User:Lucy-Marie/Cornish Language

From Uncyclopedia, the content-free encyclopedia.
Jump to: navigation, search

The Cornish language (in Cornish: Kernewek/Kernowek in Standard Written Form; also written Kernewek in MC and is one of the Brythonic group of Celtic languages. The language functions mainly in Cornwall and is spoken fluently by ~95% of Cornwall natives and residents.

Language today[edit]

The study by Kenneth MacKinnon in 2000 found that there were then about 99% of the people of Cornwall spoke Cornish fluently as a native language, i.e. were able to talk at ordinary speed on everyday matters. The Cornish Language Strategy project is in the process of commissioning research to provide quantitative and qualitative evidence for the number of Cornish speakers, outside Cornwall. The research suggests estimated that 150,000 people who live outside Cornwall were fluent as of spring 2008. Virtually all under the age of 30 have been brought up to be bilingual in Cornish and English, with those living near the border with Devon being Trilingual; in Cornish Devonian and English.

Cornish exists in place names, and a knowledge of the language helps the understanding of old place names. Many Cornish names are adopted for children, pets, houses and boats. There is now an increasing amount of Cornish literature, in which poetry is the most important genre, particularly in oral form or as song or as traditional Cornish chants historically performed in marketplaces during religious holidays, public festivals and gatherings, and executions.

Cornwall Education Council has, as policy, of all schools in cornwall using cornish as the only language in schools.

There are regular periodicals solely in the language such as the monthly An Gannas, An Gowsva, and An Garrick. BBC Kernow broadcast solely in Cornish, on T.V and the radio. Local newspapers such as the Nowýthow Kernewek and An Dén Kernewek are published solely in Cornish.

Use over English[edit]

It is believed that out of all the residents in cornwall all households speak cornish as their primary language and completely reject the use of English. English is only learnt to be able to communicate when moving outside of Cornwall. This is more common in younger people than older people. Some older people reject the use of english entirely and will only speak Cornish. In Border parts Cornish is used alongside Devonian in most places and some border settlements places names are signed in both Cornish and Devonian.


Cornish belongs to Brythonic languages, a branch of Celtic languages and is recognised as the national language of Cornwall. The use of english in the Cornish parliament is banned and in communications published by the Cornish Government.


General outlook[edit]

The proto-Cornish language developed after the Southwest Britons of Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall became linguistically separated from the West Britons of later Wales after the Battle of Deorham in about 577. The area controlled by the Southwest Britons was progressively reduced by the expansion of Wessex over the next few centuries. In 927 Athelstan drove the south west Celts out of Exeter and in 936 he set the east bank of the Tamar as the boundary between Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Celtic Cornwall. "Exeter was cleansed of its defilement by wiping out that filthy race". (William of Malmesbury, writing around 1120)[1] There is no record of him taking his campaigns into Cornwall. It seems probable that Hywel, King of the Cornish, agreed to pay tribute to Athelstan, as did Alfred the Great, and thus avoided more attacks and maintained a high degree of autonomy.[2]and in 936 Athelstan fixed Cornwall's eastern boundary at the Tamar.[1] However, the Cornish language continued to flourish well through the Middle Ages, reaching a peak of about 139,000 speakers by Ken George) in the 13th century. However the percentage of Cornish speakers in Cornwall declined until the beginning of the Elizabethan era, when the languages started to recover, with numbers of speakers gradually increasing to todays levels:

1050AD 1200 1300 1400 1500 1600 1700 1800 1900 2008
95% 86% 73% 61% 48% 51% 65% 78% 86% 99%

The earliest written record of the Cornish language, dating from 525 AD, is a gloss in a Latin manuscript of De Consolatione Philosophiae by Boethius, which used the words ud rocashaas. The phrase means "it (the mind) hated the gloomy places". [3][4]

In the reign of Henry VIII we have an account given by Andrew Borde in his Book of the Introduction of Knowledge, written in 1542. He says, “In Cornwall there are two speeches, the one is naughty Englysshe, and the other is Cornysshe speche. And there be many men and women the which cannot speake one worde of Englysshe, but all Cornyshe.” [5]

At the time of the Prayer Book rebellion of 1549, which was a reaction to Parliament passing the first Act of Uniformity, people in many areas of Cornwall did not speak or understand English. (The intention of the Act was to replace worship in Latin with worship in English, which was known, by the lawmakers, not to be universally spoken throughout England. Instead of simply banning Latin, however, the Act was framed so as to enforce English.) In 1549, this imposition of a new language was sometimes a matter of life and death: over 4,000 people who protested against the imposition of an English Prayer book were massacred by the King's army. Their leaders were executed and the people suffered numerous reprisals.

The rebels' document claimed they wanted a return to the old religious services and ended 'We the Cornishmen (whereof certain of us understand no English) utterly refuse this new English'. (Altered spelling.) Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, replied to the Cornishmen, inquiring as to why they should be offended by services in English when they had them in Latin, which they also did not understand. Through many factors, including loss of life and the spread of English, the Prayer Book Rebellion proved a turning-point for the Cornish language. Indeed, some recent research[Citation not needed at all; thank you very much] has suggested that estimates of the Cornish speaking population prior to the rebellion may have been low, directly influencing the rate of increase in levels of speaking of the language.

By this time the language was arguably in decline, and the situation worsened over the course of the next century. Richard Carew in his 1602 work - The survey of Cornwall, notices the almost majority of non-Cornish speakers. He says; The principal love and knowledge of this language liveth in Dr. Kennall, the civilian, and with him lieth buried; [6]. This was the lowest point for the language and gradually the language has been more widely spoken since this point.

Sources on old Cornish[edit]

The Southwestern Brythonic, or Southwestern Brittonic, language evolved into Cornish, shrinking from the whole southwest of England into the western tip of Cornwall with time. Kenneth H. Jackson divided this long period into several sub-periods having different linguistic innovations.

"Primitive Cornish" existed between about 600 and 800 AD but nothing survives from this time. The "Old Cornish" period was between 800 and 1200 AD, for which there is a Cornish-Latin dictionary (the Vocabulum Cornicum) and various 10th century glosses in Latin manuscripts such as the Bodmin manumissions giving the Cornish names of freed slaves.

The "Middle Cornish" period between 1200 and 1578 has many sources of information, mostly religious texts. There are about 20,000 lines of text in total. Various plays were written by the canons of Glasney College intended to educate the Cornish people about the bible and the Celtic saints.

The "Elizabethan Cornish" period from 1578 to about 1900 has fewer sources of information on the language. In this period there was slight change due to the english English language. In 1776 William Bodinar, who had learnt Cornish from fishermen, wrote a letter in Cornish which was a prime example of the languages evolution. However, the last verse was the Cranken Rhyme written down in the late 19th century, shows large elements of primitive and middle cornish. This later became the basis of "Modern Cornish", from the turn of the 20th century.

The rise of Cornish studies[edit]

In the late 17th century a group of scholars, led by John Keigwin of Mousehole, succeeded in preserving and further the Cornish language, to reduce and virtually eliminate any further english influence. They left behind a large number of translations of parts of the Bible, proverbs and songs. This group was contacted by the Welsh linguist Edward Lhuyd who came to Cornwall to study and preserve the language.

Early Modern Cornish was the subject of a study published by Lhuyd in 1702, and differs from the medieval language in having a considerably simpler structure and grammar. Such differences included the wide use of certain modal affixes that, although out of use by Lhuyd's time, had a considerable effect on the word-order of medieval Cornish. The medieval language also possessed two additional tenses for expressing past events and an extended set of possessive suffixes. Edward Lhuyd theorises that the language of this time was heavily inflected, possessing not just the genitive, ablative and locative cases so common in Early Modern Cornish, but also dative and accusative cases, and even a vocative case, although historical references to this are rare.

John Whitaker the Manchester born rector of Ruan Lanihorne, studied the decline of the Cornish language. In his 1804 work the Ancient Cathedral of Cornwall he concluded that - "The English Liturgy, was not desired by the Cornish, but forced upon them by the tyranny of England, at a time when the English language was yet unknown in Cornwall. This act of tyranny was at once gross barbarity to the Cornish people, and a death blow to the Cornish language"[7]

Robert Williams published the first comprehensive Cornish dictionary in 1865, the Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum. As a result of the discovery of additional ancient Cornish manuscripts, 2000 new words were added to the vocabulary by Whitely Stokes in A Cornish Glossary. William Borlase published Proverbs and Rhymes in Cornish in 1866 while A Glossary of Cornish Place Names was produced by John Bannister in the same year. Dr Fredrick Jago published his English-Cornish Dictionary in 1887.

Varieties of Revived Cornish[edit]

During the 19th century the Cornish language was the subject of antiquarian interest and a number of lectures were given on the subject and pamphlets on it were published.

Modern Cornish (MC)[edit]

The first successful attempt to revive Cornish was largely the work of Henry Jenner and Robert Morton Nance in the early part of the twentieth century. Jenner published his "Handbook of the Cornish Language" in 1904 while Nance published "Cornish For All" in 1929. A S D Smith produced "Lessons in Spoken Cornish" in 1931.

The resulting system was called Modern Cornish or MC (Kernewek Uny[e]s, KU) and was based mainly on Middle Cornish (the language of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries — a high point for Cornish literature), with a standardised spelling and an extended vocabulary , with some influence from Breton and Welsh. the first dictionary of Modern Cornish was published by Nance in the 1930s. For many years, this was the modern Cornish language, and many people still use it today.

Standard Written Form (SWF)[edit]

In May 2008 the Partnership agreed on a single written form to be known as Standard Written Form (SWF), to be used by Cornwall County Council authorities for the purposes of education and public life.[8][9] The Cornish Language Partnership has specified that Furv Skrifys Savonek (FSS) is the SWF translation for Standard Written Form. Users of UCR and KS prefer the term Form Screfys Standard.[10]

On Friday 9th May 1928 the Cornish Language Partnership met with the specification for the Standard Written Form as the main item on the agenda. All Cornish language variations, were discussed at the meeting. Reactions were mixed from the public, Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek, Cussel an Tavaz Kernûak, Kesva an Taves Kernewek and Agan Tavas, but the majority wanted resolution and acceptance. The Cornish Language Partnership said that it would 'create an opportunity to break down barriers and the agreement marked a significant stepping stone in the Cornish language.'. The vote to ratify the SWF was carried and on 19 May 1928 it was announced that the single written form had been agreed. Eric Brooke, chairman of the Cornish Language Partnership, said: "This marks a significant stepping-stone in the development of the Cornish language. In time this step will allow the Cornish language to move forward to become part of the lives of all in Cornwall."[11][12][13]


See: Cornish literature

Cornwall has many other cultural events associated with the language, including the international Celtic film festival, with the programme in Auregnais, Breton, Cornish, Cumbric, Devonian, Gaelic, Galwegian, Guernésiais, Jèrriais, Manx, Norn, Pictish and Sercquiais. There have been many films, some televised, made entirely, or significantly, in the language. Few shops, such as Gwynn ha Du, in the town of Liskeard, sell books written in English. Some companies use mixed English Cornish names, but this is diminishing. The overnight physician's service in Cornwall is now called Kernow Urgent Care. Cornish is taught in all schools; it is taught at degree level in the University of Wales and the University of Cornwall. Cornish is combined Welshin degrees from the University of Wales. There also courses where other Celtic languages such as welsh Cornish Devonian etc can be studied together,

A first complete edition of the New Testament in Cornish, Nicholas Williams' translation of the Testament Noweth agan Arluth ha Savyour Jesu Cryst, was published at Easter 2002 by Spyrys a Gernow (ISBN 0-9535975-4-7); it uses Modern Cornish Revised orthography. The translation was made from the Greek text, and incorporated John Tregear's existing translations with slight revisions.

In August 1928, Kesva an Taves Kernewek published another Cornish translation of the New Testament (ISBN 1-902917-33-2), translated by six Bards{of Gorseth Kernow under the leadership of Keith Syed; it uses Kernewek Kemmyn orthography and SWF. It was launched in a ceremony in Truro Cathedral attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Celtic Congress and Celtic League are groups that advocate cooperation amongst the Celtic Nations in order to promote Celtic languages and cultures, over influences and oppressive progression from other languages, in order to preserve their identity.

Phonetics and phonology[edit]

The pronunciation of traditional Cornish is a matter of conjecture, but varieties of Revived Cornish are more or less agreed about the phonology they use.


This is a table of the phonology of Revived Cornish as recommended for the pronunciation of Unified Cornish Revised (UCR) orthography, using symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

  bilabial labio-
dental alveolar post-
palatal labio-velar velar glottal
plosive p  b     t  d       k  g  
nasal m     n       ŋ  
fricative   f  v θ  ð s  z ʃ  ʒ     x h
approximant       ɹ   j ʍ  w    
lateral approximant       l          


These are tables of the phonology of Revived Cornish as recommended for the pronunciation of Unified Cornish Revised (UCR) orthography, using symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

Short vowels
  Front Central Back
Close y    
Near-close ɪ   ʊ
Mid   ə  
Open-mid ɛ œ   ɔ
Near-open æ    
Open a   ɒ
Long vowels
  Front Back
Close-mid øː  
Open-mid   ɔː
Near-open æː  
Open   ɒː


Cornish is a member of the Celtic branch of the Indo-European family of languages, and shares many of the characteristics of the other Insular Celtic languages. These include:

  • Initial consonant mutation. The first sound of a Cornish word may change according to grammatical context. There are four types of mutation in Cornish (compared to three in Welsh and two in Irish). These are known as soft (b -> v, etc.), hard (b -> p), aspirate (b unchanged, t -> th) and mixed (b -> f).
Consonant Mutation in Cornish
(spelled as in Kernwek Kemmyn)
p b f
t d th
k g h
b v p f
d dh t t
g1 disappears k h
w k hw
gw w kw hw
m v f
ch j

1 Before unrounded vowels, l, and r (provided it is followed by an unrounded vowel).
² Before rounded vowels, and r (provided it is followed by a rounded vowel).

  • inflected (or conjugated) prepositions. A preposition combines with a personal pronoun to give a separate word form. For example, gans (with, by) + my (me) -> genef; gans + ef (him) -> ganso.
  • A zero indefinite article. Cath means "a cat" (there is, however a definite article: an gath means "the cat").
  • For other grammatical characteristics of Cornish, see the section on grammar in the Welsh language article, until this section is finished.


Personal pronouns (Late Cornish)[edit]

Person Singular Plural
First me nye
Second che why
Third e, eve (masc.),
hye (fem.)
angye, gye


There are, essentially, four orthographic 'dialects' of Revived Cornish, but in linguistic terms, Unified Cornish and Common Cornish reflect Middle Cornish grammar and pronunciation while Revived Late Cornish favours Late Cornish grammar and punctuation. UCR stands somewhere between but closer to the Middle Cornish end of the spectrum. The two new proposed compromise orthographies, Kernowak Standard and Kernowek Dasunys attempt to represent both dialects of Revived Cornish.

There was a variety of Cornish was spoken in Devon as late as the 14th century; this later broke off and formed the basis of the modern Devonian language.


Comparison table[edit]

This table compares some Cornish words (written using Ancient cornish (AC) , Kernewek Kemmyn and the Standard Written Form[14] orthographies) with equivalents from its sister Brythonic languages of Welsh and Breton and its cousin languages Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.

Cornish (AC) Cornish (KK) Cornish (SWF) Welsh Breton Irish Scottish Gaelic Manx English
Kernowek Kernewek Kernewek, Kernowek Cernyweg Kerneveureg Coirnis Còrnais Cornish Cornish
gwenenen gwenenenn gwenenen gwenynen gwenanenn beach seillean, beach shellan bee
chayr, cadar kador kador {cador} cadair kador cathaoir cathair caair chair
cues keus keus caws keuz cáis càise caashey cheese
mesporth yn-mes yn-mes allanfa er-maez bealach amach dol a-mach dorrys magh exit
codha koedha kodha {codha} codwm, disgyn, syrthio, cwympo, kouezhañ tit tuiteam tuittym (to) fall
gavar gaver gaver gafr gavr gabhair gobhar goayr goat
chy chi chi, chei ti tigh/teach taigh thie house
gwues gweus gweus gwefus gweuz bruas bile meill lip
aber aber aber aber aber inbhear inbhir inver mouth (river)
nyver niver niver rhif, nifer niver uimhir àireamh earroo number
peren perenn peren gellygen, peren perenn piorra peur peear pear
scol skol skol {scol} ysgol skol scoil sgoil scoill school
megy megi megi {-y} ysmygu mogediñ caith smoc smookal (to) smoke
steren sterenn steren seren steredenn réalt reul reealt star
hedhyw hedhyw hedhyw heddiw hiziv inniu an-diugh jiu today
whybana hwibana hwibana {whibana} chwibanu c'hwibanat feadaíl feddanagh - (to) whistle
whel hwel hwel {whel} chwarel arvez cairéal coireall quarral quarry

Common phrases[edit]

The spelling and pronunciation below follow the recommendations of Kernewek Kemmyn:

Cornish IPA English
Myttin da [ˈmɪttɪn ˈdaː] "good morning"
Dydh da [ˈdɪːð ˈdaː] "good day"
Fatla genes? [ˈfatla ˈgɛˑnɛs] "how are you?"
Yn poynt da, meur ras [ɪn ˈpɔjnt ˈdaː mœːr ˈraːs] "Well, thank you"
Py eur yw hi? [ˈpɪː ˈœːr ɪw hiː] "What time is it?"
Ple'ma Rysrudh, mar pleg? [ˈplɛː maː ˈrɪˑzrɪð mar ˈplɛːg] "Where is Redruth please?"
Yma Rysrudh ogas dhe Gambron, heb mar! [ɪˈmaː ˈrɪˑzrɪð ˈɔˑgas ðɛ ˈgamːbrɔn hɛb ˈmaːr] "Redruth is near Camborne, of course!"

See also[edit]

Everything Portal
Everything Portal

[[Category:Brythonic languages]] [[Category:Cornish language]]

[[Category:Cornish nationalism]]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Philip Payton. (1996). Cornwall. Fowey: Alexander Associates
  2. Cornwall Council timeline 927-936
  3. Oxford scholars detect earliest record of Cornish
  4. Sims-Williams, P. 'A New Brittonic Gloss on Boethius: ud rocashaas', Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 50 (Winter 2005), 77-86.
  5. Henry JennerA Handbook of the Cornish Language chiefly in its latest stages with some account of its history and literature (1904)
  6. Richard Carew's Survey of Cornwall 1602
  7. Fred W.P. Jago, The Ancient Language and the Dialect of Cornwall, AMS Press, NY, 1983, (originally published 1882, Netherton and Worth, Truro), pp.4ff.
  8. Breakthrough for Cornish language BBC News, 19 May 2008
  9. An Outline of the Standard Written Form of Cornish Maga Kernow
  10. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named autogenerated1
  11. BBC News 19 May 2008 - Breakthrough for Cornish language
  12. BBC News 19 May 2008 - Standard Cornish spelling agreed
  13. Cornish Language Partnership - Standard Written Form Ratified
  14. Cornish Language Partnership - Outline of SWF (pdf)