Random DWJ discovery of the day

Anna Zofia Skarzynska ania at gnomic.freeserve.co.uk
Wed Mar 30 12:45:20 EST 2005

----- Original Message -----
From: "Colin Fine" <colin at kindness.demon.co.uk>
To: <dwj at suberic.net>
Sent: Tuesday, March 29, 2005 10:37 PM
Subject: Re: Random DWJ discovery of the day

> Leaving aside that what you're talking about is orthography, which is
> really rather separate from the characteristics of the language itself...

Bingo! My big, and I mean BIG watershed in my understanding of historical
linguistics and of the nature of language was the insight that spelling is
What matters is not the letter but the SOUND it makes; when we talk about,
say, a, b, c, f,  it's not the letter but the sound that is important. You
have to separate the sound from the symbol used to render it.
This is notoriously difficult to convey. Example: talking to a friend about
the b/v shift in many languages. I commented that it's to be observed in the
Welsh mutations; he immediately said 'there is no v in Welsh'. Not the
letter (not in modern Welsh, anyway), but what I was talking about was the v
sound (a labial fricative, IIRC), not the letter V.

On the caol le caol etc rule, this does not appear in Old Irish; again, it's
a later spelling convention. Early Modern Irish, while rather haphazard and
inconsistent in its spelling, does by and large adhere to it.

*there are caveats, of course.


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