25 October 2007

The independent group who have been looking at the possibility of a single form of spelling for revived or reconstructed Cornish reported back on 14 October 2007. Read their report here.

They have read the situation well and made two very sensible suggestions.

Firstly, they have not selected one of the current varieties of Cornish as the new standard, as some Cornish speakers hoped they would, but have instead suggested, in their own words, “a compromise somewhere in between KK and KS, building on KD, but with an input from KS.”

Let me try to explain the meaning of this alphabetical soup which I first described in this post.

KS is a coalition of KU/UC, KUA/UCR, and KN/RLC, to use Cornish and English abbreviations, though as far as I can see the three versions also remain. KK has been going for twenty years or so. KD is a new entry, a stand-alone coalition as it were. That’s all as clear as mud, I expect. Three of the forms have some version of the concept ‘unity’ in their name. The compromise means a seventh version of Cornish as far as I can see; in an alphanumerical spirit let me call it K7, at present a hypothetical version. Let me recap: the seven are KD, KK, KN, KS, KU, KUA, plus K7. Do remember that about three hundred people speak any version of manifold Cornish fluently.

The compromise leaves out no variety, they’re all in there. It is clear from the group’s report that they felt – wisely, I think – that to leave out any one variety or to plump for any one would risk a continuation of the present chaotic divisions.

Secondly, they have not spelled out the details of what such a compromise would be. They have suggested that they appoint someone to take a definitive and mandatory decision about what the compromise means in practice for the language. He or she would be advised by a small group representing the various varieties of current Cornish. I think this means choosing the actual spellings. Scope for reasoned debate or rows. And after that is settled there will be questions like how to form new words.

Whether the sensible and practical compromise statement means anything beyond an exhortation to cooperate and offers a feasible project will ultimately be seen in the response it gets from the language users. It is now for the taxpayer-financed Cornish Language Partnership (and the organisations representing the versions of Cornish, and individuals users) to decide whether to accept the group’s proposals. They have little choice; the proposals of a compromise and a practical way of progressing are the only ones from the independent group and to reject them would mean going back to the unproductive civil war that has been fought by the small handful of speakers of Cornish for the past twenty years. The holy grail of an actual reconstructed single written form of Cornish is not yet; but the choice between futile antagonisms and cooperation is stark.

Of course none of this means anything to the vast majority of people in Cornwall. They speak modern English and savour a nod to old Cornish, especially in geographic and personal names, but that’s all. They are no more inclined to learn the modern reconstruction of Cornish than they are to learn Old English.