July 24, 2024


The ancient Cornish language has been declared as dehwelans dhyworth an marow – back from the dead amid a surge in popularity thanks to Covid-19 and a critically acclaimed psych pop star.

There has been a significant increase in the number of people learning Cornish since the pandemic lockdown forced classes online, according to volunteer network An Rosweyth.

“We’ve got people in America, we’ve got people in Australia, Mexico, Spain, Turkey,” said Emma Jenkin, its support officer, who said her last online lesson had “some people in Cornwall – but mostly people are dotted all over the place”.

Jenkin added there had been a “huge influx” of people wanting to learn Cornish during the pandemic and interest had continued to grow – not just from those overseas who mostly have Cornish heritage, she said.

Younger people are taking lessons because of the recent resurgence in popular culture. Singer-songwriter Gwenno’s Mercury Prize-winning album, Le Kov, was written and performed entirely in Cornish. Comedian Edward Rowe, better known as Kernow King, also helped popularize the language.

The sudden popularity is quite the turnaround for a language that was officially declared “extinct” by Unesco’s world atlas of languages ​​a little over a decade ago. The UN Heritage Agency now classifies Cornish – Nuclear awakening – as “threatened”, after being classified as “critically endangered” in 2010.

Only 557 people described themselves as fluent Cornish speakers in the most recent UK census. However, experts say this is probably a significant underestimate because it relates to the number of people who speak it as a first language, when in fact most Cornish speakers use English in everyday life.

Cornwall Council estimates that between 2,000 and 5,000 people can speak basic Cornish, but that number is increasing.

A report by Language magazine last year over 4,000 people claimed to be learning Cornish across the country. According to testimony given to a parliamentary committeetaught more than 2,000 people the language using the app Memrise while a further 200 took formal adult education classes.

While these classes were once the preserve of retirees and amateur enthusiasts, Jenkin said, they are now becoming popular with a younger generation.

More than two dozen primary schools, representing more than 9,000 pupils, have started learning the ancient language as part of a scheme called Go Cornish.

This has created its own problem: there are not enough Cornish teachers to meet the demand, Jenkin said: “There is only one school support officer for the whole of Cornwall – and she only works part-time – so they [Go Cornish] have a waiting list because they can’t do more than they do”.

Denzil Monk, the CEO of independent production company Bosena, said artists like Gwenno and films like Bait and Even Men by Bafta-winning director Mark Jenkin was part of a renaissance in Cornwall’s cultural scene.

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“When I was growing up [Cornish] was seen as a historical thing and there were only a small number of people who learned it,” he said. “But it has become something that is easy to get into and accepted as something that is fun and an important part of our cultural life”.

The revival has not come as a result of increased funding from central government, which formally recognized Cornish as a national minority in legislation in 2014.

But recognition alone is “not enough to support a minority language to decline,” Cornwall Council said in a submission to MPs last year, describing the language as “a British cultural asset at risk” .

Monk, who is leading an effort to promote more Cornish-language films, said he never considered the language to have died out – “perhaps fast asleep” – but that its recent revival in popular culture reflected what the ground happened.

More people use bits of basic Cornish – like dj that for hello, or more race for thanks – in everyday life, he said. The language, with roots stretching back thousands of years, is now seen as “interesting, culturally relevant and contemporary, rather than something of the past”.

Useful Cornish words
Good morning – Myttin da
Good afternoon – Dohajydh da
Thank you- Meur race
Please – Mar commit
more cake – Moy tesen
How are you? – Fatla genes?
Very good – Pur dha
Angry/Horrible – Eutychus
I would like to – My a wynnsa
How are my beauties? – Fatla genowgh how ow thekteryow?



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