> in Sacrament an Alter (1576)

Daniel Prohaska daniel at ryan-prohaska.com
Fri Jul 23 12:01:08 BST 2010

Of course we can never be sure about the exact phonetic realisations of traditional Cornish, so whether Cornish <ll> was realised as voiceless or geminate will remain a matter of theory, but what we can say, is that the author of SA most likely retained the contrast of <l> : <ll> ~ <lh>. In this I found Albert’s paper convincing. Whether we present this as /l/ : /L/, /l/ : /lʰ/ ~ /lh/ or /l/ : /lː/ is of little relevance. What we also need to determine is, whether there was a contrast /L/ : /lʰ/, so whether we should write <ll> for etymological geminate /L/ and <lh> in subjunctives and comparatives.




From: nicholas williams
Sent: Thursday, July 22, 2010 3:06 PM


What Albert says is partially true. Historic /l/ and /l:/ are indeed distinct in SA (itself a rather short text). It cannot be assumed, however, that the distinction is of necessity one of length. It is also possible that the difference is one of voicing, and that <ll> in SA may be on occasion a graph for [lh]. (I follow Albert’s notation here, using <lh> for voiceless l).


<lh> in TH and SA  is written for voiceless [lh], e.g. pelha. In BK, however, <lh> is written for historic /l:/ e.g. ellas ‘alas!’. And indeed elhas for ellas ‘alas’ is first attested in PA.

The form malla < may halla has <ll> in SA but the same verbal form is alho in BK i.e. with <lh>. 


It seems probable that in some dialects of Middle Cornish the distinction between original intervocalic /l/ and /l:/ has already been reshaped as a distinction between /l/ and /lh/.


The same appears to be the case with /n/ and /n:/, i.e. that the distinction has been reshaped as a difference in voicing. In BK, for example, cannas ‘messenger’ is frequently <canhas>. Elsewhere in BK (and in MC in general) <nh> appears to represent a voiceless consonant, e.g. in lowenhys ‘gladdened’, inhy ‘in her’, where the devoicing has been caused in both cases by an earlier lenited s.


Albert says that <lh> is only ever written in SA for /l+h/ or /ll+h/. This may be true in SA, but it is not true in MC as a whole. I have counted  <ellas> ‘alas’ 82 times in the texts. <elhas> occurs 21 times. It would be rash to suggest, then, that <lh> and <ll> are phonetically distinct in Middle Cornish.


L and n are not completely parallel here. CW confuses historic /l/ and /l:/, writing them both as <ll>. It has not, however, conflated /n/ and /n:/ since in CW historic /n:/ has been pre-occluded. 


A proper study of all the attested texts is required and the spelling <l>, <ll>, <lh> need to be isolated and tabulated. 


In intervocalic position historic /l/ and /l:/ are indeed phonemically different in some of the MC texts The question remains, however, what is the phonetic reality.





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