The need for continued research into Cornish phonology is considerable, especially considering the paucity of substantial academic works on the subject since Dr. Kenneth George’s seminal PhD thesis in 1984 (unfortunately unpublished). That work was intended to be a comprehensive survey of Cornish historical phonology, but subsequent disagreements have arisen over a number of issues fundamental to the proper understanding of the development of the language. There remain a number of areas of uncertainty that warrant further detailed study.
This thesis seeks to address only a limited range of the most important of these issues and is therefore focussed upon four principal studies. The reason that these deal only with areas of the consonantal system is one of space: in the opinion of the present author, it would not have been desirable within the confines of this doctoral thesis, in addition to the work that has been undertaken, to address in sufficient depth all of the major unresolved issues concerning the vocalic system as well.
Instead, the focus has been to provide a comprehensive study of the problems under discussion, including two that have so far been afforded little attention. The author believes that initial b/m confusion, although strictly unconnected with the sound changes involved in pre-occlusion, is a loosely associated matter that equally deserves to be the focus of study here; the study of s/th confusions has an important bearing on the study of assibilation and palatalisation in a few instances, but is also a neglected problem in its own right. Moreover, these two narrower studies complement those of the greater sound changes, whose application was more considerable. It is hoped that this provides a level of unity to the work as a whole and that these four studies will represent a major step forward in understanding the historical phonology of Cornish.
A description of the Middle Cornish manuscript found amongst the Puleston Papers by John Mackechnie in 1949, now Add. MS. 46397 in the British Library. The manuscript is a sixteenth-century translation into Cornish of thirteen homilies published by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London in 1555 forming the latter part of his A profitable and necessary doctrine, with certayne homelyes adioyned therevnto. (Only one of these originals was his own, the majority by John Harpesfeld, Archdeacon of London and two by Oliver Pendilton.)
An analysis is made of the historical context in which the translation was made, the likely provenance and dating of the manuscript and the extent of collaboration by co-translators with the principal translator John Tregear. The replacement of the expected thirteenth homily by a translation of an unknown English original on the same subject is also discussed.
The quality of the translation and the effects of this upon the syntax and vocabulary of the Cornish homilies is described, including a discussion of the extent to which the macaronic character of the text is deliberate.
The manuscript is examined as evidence for linguistic change in Middle Cornish, addressing two major areas: the morphology of personal pronouns, verb forms and conjugated prepositions; the major phonological features of the Cornish in the manuscript, principally the loss of vowel quality in unstressed syllables and the incidence of the sound-change s/j as an effect of palatalisation
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