23 August 2008

The survey of users of the Cornish language has now been published . Altogether 710 survey forms were returned. Look at that figure again. I think there are about 440 000 adults in Cornwall; even assuming many Cornish language users were not contacted or did not respond, it suggests that we are talking about a small minority. As around two hundred of the responses were from people outside Cornwall, we can reasonably say that the users of the Cornish language in Cornwall are minute in numbers.

The details of the survey suggests some users are not in reality what I should call users. Nearly half of the users said they spoke only a few words or phrases and nearly a fifth said they never spoke Cornish or did so less than once a year; a quarter never write in Cornish or do so less than once a year and a third can write only a few sentences or phrases; and a third can read only a few sentences or phrases. Those who can speak fluently, write competently, and read complex material range from 13 to 29 percent of the respondents.

Only a small minority of users, many of them scarcely users, and only a few score fluent.

This is a dismal numerical result though interest in the language seems to be increasing. For several years reconstructed/revived Cornish has been beset by division into several varieties and the recent announcement of a single written form of it looked like a way to prosper Cornish. Alas, the preference of some of the users for their variety seems as robust as ever. Cornish will struggle for a future. A pity.

However, the future of Cornish is not about the understandable preferences of present users but rather about a language for the next tranche of users. In fifty years time the present differences should be history. A living language does not stand still but changes and, though that is more about the spoken than the written form, future Cornish, shaped by its future users, will not be the same as any present Cornish.

To see how we got here look at these previous posts about Cornish:

Cornish language update


Kernewek mashup

and better news, Cornish moves off the tea towel