[Spellyans] tavas

Nicholas Williams njawilliams at gmail.com
Tue May 14 11:40:30 BST 2013

In the texts 'tongue' is almost always tavas, Late tavaz. The form taves is attested once only (OM 767).
The attested plural is tavosow x 3 or tavosaw x 1. The form in OCV is tauot.
It certainly appears that the native scribes believed that the unstressed vowel in this word was a mid or low back vowel
rather than the etymological e which might have been expected. Indeed taves is attested once only.
We do not actually know the precise nature of the segment written -v- or -u- in this word.
It might have been a labio-dental similar to English /v/, but it might also have been an approximant, closer to English /w/.
Consider that the rarely attested word for 'river' in Cornish is not *avon (pace Nance) but auan (Lhuyd) and awen in Awen-Tregare (hydronym). 
Remember also that cawas, cawys appears to be a variant of cavos 'to get' and indeed the form in -w- is attested earlier than cavos: cawys in RD
and cawas in BM, whereas cavos is first met in CW.
It would perhaps be reasonable to assume that in the word for 'tongue' the internal consonant
was acoustically speaking close to [w]. In which case OC tauot where the unstressed vowel is a mid-high
fronted vowel might have been prevented by the preceding [w] from unrounding to e (hence the rarity of <taves>)
but instead developed as a > schwa when unstressed and o when stressed. This would regularly have
given tavas in the singular and tavosow in the plural. For the rounding effect of a preceding /w/ consider
such English forms as wash, swap, quarter or Latin soror < IE *swesor, etc., etc.
On balance it seems to me on phonetic grounds (to say nothing of the attestations in the texts) that it is
better to write <tavas, tavosow> than <taves, tavosow>, where the alternation e ~ o is unexplained.

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