LÉCTON Á LÉT / sowthistle

photo source: wikimedia

lécton á lét“, s.m., pronounced [lɛkt(ɔ̃)ʊ̯̃(n) ä lɛt] 🔊, lit. milk dandelion, or simply just “lécton“, [lɛktɔ̃ʊ̯̃], is the Sarkese generic name for “sowthistle”, known in Sark commonly as “milk thistle” or simply “dandelion” in local English, represented by three subspecies of the Sonchus genus on the island, especially “common sowthistle” (Sonchus oleraceus), followed by “prickly sowthistle” (Sonchus asper) and “field sowthistle” (Sonchus arvensis). In Sarkese, sowthistles or “milk thistles” fall under the name “lécton” together with dandelions, cat’s-ear and other dandelion-like weeds, which may be called “płâ léctôn“, lit. “flat dandelions”. Although today, the primary meaning of “lécton” is dandelion in Sarkese, in Old Norman the original bearer of the name was actually “sowthistle”, today’s “lécton á lét”, undergoing a similar shift as “ménleu” to “jòne ménleu“.

origin: Gallo-Romance / first recorded for Sarkese: 2020 (MN) / current status in the 21st century: preserved, in use

“lécton á lét” is compound name with “lécton” being a masculine countable noun (a he-word that may be counted) and the attribute “á lét”, milk, being invariable. We can easily say “one sowthistle” or “two sowthistles” in Sarkese, so “ûn lécton á lét” or “deù léctôn á lét”. The pronunciation is regular, with the base noun “lécton”, [lɛktɔ̃ʊ̯̃], changing in plural into “léctôn”, pronounced [lɛktɑ̃:ʊ̯̃], and the attribute “á lét” remaining unchanged. It should be remembered though, that if pronounced quickly enough and if followed immediately by “á lét”, in singular, the pronunciation may be [lɛktʊ̃n ä lɛt]”, while in plural [lɛktɔ̃ʊ̯̃ ä lɛt], standardly according to the rules of the Sarkese phonology regarding the complexe [ɔ̃ʊ̯̃]-[ɑ̃:ʊ̯̃] alterations.

On the origin

The Sarkese name for sowthistles is technically a sort of a historical pleonasm, at least in the language of the ancient Armoricans, since with “lécton á lét” we actuallly say “milk milk thistle”, because “lécton”, despite meaning “dandelion” today in Sark Norman, used to mean “milk thistle” (sowthistle), a plant of the genus Sonchus, in Old Gallo-Romance. To learn more on the history and etymology of the word “lécton”, see the SNDO entry “lécton“.

Nonetheless, after “dandelions” merged together with “sowthistles” within the concept of “lécton”, milk thistle, in concerned Norman languages, a need for distinction most certainly arose – and that is why the “á lét” was added to sowthistles, while common dandelions and other dandelion-like weeds, such as cat’s-ear, simply either “usurped” the primary meaning of the word “lécton” completely or became rechristined as althpłâ léctôn“, lit. “flat dandelions”, as they aren’t as tall as sowthistles, so flatter.

Even though today Sarkese seems to be the only Norman language in the Channel Islands to conserve this interesting pleonastic combination “lécton á lét”, in P. Brasseur’s ALEN we find a similar distinction between “flat dandelions” and “milk dandelions” documented for Guernsey. Nevertheless, in today’s Guernsey Norman only “flat dandelions” seem to be preserved, “pllats laiträons”, while the Sarkese “léctôn á lét” are called simply “laiträons” in the Norman tongue of the island of Guernsey.

It is noteworthy that a shift, when a flower loses its position as the primary meaning of a name, as with “lécton”, milk thistle, becoming “lécton á lét”, milk milk thistle, isn’t unique only to sowthistles, as it is the exactly same case with “ménleu“, yellow daisy, and “jòne ménleu“, yellow yellow-daisy, meaning corn daisy in today’s Sarkese.

To learn more on the history and etymology of the word “lécton”, see the SNDO entry “lécton“.


Citation: NEUDÖRFL, Martin. lécton á lét/sowthistle. In: Sark Norman Dictionary Online [on-line]. https://www.bonjhur.net/sndo-vocab-flora-lecton-a-let

Relevant SNDO Entries:

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