[Spellyans] tavas

Nicholas Williams njawilliams at gmail.com
Thu May 16 11:13:01 BST 2013

Gendall certainly made Cornish seem less archaic, less quaint and more a real language that could
actually be spoken. His approach, however, had some severe disadvantages.

One of my greatest problems with Gendall's choice of seventeeth century spelling 
he made it very difficult for those who had learnt his orthography to read the overwhelming bulk of Cornish literature.
One could read the Bosons and Rowe/Kerew but not the Ordinalia or Beunans Meriasek.

It always seemed to me also that Gendall had a tendency to move the goalposts when explaining what
he was trying to do.

In the Preface to his A Student's Grammar of Modern Cornish (Tregrill Vean, Menheniot 1991) page 1,
he quotes a passage from Nebbaz Gerriau of Nicholas Boson beginning 
Rag me a hunnen ve gennez en Collan an powma eu an Curnooack mouyha cowsez…

And immediately thereafter he quotes BM lines 4293-300
which begin:

In kernov me ambeth chy
ryb maria a cambron
thum wyles neb a thue dy
me as aquit purdyson
kyn fo ov corff in ken le
in keth plasna neb a beys…

Gendall then says: "There are two articulate forms of the Cornish language known: Mediaeval Cornish and Moern Cornish. Depending
on the context: these may seem relatively alike or so different as to appear different languages, but their dissimilarities are on the whole
so great that they require treating independantly [sic], as it the case with the mediaeval and modern forms of any other European language.
To run the two forms together would be to produce an unreal alloy with no historical basis" (Student's Grammar 1) [my emphasis].

In Tavaz a Ragadazow (Tregrill Vean, Menheniot 2000), however Gendall writes:

"The Cornish language as it was used in its final form in the early 18th century was known then as Modern Cornish, today sometimes called Late Cornish, but Cornish can be termed Modern Cornish as far back as 1500 A.D., so the language as last used can be referred to as Late Cornish is best referred to as Late Modern Cornish" (TaR 001).

In 1991 Gendall seems to be saying that the Middle Cornish of BM and the Late Cornish of Nicholas Boson are so different that to attempt to run them together "would be to produce an unreal alloy with no historical basis." 

In 2000 Beunans Meriasek of 1504 is really "Modern Cornish."

Which is true? Are Middle and Late Cornish so different as to require separate treatment, or are they differently spelt forms of the same language?

Most of the features that we associate with Late Cornish are already present in the Middle Cornish texts. Pascon Agan Arluth, for example, exhibits such forms
as genama 'with me'; ve 'me' for me; danon 'to send'; kenyver tra 'everything'; and note the remarkable: prag y hysta vy 'why have you forsaken me' PA 201c, where the object pronoun is suffixed. 
The only distinctively features I can find in the Late texts, i.e. that are not attested in Middle Cornish are the following:

1 angy, anjei as a full pronoun; although forms like inansy 'in them' are found in 16th century Cornish.
2 forms like pa thera for pan era, pan esa. This seems to have come about with the reduction of pan 'when' to pa, which itself occurs as early as the Ordinalia, e.g. pa na vynne gorthyby 'since he would not answer' PC 1820
3 dort for dhyworth. This is based on the 3rd singular dhyworta, dyworta. Though it should be noted that vght for a-ugh is already in Tregear. Similar the form gen for gans (from genef, genes, etc.) is not found in Middle Cornish.
4 the use of ny alga for ny ylly. Although ef a alsa is found in Middle Cornish, it is a conditional. In Late Cornish, presumbly under the influence of English 'could' which is both past and conditional, gylly has yielded to galsa (*galja). 

Apart from those features, the rest of what we now consider Late Cornish is already present in Middle Cornish. 
The differences between the two are a question of spelling. 
That brings me to my greatest difficulty with Gendall's approach.
Having acknowledged that Tregear may be classified as Late Cornish, he uses words and forms from TH in his dictionaries and grammars, but he respells Tregear in the orthography of Nicholas Boson. I am not convinced that this is really legitimate.
If Tregear is admissible as "Modern Cornish", shouldn't the revived language base its spelling on the orthography and forms of Tregear and his near contemporaries? If Tregear is "Modern Cornish", his orthography is "modern" as well.


On 16 May 2013, at 10:09, Michael Everson wrote:

> No. Much of what Richard Gendall considered to be "different" in Late Cornish vis à vis Middle Cornish are features found as far back as the Passion Poem. Gendall tried to use various late orthographies (and could never decide which one to use) and in my view did a disservice to the revival in doing so. 

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