14 March 2015

I have written in the past about the travails of the revived/reconstructed Cornish language which had been rebuilt in several different forms. The antagonisms of some in the small groups that use the different forms were entertaining and dispiriting. Eventually a single written form, a common spelling, of the language was agreed but some understandably stuck with their variety of the language. The reports of the quango that sits atop of all these disparate people show that reconstructed Cornish exists in several forms: dialects or even languages, I suppose. I do not know whether reconstructed Cornish beyond different spellings is developing or retaining different vocabularies and grammars.

I think such variety is inevitable in any language though broadly common spelling and meaning in words are most useful. My post Caxton’s eggs is about the struggles of English to handle dialectal vocabulary variety. English in England still has dialects, or more especially particular dialectal words and phrases, which are not readily understood by other English people outside the dialect area. Dialectal grammar in English seems to be vanishing. Different accents still flourish throughout the Anglophone.

Anyway, here is Itchy feet, a capital comic that looks at language variety head on. The comments are interesting too. Three dialects of Welsh indeed.

UPDATE 15 September 2013
By the fundraising cut off date of 5 September 2013 Radyo an Gernewegva (RanG) had crowdsourced £5160 from 184 backers. That exceeds its target and is good news. The project to improve will now go ahead.

ORIGINAL POST 2 August 2013
Radyo an Gernewegva (RanG), a podcast weekly radio program in Cornish which promotes the Cornish language in a practical way, is looking for £5000 to have a new, professionally designed and interactive website.

Okay, recent efforts to get a unified written version of revived, reconstructed Cornish have a troubled, even hilarious, history and the number of fluent speakers of any of the versions is a very small pocket of the half million people in Cornwall and even of the 53 000 who told the 2011 census that they were solely Cornish. Nevertheless, I should like to see the Cornish language project given an initial fair wind.

Clearly, using Cornish is not seen by the vast majority of Cornish people as necessary to their identity and the remnants of the unreconstructed language are interesting only as historical witness not for any intrinsic literary merit. However, RanG is a worthy enterprise, crowd sourcing is an admirable way of raising development funds, and it is disappointing to read today that only around 23 percent of the £5000 has so far been raised, and more than half of that from nine people. Only forty seven have contributed at all so far.

I should have thought a major difficulty people face in learning and using Cornish is the lack of opportunities to hear it spoken and speak it with other people. RanG is a way of listening to Cornish spoken and that will help develop one’s own skills in it. Speakers and aspirant speakers of Cornish should back it.

I hope RanG gets its £5000 for a new website.

The West Briton has a story about this.

The latest 2011 census information includes a table of languages spoken in England and Wales. The information is in Table QS204EW.

This shows that in Cornwall the number of people whose first or preferred language was Cornish totalled 464. Only those aged three and over were counted and the total relevant population in Cornwall was 515 880. The Cornish speakers are 0.09 percent of the relevant population.

In the rest of England there were 90 people who put Cornish as their first or preferred language and 3 in Wales; in some places only one person put Cornish. London as a whole had 31 speakers, the most outside Cornwall.

There is an interesting article here about the Cornish and English languages, Never no one without Cornish. The article is chiefly about over-negation in an English sentence, ascribed to Jenner, that claims the continuation and survival of Cornish; but the article also includes other observations about the Cornish language.


8 June 2011

CAD: Chicago Dictionary of Assyrian

After a labour of ninety years the Assyrian dictionary from the Oriental Institute of Chicago University is completed. You can access it here and also read there about its making.

It is a monumental and encyclopedic work, a great and praiseworthy achievement. Akkadian, the usual word, I think, for the Assyrian or Assyrio-Babylonian language, has been extinct for around two thousand years but was spoken in Mesopotamia from the Bronze Age and became the lingua franca of the Middle East. It was written in cuneiform on clay tablets, thousands of which have been retrieved from the desert and ruins. As a spoken language it was replaced by Aramaic and koine Greek but lingered on as a written language into the first century CE.

The dictionary (abbreviated to CAD, Chicago Dictionary of Assyrian) sits alongside the Oxford English Dictionary as a massive intellectual accomplishment of our liberal culture.

Would that Cornish had such a dictionary.

Hat tip:


5 April 2011

It is harde to playse every man by cause of dyversite and chaunge of langage: William Caxton, 1490

Let me begin with William Caxton’s story about eggs. He tells it in the preface to his book Eneydos written at the end of the fifteenth century.

Their boat becalmed in the Thames, some English merchants landed in Kent to buy supplies. One them “axyd after eggys. And the good wyf answerde that she coude speke no frenshe. And the marchaunt was angry for he also coude speke no frenshe but wolde have hadde egges and she understode hym not. And thenne at laste a nother sayd that he wolde have eyren. Then the good wyf sayd that she understod hym wel.”

Caxton went on to lament: “Loo what sholde a man in thyse dayes now wryte, egges or eyren? Certaynly it is harde to playse every man by cause of dyversite and chaunge of langage”.

I was reminded of Caxton’s eggs (and the 500-years-old English of his account) when I heard that the whole bible, both old and new testaments, has recently been translated into reconstructed and revived Cornish (KS version). Other translations of various parts of the bible into Cornish have also been made, mainly in the KK version of Cornish as far as I can see.

This Cornish bible translation is a massive achievement and the writer and publisher deserve praise. There are some predictable ripples. As you know there are fifty seven varieties of the reconstructed/revived language though it is used fluently by very few people among the half a million people of Cornwall; we’re talking handfuls not battalions. No, I’m not going through that again: read the earlier posts (links at the bottom of this one) if you really wish to know.

Apparently even the Cornish word for “bible” is disputed.

For the present reconstructed/revived Cornish is going to have to live with its fifty seven. It will have to live with Caxton’s eggs. If it survives, in time a broad consensus of language, embracing some degree of variety, should be established among users but Caxton’s bugbears, change and diversity in all aspects of language, though more slowly and less exuberantly in spelling, are inherent in living languages.

Whether the contents of the bible – “Their infants shall be dashed in pieces and their women with child shall be ripped up” – are wholly worth translating into any language, including English, is a different question. I’m afraid I think it’s like a natural history of troubled unicorns in sixty six volumes.

The bible translation is the third piece of good news about language recently. There has been an update of the online Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the master work of English lexicography, and accessible for free on line with many library cards, including the Cornwall one; and at Iklaina, Greece they have found a clay tablet with writing on dating from 1450-1350 BCE/BC, the oldest writing yet known in Europe. This is before there was what we should call either a recognisably Cornish or an English language.

Earlier posts about the Cornish language

Kernewek mashup 15 February 2008

K7 25 October 2007

Their infants shall be dashed… Hosea 13.

The Cornwall unitary council in waiting, if that’s how to call it, has decided to change the Cornwall logo from the present county council one. Now any organisation should think long and hard, and then think long and hard again, before changing its logo. Change invariably brings some opposition and complaints about the cost. The unitary logo looks to me like an advertisement for a domestic gas company but so be it: I’m not really engaged with this as an issue.

However, the slogan that goes with it is also causing difficulty. You will recall the horrendous fuss about the spelling of reconstructed/revived Cornish which I occasionally explored here and which still rumbles on. The old county slogan was Onen hag oll which means in Cornish One and all and is used everywhere. The unitary slogan is to be Onan hag oll because that’s the new spelling apparently.

Yes, you’ve got it. This new spelling, a rather than e, has caused a fuss.

I have even fewer views on this than I do on the logo itself (though I think I’d avoid spellings open to mischievous biblical misconstruction) but life really can’t be that bad in Cornwall if we have time for a spelling row about a and e.

Additionally, at Carbis Bay the Cornish naming of a road has caused difficulty. The name for the road was Teyla Tor, which apparently does not mean anything in Cornish though I think it was intended to; and, to the shagrin of the experts promoting the language, councillors stuck with that rather than the correct Tir Teylu (family land) which they apparently could not pronounce.

It is amusing that town councillors have chosen jabberwocky rather than real language but there is an important point here. As English and Cornish more often share public space, it is wise to choose Cornish words that are pronounceable and reasonably spellable by the English-speaking majority, a truly vast majority, and not open to unintended ridicule because of their spelling or sound. And if there are any innocent English words whose sound or spelling reduces Cornish speakers to mirth, we should be told.


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

After the spats about how to spell the Cornish language, spoken fluently by about three hundred people, there is positive news. No, not the agreement last month on a spelling system – the arguments still continue – but six books written by Will Coleman in Cornish for young children. Every year three pupil in Cornwall will get a free copy of one of the books which are about an imagined village and its people and animals.

The books were commissioned by the Cornish Language Partnership (CLP), a body of various language interests and the county and district councils in Cornwall, funded by the British government, the EU, and Cornwall county council.

Look, I’m not a Cornish nationalist and I don’t share the heady linguistic visions of some, I don’t believe for one moment that Cornwall will become bilingual, but I welcome this positive move to introduce some of the language to young people. It stands in stark and magnificent contrast to the unhappy nonsenses that have bedevilled and apparently still bedevil the language. Coleman and the CLP deserve warm congratulations on a constructive move.


15 February 2008

Parturient montes nascetur…Kernewek mashup.

They have laboured and produced a new, credible, viable, seventh, version of Cornish. No doubt it will have an uplifting adjective attached until it becomes just Kernewek.

It is a mashup of the present varieties of Cornish (listed, if you are really interested, here) and tries to accommodate the various spellings and sounds in a single spelling system. It is intended – hoped – that this is the version that will be seen as the official, standard one and will be paramount for writing; a single written form of the language. The current others will become variants, probably still used by some of their present devotees. I think that over time the users will develop naturally a living standard as happens in every language and these days of disagreement will be an unhappy far-off memory. Of course controversy will always accompany language usage but it will be about the Cornish homologues of the intrusive r and different from/ to / than and the death of the subjunctive in English, the whole world to a few, nothing to most.

There’s still much to do: for example, a dictionary, the spelling of place names, how to invent new words for new things that will come along. Despite the welcome from most users and friends for the cooperative work and its fruits after years of factional disagreements, there has been much public contention from a few and if that spirit prevails all will be lost – you and I may fume about global warming, poverty, terrorism, inflation; these people rage about how to spell words in a reconstructed language. The silent majority of the level-headed among the present Cornish users must cry themselves to sleep.

By the way, what’s Cornish for mashup?