CONFERTISPARSISON.

A good piece by Dot Wordsworth in The Spectator this week (on superstitions about the use of “between”) includes this fascinating sidelight:

A good counter-example comes in a translation made in 1856 by John Williams of a Welsh grammar compiled 600 years earlier by Ederyn [sic; should be Edeyrn] the Golden Tongued: ‘A syllable that terminates with four consonants, having the obscure pronunciation of the mutescent y between each is called confertisparsison.’ (That word is from Latin confertus ‘crowded’, sparsus ‘sparse’ and sonus ‘sound’, and I look forward to being able to use it one distant day.)

Paul, who sent me the link, asks, “since there is a word to describe this form when four consonants are involved, should there not also be a word when only three are to be found?” I myself would economically (or lazily) extend the use of “confertisparsison,” but you might be able to find the proper term in the Edeyrn/Williams table.

Comments

  1. marie-lucie says:

    Great word!
    The specification of “four consonants” must be due to this number being the maximum possible in Welsh, otherwise there would be a form of “quattuor” in the coined term. This word would seem to be perfect for the Bella Coola language of British Columbia (also known as Nuxalk – x being the velar fricative), which can have long sequences of multiple consonants, usually more or less broken up by very short intrusive vowels. I think that “mutescent y” refers to a schwa (“er” in non-rhotic English) which may be inserted to break up the clusters.

  2. I think the term for three final consonants might be “surdisparsison”, but it’s very hard to make sense of the definitions. I love the terminology of this grammar, though: strange, wandering, and degenerate diphthongs; liquids so called because “in poetry they liquefy or melt”; “umbratile” consonants which “vanish like a shadow, and are succeeded by other powers”; “ridden letters” which “suffer other consonants at the beginning of words to ride them”; and my new all-time favorite grammatical term, sparsison finicrisp.

  3. For the record it was MGD who sent me the original and who asked the question about three consonants, so I’ll pass the link on to him. I’m not usually a Speccy reader.

  4. I don’t expect I’ll ever use this word (except maybe in talking about it), but I’m glad to have encountered it.

  5. I suspect that Williams’ use of ‘between each’ is misleading. Phlandrs and Fflandrs is surely Flanders and pronounced similarly to how it is in English with a solitary schwa between the second and third consonants of the cluster. I don’t believe anyone in Wales puts a schwa between the /n/ and /d/ or the /r/ and /s/ as ‘between each’ suggests to me.
    A syllable ending in three consonants appears, in Welsh, to be cadarnleddf (strongly inflective), Latinised as fortisparsison.

  6. Sorry, Hat, could you work your magic on the formatting of that link? It ought just to be closed after cadarnleddf – I don’t know how I managed to mess it up like that.

  7. Done, and thanks for the insight into Welsh; I think you must be right about “between each.”
    my new all-time favorite grammatical term, sparsison finicrisp.
    Yes! I meant to mention that; thanks for bringing it up. It would make a wonderful name for a character in a steampunk novel.

  8. Would it be the ‘mutescent y’ that I hear (or used to hear) in ‘filum’ for ‘film’?

  9. It would make a wonderful name for a character in a steampunk novel.
    I was thinking of an academic farce, actually: Dr Sparsison Finicrisp, the hemidemisemiotician.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    iakon: Would it be the ‘mutescent y’ that I hear (or used to hear) in ‘filum’ for ‘film’?
    That’s more or less what I think, unless a Welsh linguist says otherwise.
    Dr Sparsison Finicrisp, the hemidemisemiotician
    The great-great-great-grandson of Dr Syntax?

  11. The specification of “four consonants” must be due to this number being the maximum possible in Welsh

    And in Danish: Angst – fear/horror
    Angstskrig – scream of horror.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    Sili,
    The description applies to consonant sounds, not letters. In Angst the -ng- is probably just one sound, as in English, so there are only three consonants in a-ng-s-t. The big consonant cluster in the middle of Angstskrig probably does not qualify either, because the word is obviously a compound, from Angst and skrig (I suppose).
    English does have such groups, as in glimpsed (gli-m-p-s-t) and sixths (si-k-s-th-s, since the letter x represents a sound sequence k-s, and th represents a single sound), but in each of these cases the final consonant is a suffix added to a stem ending in three consonants, which is probably the maximum for plain English words.

  13. Georgian, in the words of Wikipedia, “contains some formidable consonant clusters, as may be seen in words like გვფრცქვნი gvprckvni (‘You peel us’) and მწვრთნელი mc’vrtneli (‘trainer’).” That’s one of the least of the language’s difficulties for the foreign learner.

  14. Angst isn’t a-ng-s-t in (my dialect of American) English, it’s a[h]-ng-k-s-t.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    MMcM, “angst” is a German borrowing and part of a specialized vocabulary. Do you know and use any other words ending in the same combination of consonants?
    The additional [k] could be due to the effort necessitated by the unfamiliarity of the sequence “ngs” (where [s] is not the final consonant pronounced [z] as in “hangs” or “wings”). This [k] is intrusive, like the [p] of “Thompson” versus “Thomson” (but not “Thomps” by itself).
    I leave it to others to say whether your pronunciation of “angst” (which I don’t think I have heard) is individual or more widespread.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    Georgian clusters: it is most likely that r, n and l occurring between other consonants are syllabic, that is, they imply the occurrence of a vowel, so a written sequence -vrn- probably sounds like (rhotic) English “vern” or “vren”. It is as if English “bird” was written brd.

  17. Uhm, let’s see. The German-American surname Yingst? (It’s in the middle of prankster, of course, because there’s an actual k; unlike gangster.)

  18. Howard Aronson’s Georgian: a reading grammar tells us to “Note that a Georgian word has as many syllables as it has vowels; m, n, l, and r never form syllables.” Earlier, regarding /r/: “Between voiceless consonants it may become voiceless or drop completely.”
    I don’t think /n l/ are frequent between consonants the way /r/ is.

  19. komfo,amonan says:

    Every time formidable consonant clusters are mentioned, and I mean literally every time, the same group of whiners in the corner accuse me of peeling them.
    Next time I will go ahead & peel them.

  20. it is most likely that r, n and l occurring between other consonants are syllabic
    Nope, as finka says.

  21. My favorite Georgian surname, as I have mentioned on this blog several times: Mgrvgrvladje. Two syllables. It takes longer to say /mgrvgrvla/ than to say /dje/, to be sure, but all eight of /mgrvgrvl/ are still non-syllabic.

  22. marie-lucie says:

    All right, you guys know Georgian and I don’t. I would like to hear those words pronounced though.

  23. “Straightforward” doesn’t count, though I once knew a Portugese who rebelled at its very appearance.

  24. English clearly needs the adverb “angstly”, which – according to the daft rule that people uncritically accepted at primary school, and cleave to for years afterwards – has 6 consonants in a row.

  25. “cadarnleddf” is just two adjectives strung together:
    cadarn – strong, powerful.
    lleddf – slanting, flat, minor, plaintive; lleddfdra – plaintiveness.
    The double dd is a single letter/consonant in Welsh pron. “th” as in English “this” so cadarnleddf ends in two consonants not three and if you said this word to anyone who speaks Welsh their reply would probably be, “beth?” (what?)!

  26. @Eel: … so cadarnleddf ends in two consonants not three ,,,
    The claim was not intended to be that that word ends in three consonants (which, as you say, it doesn’t) but that the word is (as you can see by following the link) “a term in grammar for syllables that terminate in three consonants together.” Whether or not there was such a term was a question posed in the original post.

  27. Oops, mae’n ddrwg gen i Ian (sorry), should’ve checked out the link first but was in a rush.

  28. Diolch ac eich iechyd da, Llysywen.

  29. @marie-lucie, Re: “The additional [k] could be due to the effort necessitated by the unfamiliarity of the sequence ‘ngs’ (where [s] is not the final consonant pronounced [z] as in ‘hangs’ or ‘wings’)”: I don’t think the “unfamiliarity” has much to do with it. Normal English words do the same thing: consider “mince” /mɪns/ [mɪnts], “mines” /maɪnz/ [maɪndz], “sings” /sɪŋz/ [sɪŋgz]. Loanwords with unfamiliar clusters do offer new opportunities for this type of epenthetic consonant — I can’t think of any native words like “mensch” /mɛnʃ/ [mɛntʃ] or “angst” /aŋst/ [aŋkst], but they’re just following the same pattern.
    (Note: Throughout the above I’m treating the epenthetic consonant as non-phonemic, just to clarify that it’s inserted as a result of phonological rules; but in some cases it really might have become phonemic. For example, with “mensch”, I’ve noticed that many people spell it as “mentsch” or “mentch” or “mench”, which suggests that to them it’s actually /mɛntʃ/ now. And I think that I actually pronounce “angst” as /eɪŋgst/ [eɪŋgst]!)

  30. The description applies to consonant sounds, not letters.

    Yeah. But how else is my silly little language ever gonna get a foot up on Georgian?

  31. Z. D. Smith says:

    Ran:
    In Yiddish, no doubt the source of many English uses, it is rightly and normally mentsh. And, for that matter, fentster and fintster.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    I have been living mostly in English (Canada) for several decades, and I am surprised at the addition of extra consonants described by Ran and ZD. To me, if mines and minds sound the same (and for many people it does not) it is because the [d] has disappeared from minds, not been added to mines. Similarly for mince and mints, which I hear and say differently. Insertive [g] and [k] do not sound English at all to my ears, but suggests a substrate of some sort.

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