[Spellyans] tavas in early Middle Cornish

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Wed Jul 13 17:04:12 BST 2011

On 13 Jul 2011, at 15:28, Daniel Prohaska wrote:

> This is not relevant phonologically, the contrast /ə/ (< old a, e, o) and /ɪ/ (< old i, y, u) was maintained, though I think it likely that /ɪ/ centralised and lowered towards [ə] while /ə/ was pushed further down to [ɐ].

I find it hard to see such a contrast being stable.

I do tend to think that while /ə/ is useful to describe vowel reduction, it's not so much a phoneme as a catch-all for a three-way reduction into schwi [ᵻ], schwa [ə], and schwu [ᵿ]. Jenner seems to have noticed the same thing. Maybe one could write the schwa in that triad as [ɐ].  I do not see a reduced /e/ however which is one of the reasons I believe that the spelling <taves> is not useful in a modern context. 

On 13 Jul 2011, at 16:01, Daniel Prohaska wrote:

> The remaining problem is that <taves> is also attested, and earlier so than <tavas>.

Isn't it attested only once, in OM? 

> This is an important question in establishing the ‘etymological’ vowel for the SWF spelling.

I don't think it's all that important, because there was never a principled discussion about the merits of etymologies. There was no time during the SWF process, and for expediency -- and not for any other reason -- they took KK as the basis for the vowel structure of the orthography. What this led to was a complete mish-mash where half the time the vowels written are phonetic and relate to the sound, and the other half they relate to some reconstruction of some point of history between proto-Brythonic and Middle Cornish.

I don't see any merit -- any advantage to learner or teacher -- in retaining this dependency on this kind of etymological reconstruction. 

> Is spelling <e> justified? Yes, or so I believe, because: 1) it occurs, and 2) it lines up with the regular development of OC <o> > MC <e> > LC <a>.

In unstressed syllables? Why should that be considered to be useful? Unless you are going to teach people to say [ˈtævɛs] the "etymological principle" just leads to people not being able to spell according to sound.

> Of course the SWF rule to write the ‘etymological’ vowel invites questioning, it is nonetheless a rule for now and the question remains: is the spelling <taves> unjustified?

I don't think that it is. The worst things about the SWF -- the things that cause more trouble than anything else for learners and even for experts like us who worked on Skeul an Tavas -- is the arbitrary way in which unstressed syllables may have (for example) -in or -yn sometimes or -es or -as sometimes, when they are pronounced the same. The "reason" is claimed to be "etymological reconstruction" but as often as not it is just a reflection of distinctions made in Welsh or in Breton, imposed on Cornish by someone who admired those distinctions. 

> Aduocatus Diaboli, … uh Dan

All the etymologizing is very interesting, Aduocate, but it's a red herring and a waste of time.

Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com/

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