Denseman on the Rattis

Formerly known as the Widmann Blog


In defens o <quh>

Ane o the mucklest differences atween auld an modren Scots is that the auld Scots grapheme <quh> /ʍ/ wis replacit bi <wh> acause o influence fae Inglis.

Houaniver, A think we soud consider gaun back tae <quh>. It’s a gey simple differ that lairners can pick up in nae time ava, an it merks a text as bein in Scots acause nae ither leid is uisin this grapheme.

Juist compare the follaein extrack fae Burns’s The Kintra Lass — the text on the caur is in his ain orthographie, and the ane on the richt is a modren version uisin <quh>:

In simmer, when the hay was mawn
And corn wav’d green in ilka feild,
While claver blooms white o’er the lea
And roses blaw in ilka bield!
Blythe Bessie in the milking shiel,
Says – I’ll be wed, come o’t what will:
Out spake a dame in wrinkled eild-
O’ gude advisement comes nae ill.
In simmer, quhan the hey wis mawn
An corn wafft green in ilka field,
Quhile claver bluims quhite ower the lea
An roses blaw in ilka bield!
Blythe Bessie in the milkin shiel,
Says — A’ll be wad, come o’t quhit will:
Out spak a dame in wrinkelt eild —
O guid advisement comes nae ill.

The oreeginal version leuks like distortit Inglis, but the new version is clearlie in anither leid. This isna juist acause o the uiss o <quh>, but it helps!

8 thoughts on “In defens o <quh>

  • Sorry for the English, but this is a bit too technical for me to attempt to write in Scots.

    The argument against is simple: the sound has changed.

    It’s easiest if we discuss the question words as an example.

    Who, what, when, where, why, how.
    That’s WH (W in English) or H.

    In Latin, these were KW – QUIS custodiet ipsos custodes? and all that. That Latin KW is thought to be the original Indo-European sound. In Irish and Gaelic, it’s the W that’s been lost (có, ciamar etc), as it has in the Romance languages (French: qui, Italian: chi, Spanish: quién – notice that French and Spanish retain the orthographic QU, but have a simple /k/ phoneme).

    In the Anglo-Saxon languages, the reduction is well documented in historical orthography. Ancient sources both sides of the modern border show the QUH, which is thought to be /x/ plus the WH sound, but others show HW, where the /k/ had already been further lenited.

    The QUH trigraph did not represent the same sound as the modern WH, so it makes no sense to reinstate it. English is a mess because because of idiots “correcting” phonetic spellings to forms that better reflected the roots (eg reverting “cash” to “cache”) and in the process making incorrect assumptions (eg “island” which had no historical S as it was not derived from the Latin isola, but rather from Germanic “ey-land” (or something similar)).

    Let’s not make the same mistakes.

    • Thanks a lot for your comments!

      I’m a structuralist, so I believe it’s the system that’s important (i.e., the number of graphemes and such things), not the symbol used for expressing each of them. In other words, the main thing for me is that /ʍ/ is written with a different symbol than /w/, but whether that symbol is ‘ʍ’, ‘wh’, ‘quh’ or ‘xxyzx’ is less interesting.

      Of course the symbols shouldn’t be chosen randomly, but given there is historical evidence for ‘quh’, it is a potential candidate.

      We should also note that there is a structural difference between English and Scots with regard to this phoneme: In English, ‘wh’ can be pronounced as either /w/ or /ʍ/ depending on dialect, but in Scots, ‘wh/quh’ can be pronounced as /ʍ/ or /f/. There is therefore a good reason for choosing a different symbol.

      I don’t believe this is the same thing as when the truly idiotic spellings were introduced into English. I’m not advocating introducing artificially antiquated spellings, but simply to chose a different grapheme than English for expressing what can be considered the same phoneme, in order to mark we’re talking about two separate languages.

      It’s a bit like when Norwegian borrowed ‘å’ from Swedish to replace Danish ‘aa’. It didn’t have any practical benefits per se, but it made Norwegian look different. (Danish then borrowed ‘å’ too half a century later, but that’s a different story.)

      • Dear Thomas,

        Thanks for your interesting and inquiring posts.

        As a Russian-speaker, I am sorry for perhaps sounding a bit clumsy in my remarks, but nevertheless I, too, have looked at the /ʍ/ sound for a while, and I found Niall’s comment to be valuable and right.

        The famous fact is that the Celtic languages have divided up in a dichotomy of P- and Q-sound patterns. The transition form /k/ to /p/ or /ʍ/ (or even /f/) had obviously been aimed at simplifying speech production, and, of course, it is evident that there is a process in the UK’s different dialects still going on.

        I am not an language expert—please, correct me—but judging from what I heard on the BBC radio, I must say that the /ʍ/ sound sounds like /ɣw/ to me, sometimes.

        As for my native languages, Russian and Ukrainian, I see the reverse situation in the South-Russian dialects, especially in Ukrainian (however, in formal standard Ukrainian, they do not acknowledge this at all). Namely, most borrowed words with /f/ sound have become /xʍ/ (“soft” form is /ç̄вj/) in the mouth of the elder-generation speakers.

        As a separate issue, I would like to discuss with you your 2012 ( post about swapping orthographic features of Scottish Gaelic with Russian. That sounds great! Let talk it over via email.


  • facebook_CawCannie

    Hou no juist gang faurer back an tak Auld English ?


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