Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Re: NATLANG: Gaidhlig volunteer needed

From:Thomas Leigh <thomas@...>
Date:Sunday, April 9, 2006, 3:37
Sgrìobh Benct Philip MacIain:
> Also while we are in the subject of Goidelic languages: > How come Scots Gaelic uses grave accent for length when > Irish and most (all?) other languages using accent for > length use the acute? Different at all costs? Or did > early printers in Scotland only have fonts equipped for > French and Italian that didn't have all vowels with acute?
I suspect the latter rather than the former. In what one might call "traditional" Scottish Gaelic orthography -- the established orthography used throughout the 19th century (and maybe before, I don't know how far back it goes) and most of the twentieth, vowel length was (in most instances) indicated with a grave accent on a, i, u and either the grave or acute on e and o according to the vowel quality (grave for open, acute for closed). However, established spelling notwithstanding, vowel quality (heck, not just vowel quality, but the vowel, period!) varies from dialect to dialect. In 1980, the Gaelic Orthographic Committee (or Commission? I forget what the C in GOC stands for!) published what was intended to be a standardisation of spellings for the purpose of school examinations, in response to the "chaotic state" (or so we're told!) of students' spelling; concerning accents, one presumes that some students must have been marking vowel quality of e and o according to the way they spoke rather than the prescribed spellings for each word. In any case, one of the revisions that GOC did was to abolish the vowel quality distinction and prescribe the use of one accent only -- the grave, since it was the more common -- to indicate vowel length. For native speakers, this was not a big deal (and probably made spelling easier!) since vowel length is phonemic but vowel quality is not. It upset many learners, though, who complain about no longer knowing how words ought to be pronounced. (As an aside, I've often wondered, but never gotten an answer, why some people make such a fuss about the loss of an orthographic representation of a non-phonemic quality distinction in long vowels, when the same quality distinction in short vowels has never been indicated in the orthography, and nobody ever complains about that.) Other revisions in the GOC orthography include getting rid of a lot of apostrophes (e.g. _'gam_ "at my" and _g'am_ "to my" both > _gam_, _cha'n eil_ "am/is/are not" > _chan eil_) and the fixing of /@/ in final unstressed syllables as _a_ (traditionally _a_, _o_ or _u_) after non-palatalised consonants and _ea_ (traditionally _ea_ or _io_) after palatalised consonants. Most Gaelic publishers and educational establishments adopted the GOC revisions, so these spellings are the ones you usually see in printed Scottish Gaelic today. Getting back to your original question of why the grave was used in the first place, I don't know, although I suspect it was a simple matter of what the early printers had available, which then became convention. Perhaps analogous to how Welsh printers didn't have enough _k_'s, so they used only _c_ for /k/, which then became the standard spelling. Le gach deagh dhùrachd, Tòmas