BabelStone Blog

Saturday, 19 August 2006

Welsh Double L

Having last week discussed Welsh double d, this week I'm going to briefly touch upon Welsh "double l" /ɬ/.

In the earliest Welsh texts the /ɬ/ sound was normally written as "l" initially and as "ll" medially and finally, but in most medieval manuscripts /ɬ/ is written as "ll" in all positions, as in modern Welsh. As the /l/ sound was also sometimes written as "ll", in words that in modern Welsh are spelled with a single "l" (e.g. callon, modern calon "heart"), there was scope for confusion between the two sounds. In order to differentiate the two phonetic values of "ll", in some manuscripts, as well as in some modern editions of middle Welsh texts, the /ɬ/ sound is represented by a ligatured "double l" (you can see some examples in Jones's 1941 transcription of Brut y Tywysogyon given in last week's double d post). This ligatured double l has been proposed for encoding as LATIN CAPITAL LETTER MIDDLE-WELSH LL and LATIN SMALL LETTER MIDDLE-WELSH LL (see N3027), and will available for use from Unicode 5.1.

In early printed books, "lh" is often used instead of "ll", as for example in Yny lhyvyr hwnn (1546) and Y Drych Cristianogawl (1585). What interests me is that in the latter book "lh" is sometimes replaced by what I think is a form of blackletter "l" with a loop (it looks a bit like a "P"), in both blackletter and roman text, as can be seen on this page :

Y Drych Cristianogawl (1585) page 72r

darllen (line 7), llyfr (line 8), holl (line 15, cf. holh on lines 24 & 25), deall (line 27), etc.

This looped form of blackletter letter "l" is not uncommon, especially in 16th century French books (it is also used in Caxton's Canterbury Tales), but it is the first time that I have seen it used contrastively with the ordinary form of the letter "l" to indicate a particular phonetic value. It is even more remarkable to see it used in roman text as well as blackletter text. I haven't seen this looped blackletter l used elsewhere to represent Welsh /ɬ/, but then again I only have access to a very few early Welsh books.

The fact that the blackletter looped l is used in this important text (the first Welsh book printed in Wales) contrastively with "l" to represent /ɬ/ means that it is a very good candidate for encoding in my opinion. The only question is whether it should be encoded as a lowercase letter only or as an uppercase and lowercase pair. In Y Drych Cristianogawl it only appears to occur in lowercase form, and I suspect that it would always be replaced by "LH" or "Lh" in capitals, in which case it could be argued that, like long s and r rotunda, it is a lowercase only letter, and a corresponding capital form is not required. On the other hand, one can easily envisage a blackletter capital looped "L", and for ease of casing it may be simplest to encode a hypothetical capital form.



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