On Wed, 10 Sep 2014 07:04:02 +0100, R A Brown <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Hi all,
>Just to let you know I'll be set to nomail for a short
>while.  I'm jetting off across the Pond to visit family and
>friends, mainly in Massachusetts but also including a long
>weekend in Canada.  I'll be back with you all before the end
>of the month.

Bon voyage!

>Meanwhile, I'm still mulling over Britainese phonology, and
>still wavering between a second lenition or not; at present,
>I'm inclined towards not.
>Also two definite decisions have been made, but not yet
>written up:
>1. Britainese will _not_ be undergoing a second vocalization
>of 'dark l', as Old french did in the 11th & 12th centuries,
>i.e. the plural of 'bel' (beautiful) will be 'bels' (not
>'beaus/ beaux').
>2. Also there are very good reasons to suppose that
>Britainese would not have shared the Old French habit of
>devoicing all final fricatives and plosives.

This reminds me of a concern of sorts I've had, and I think mentioned offlist before.  And I know, a NOMAIL announcement isn't a good thing to spawn a thread from, but there's no rush; let come the end of the month.

The procedure of only accepting linguistic changes -- I'll focus on sound changes, 'cause that's the current stage of the project -- if there's good evidence that Britainese might have undergone them is certainly the correct thing on an individual, change-by-change basis.  But in the large, considering all changes collectively, might this not lead the language to be too conservative?  Given a large bunch of changes, so that *each individual change* is less likely to happen than not, making all the choices individually and accepting *no* changes is certainly not the most likely thing in aggregate.

Of course, this argument is very abstract and qualifications can be made.  For Old Britainese, especially, it can be imagined that most of the changes would be ones with parallels elsewhere in the Romance linguistic area, so that one genuinely can judge which changes are likely by looking at nearby varieties of Romance.  As time passes, the importance of common Romanceness decreases (observe how the 18th century uvularisation of R jumped the Romance-Germanic boundary) but areal changes can still be evaluated.  But one also expects some changes "internal" to Britanese which won't have areal evidence in favour.  How is one to pick out which of these are likely enough?

Given that bogotising changes from English isn't on the table, we seem to be left with approaches like "panchronic phonology"
in which however TTBOMK there haven't been nearly enough case studies to be broadly useful in a programme like this.[1]  So I for one would be at a loss how to proceed...

As for areal changes, one test case I think interesting 'cause of the extrapolation it calls for is the post-Middle High German change from [i@ u@] to [i: u:], which was part of a chain of shifts of long vowels shared areally by English *here*.  Now Middle Britainese hasn't a vowel length contrast, so it won't have an answer to the Great Vowel Shift; but it dòes have [i@ u@], or at least it did the last time the Britainese vowels page was forthcoming about what <ie> and <oe>~<ue> stood for.  So is it reasonable to think that post-Middle Britainese might show [i@ u@] > [i u] areally?


[1] Offtopic: one of the few there has been is Ferlus' on tonogenesis from initial voice contrasts, and what happens instead if there isn't already tone.  He used this to propose a new reconstruction of Old and Middle Chinese, and in broad outlines I find his arguments believable (namely, OC divisions I and III were probably respectively tense~pharyngealised~creaky and lax~unpharyngealised~breathy register.  I disagree with his positing velarisation in division II though.)  Unfortunately I haven't been able to read his actual paper on that yet.  Grr paywalls.