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Re: USAGE: Pronouncing Welsh

From:Raymond A. Brown <raybrown@...>
Date:Tuesday, June 1, 1999, 20:05
At 11:12 am -0400 1/6/99, John Cowan wrote:
>Raymond A. Brown wrote: > >> If you want a more authentic medieval pronunciation, then I think the >> modern pronunciation but with ultimate stress probably comes _very_ close > >Thanks (& Sally too). How about the pronunciation of "u"; sounds like >it's already [I] ~ [i] depending on dialect.
No - in the south it is [I] or [i:] depending upon whether it is short or long (i.e. just like English /I/, /i:/). In the north it is either barred-I or long barred-i, i.e. a high unrounded _central_ vowel. In the discussion below, I'll just use [i] and barred-i as the phoneme and forget about length to keep things simple. But similar consideration apply to the laxer, short sounds [I], barred-I, barred-U, and [Y].
>When >did the change [y] > [i] occur? (It must have, because otherwise >there would not have been a "y"/"u" orthographic distinction.)
I'm dubious as to whether it _ever_ sounded [y]. I've seen this stated in some books but have never seen any evidence for. Indeed, in view of the modern pronunciation in north Wales, I find it difficult to believe that it did so. The modern north Walian pronunciation is a high central unrounded vowel, IPA barred-i, rather like Russian bI or Romanian =EE. I find it difficult t= o imagine the forwards & backwards shifting that woyld be involved in [u] -> [y] -> [=DD]. The earlier sound was surely have been a _high central rounded vowel_; this sound occurs in northern Irish English & some Scottish lowlands dialects. I believe also the way Swedes pronounce their {u}. In north Wales the sound would just have become unrounded at some date - fraid I can't give one. I imagine it must be difficult to establish anyway since there's nothing in the written language to show it. In the south there are two possible scenarios: (a) the sound became unrounded generally throughout Wales - i.e. like the present north Walian sound - and then, under English influence, it became fronted -> [i]. (b) the sound remained round but became fronted, i.e. [y]; then under English influence it became unrounded -> [i]. Personally, I think (a) is more likely. Breton has [y], but this is clearly due to the influence of French. If the Brittons who settled there took the high central vowel with them, then we'd expect it to merge with French [y]. The evidence of Cornish does not help since the language became extinct and has been artificially revived. In short - the medieval vowel would've been a high central one, either rounded or not. The change from rounded to unrounded must have been gradual and there'd have been quite a time when both sounds could be heard from different regions. I don't think the modern north Walian sound would be too far out. Ray.