CORNISH PRONUNCIATION GUIDE
To accompany Gerlyver Kescows
Guidance is based on Standard Cornish, the most phonetic of the spelling systems founded on Middle Cornish. It reflects a plausible reconstruction of Cornish as spoken in the western parts of Cornwall at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The influence of early revivalists can still be heard today in certain ‘spelling pronunciations’ of Unified Cornish, even though that orthography is now rarely used. Such pronunciations, here introduced by ‘or’ in round brackets, are best avoided: they are a misunderstanding of Unified Cornish, which was not conceived as a phonetic system.
Vowels (including diphthongs)
There is a strong tendency to reduce simple vowel sounds in unstressed syllables to the vowel sound in THE when not rhymed with THEE, though i or u ‘colouring’ will persist. And stressed short e likewise reduces before retroflex r. When they are not stressed, ow and final u tend to lose the w sound.
a In a monosyllable not ending in a voiceless, geminate or pre-occluded consonant, the vowel sound in CAT but lengthened; also in a monosyllable ending gh, sk, st or th. Otherwise as for à.
à The vowel sound in CAT.
â The vowel sound in CAT but lengthened. In monosyllables ending in l n s or v, as for ò but lengthened (or as for a). When stressed in loan-words before c p ss or t, optionally as for ê (a in paper may also be so pronounced).
ai When stressed, as for ê. Otherwise as for è.
au When stressed, as for ô. Otherwise as for ò.
aw The vowel sound in COW.
ay The vowel sound in FLY (or as for ai). But some pronounce with lowered tongue, as for ey.
e In a monosyllable not ending in a voiceless, geminate or pre-occluded consonant, the vowel sound in THERE; also in a monosyllable ending gh, sk, st or th (but see note below). Otherwise as for è.
è The vowel sound in PET.
ê The vowel sound in THERE.
ë As for ê or î according to preference.
eu When stressed, either the vowel sound in FUR or as for ê (or u). Otherwise either the vowel sound in FUR but shortened or as for è (or u).
ew As for yw. But the ‘yoo’ sound of USE in Ewny and relevant loan-words.
ey The vowel sound in FLY but with the tongue lowered (or as for î). In unweyth ‘once’, dewweyth ‘twice’ etc it is reduced to the vowel sound in PET (or KIT).
i The vowel sound in ME. But often reduced to the vowel sound in KIT when unstressed.
î The vowel sound in ME.
o When in a monosyllable not ending in a voiceless, geminate or pre-occluded consonant, as for ò but lengthened; also in a monosyllable ending gh, sk, st or th. Otherwise as for ò.
ò Half-way between the vowel sound in COT and the one in CUT.
ô The vowel sound in CORE.
oo Lips as for ô, tongue as for û (or as for ô). This sound was originally confined to certain monosyllabic environments but then began to spread: for example, scoodh and scoodhya for scodhya.
ou When stressed, as for û, though sometimes heard as for ow in loan-words. Otherwise as for ù.
ow The vowel sound in CUT + w, pronounced as a diphthong. Some pronounce half-way between this sound and the one in COW. Some pronounce as ù before a vowel.
ôw As for ow or yw according to preference.
oy The vowel sound in COY but with the tongue lowered.
u When stressed, as for î (or as in German grün ‘green’). Otherwise (and in auxiliary gwrug) the vowel sound in KIT (or as in German hübsch ‘pretty’). But always as for ù before a vowel. As for yw finally. In ugh and derivatives, the ‘yoo’ sound of USE.
ù The vowel sound in COULD.
û The vowel sound in COO. But û in relevant loan-words has the ‘yoo’ sound of USE.
y At the beginning of a word or alone as a particle, the vowel sound in THE when not rhymed with THEE. Alone meaning ‘they’ or stressed at the end of a word, the vowel sound in ME but with the tongue lowered. Unstressed at the end of a word of more than one syllable, the final vowel sound in TEDDY or BODY (slight variation as in English). Otherwise, the vowel sound in KIT.
ÿ As for î or ê according to preference.
yw The vowel sound in KIT + w, pronounced as a diphthong.
As a general rule, sk and st lengthen the preceding vowel in a monosyllabic word. But an e is often pronounced short in this position; an i-sound always. The latter is accordingly written y in Standard Cornish.
Consonants (geminates usually pronounced as single, but see bm dn dnh lh ss)
b As in English. But as for p in heb, neb, pùb, ryb when next word begins with a voiceless consonant, l or n.
bm As in English but the first element pronounced only lightly (pre-occluded m). Those writing mm may still pronounce as bm.
c Before any e i or y, as in SAT (but see [s]cy below for relevant loan-words). Otherwise as in CAT but generally with less aspiration than in English.
ch As in CHAT. But as for k if written in words originating in Greek (though this is a derogation, under the influence of Unified Cornish Revised, from the k-spelling found in the Standard Cornish specification).
ck As for k.
d As in English.
dh As in THAT. But as in THIN before any v and (for some) when final. But often silent in the combination rdh when final and occasionally elsewhere (kerdhes, for example); for some, as for rth when final.
dn As in English but the first element pronounced only lightly (pre-occluded n). Those writing nn may still pronounce as dn.
dnh As for dn, but d tending to t, nh a single sound (voiceless n with slight aspiration). Some write as nn.
f As English F (but as English V in 2nd state). When final, it is pronounced only lightly or is wholly silent.
g As in English. But as for k in prag, rag (and finally in auxiliary gwrug) before voiceless consonant, l or n; and medially before any v.
gh As in LOCH. But often reduced to h or even silent.
h As in English. But it may become silent between vowels.
j As in English.
k As in English but generally with less aspiration.
l As in English. But only some use the ‘dark’ version heard in FILL. After an f sound (however spelled) in the same word, or after a k or p sound (however spelled) in the same utterance, it may be pronounced as for lh; also in whedhel, pronounced ‘whethelh’.
lh A single sound: voiceless retroflex l with slight aspiration. Some write as ll.
m As in English.
n As in English. After an f sound (however spelled) in the same word, or after a k or p sound (however spelled) in the same utterance, it may be pronounced as if nh: a voiceless n with slight aspiration.
ng As in English: single sound ‘ng’, but double sound ‘ng-g’ in relevant loan-words.
p As in English but generally with less aspiration.
q As in English but generally with less aspiration.
r Trilled gently on tongue tip (not rolled). But retroflex (tip of tongue curled slightly back, no trill) when preceded by vowel and followed by consonant, or when final (except when next word in same utterance begins with trilled r).
s As in SAT. But as in IS (i.e. as if z) medially before a vowel or voiced consonant in the same utterance, when final after a stressed vowel, and in plural suffix ys. Also initially in relevant loan-words. And for some speakers in other circumstances by analogy. But ss is always pronounced as in KISS, except in the combination ssy (see below).
[s]cy In relevant loan-words, as for sh. But in a verb-noun like chacya, cy is simply c + consonantal y.
sh In loan-words, as in English.
sr In words of Celtic origin, as if dr: for example, asran as adran; Resrudh as Redrudh and better so spelled.
[s]sy In loan-words, as for sh.
t As in English but generally with less aspiration.
th As in THIN. But final rth is often reduced to rh: voiceless retroflex r with slight aspiration.
v As in English. But as for f medially before any l n or r, and optionally in similar environemnt: e.g. lavurya, wharvos.
w A ‘glide’ as in English. But only lightly pronounced in initial gwr, wr and qwr.
wh As in WHEN pronounced precisely (voiceless w with slight aspiration). ‘Lazy’ pronunciation as w is not an option.
x In loan-words, as in TAX.
y Before a vowel, y is a ‘glide’ with the same pronunciation as English consonantal y. Initial yê / yêw / yêy optionally as for e / ew / ey respectively.
z In loan-words, as in English.
Regressive assimilation may occur when consonants meet across the boundary of two closely associated words. The commonest instances have been noted above. When consonants come together inside a word, assimilatory or dissimilatory devoicing can occur. Some of these changes will happen automatically in fluent speech. Others are practised by some speakers only. The detail is beyond the scope of this guidance sheet.
Cornish words generally have a relatively strong stress accent. The primary stress falls in most cases on the penultimate syllable of a word. Some disyllables are evenly stressed. In a hyphenated word, each element bears its own stress (if any). Monosyllabic prepositions are unstressed except for emphasis. Particles are always unstressed. Stress is usually reduced on a few other monosyllabic words qualifying a noun or adjective: e.g. neb, pòr, pùb.
© Ian Jackson 2019 This version September 2019