Another mystery solved

Photo credit: Bill Boaden. License.

The picture above shows a signpost indicating a public footpath from Virgin Hill to Gwallon Lane not far to the north of Marazion. It is about three miles from where I live. The path crosses land belonging to a farm called Blakan Matti, another of the mystery names in my post of 2009.

Photo credit: Tfitzp. License.

The map above is from 1945 and shows Pulau Blakang Mati (aka Pulau Belakang Mati amongst other names). The name is Malay and means ominously ‘the island of death from behind’. It lies just a little way south of the main island of Singapore.

I have no idea when or why the farm was named after an island so far away. The name of the island was changed to Sentosa (=’peace and tranquility’) in 1972 and is now a gigantic theme park. From what Wikipedia has to say about the place it sounds ghastly. But then maybe I’m just a grumpy old so-and-so.

Sona Merg

Photo credit: Mehrajmir13. Used under this licence.

It is rather obvious that the place in the picture is not in Cornwall.

Back in 2009 I did a post about some puzzling Cornish place-names. Today one of those puzzles has been solved. Sona Merg is a large house a few minutes walk from where I live. Nearby there is a small estate of modern houses called Sona Merg Close. Today I went to an exhibition of local history — photographs, documents etc. There was one folder about Sona Merg which explained that the name is Kashmiri and means ‘golden valley’. The house was apparently built and named by someone who had returned from service in India in the 19th century.

Actually, the Wikipedia entry gives the name as Sonamarg, which is very probably why I couldn’t find it in 2009. Also the meaning in Wikipedia is ‘golden meadow’. You can see part of the area in the picture.

Are the Isles of Scilly becoming homophonous?

To the left is the unofficial flag of the Isles of Scilly. The archipelago is twenty eight miles out into the Atlantic, but it is politically part of England, more precisely part of Cornwall. Scillonians tend to get a bit hot under the collar if you call the place The Scilly Isles or The Scillies, and one can understand why. However, they seem to be undermining their objection to those names.

Go to this webpage on the site of The Cornishman, the local weekly newspaper, and I think you will see what I mean.


The Gue


I was going to do a simple post about where I went yesterday afternoon. You can see it in the picture above. It is Porthleven. Nice clouds, eh? Anyway, I thought I’d check up on a few facts before posting — such as: it’s the southernmost port in mainland Great Britain. While doing so, I came across a reference to one of the streets in the village — The Gue.

Glue, I know about. If memory serves me well, a grue is a nasty beast that might eat unwary players of the old text adventure game Zork. But Gue? Google was no use. All I got was page after page of estate agents’ adverts for properties available (now or long ago) in the street. OED tells us that a gue is, or rather was, a stringed instrument used on the Shetland Islands OR an obsolete word for a rogue. Neither of these meanings seemed very relevant.

Further searching threw up the place-name Gue Graze, which is on the coast close to Mullion, not too far from Porthleven. Gue Graze is a source of soapstone (aka steatite) which was important in the early porcelain industry in England. None of the pages I found said anything about the meaning of the name, however.

Then came the aha! moment. Maybe it is a Cornish word that has undergone an initial consonant mutation k → ɡ. Off to the usual books. I was right. Kew is Cornish for “hollow, enclosure”, and has cognates cau in Welsh and kev in Breton. Once I found this out I realised that almost every day I pass by a street whose name in English is Hea Close. This now has a street sign which bears the Cornish name too — Kew an Hay.

SWF Online Dictionary

JDL has just alerted me to the fact that the Standard Written Form Cornish dictionary is now available online. What is more, unlike the previously available PDF version, the online version includes pronunciations in IPA symbols.

The dictionary is published and maintained by Maga Kernow – The Cornish Language Partnership. You can find it here.

I haven’t had much time to look at the dictionary yet, but the pronunciations seem pretty good to me. For many words, both Middle Cornish and Late Cornish versions are given, reflecting the differing preferences of Cornish speakers. One thing that I think is missing is an explanation of the meaning of the symbols used (1) because not many users will be familiar with IPA symbols and (2) there seem to be some non-standard uses of symbols. An instance of this is the aspiration diacritic ʰ. In some Late Cornish versions this appears word-finally after a vowel — for instance the word hogh (“pig”) has the LC pron. hoːʰ. It is also used word-finally after l, as in the word a-bell (“afar”) which has əbɛlʰ as the LC pron. What exactly they mean by this I am not sure.

Watch this space for more thoughts on the dictionary.