CORNISH LANGUAGE PAGE
A Map of Cornwall - home of Kernewek - the Cornish Language!
Gorhemmynadow a'n gwella!
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Contact: Mr Chris Dunkerley - Editor
Home Telephone 61+2+9876.2893 or 0419 393 509 and Fax c/o 9372.7733
21 Cliff Road Epping NSW 2121 Australia
A brief history of the language: The Cornish language is a Celtic language, of the brythonic (or 'P' Celtic) strand akin to Welsh and sister of the Breton language. When the Saxon invaders in the 5th - 8th C. AD divided the Britons into what was to become Welsh, Cornish, Cumbrian, and (indirectly) Breton a 1500 year saga for the Cornish language began! This was the times of King Arthur and Trystan & Yselt, and also the times of the great migrations with Irish and Welsh Saints travelling across Cornwall to Brittanny. The settlers in Brittany came from Dumnonia and South Wales and took their language with them!
By the time that the final Saxon border was being drawn by Athelstan at the Tamar River the Cornish language as had become was spoken by over 40,000 people and it continued to be spoken by large numbers for many centuries. Alas there was a gradual retreat westward over the next centuries. This did not detract from a great flourishing of the written language in the Middle Cornish period. Plays written in Monasteries, like Glasney College, gave all levels of society a refreshing dose of Cornish! Bewnans Meriasek, The Ordinalia, and Gwryans an Bys are required reading! With the absorption of Cornwall further into the English empire from the Tudor period it became more and more the vernacular of the poor and uneducated. The English Civil War, the annexation of Brittany by France, and the Reformation were powerful suppressing forces, which put Cornish on an ever downward spiral. By the 1770's the Cornish language had retreated to the Lizard and Penwith peninsulars, and it died quietly on the tongues of our people in the 1800s.Periods:
to 800AD British (evolving Dumnonian dialects)
800AD-1200AD Old Cornish
1200AD-1575AD Middle Cornish - A Golden Age of Cornish
1575AD-1800AD? Late Cornish
1800AD-1928AD The Embers
1928AD-Present The ongoing Revival
The Revival of the Language:
The Current State of the Language:
By the 1980s interest in the language had grown tremendously, including overseas. A correspondence course put together by Ray Edwards and classes in many parts of Cornwall and a few in Australia had pushed those with an elementary knowledge of Unified Cornish to over 1,000! There was however a growing feeling among those using the language as an active form of communicating that Unified Cornish had shortcomings and even some basic flaws! Dick Gendall (and others like Rod Lyon) had put forward possible directions based on the later 17th and later Cornish but finding little enthusiasm among most language movement people retreated to further research! Others continued to try to work with updating unified vocabulary. In the mid 80's however Ken George as part of his thesis at Rennes University did a computer aided study of the pronunciation & spelling of the language! The Language Board decided that this was the way to go, despite considerable opposition, and indeed dismay, among many in the movement. Particularly those with casual interest. Kemmyn as it became known was grammatically very close to Unified but looked, spelled, and sounded different. Dick Gendall responded by launching the results of his work, Cornooack or 'Modern' Cornish. Modern Cornish can readily be seen to be from the same language stream but looks and sounds different from both Unified and Kemmyn, and contains significant grammatical differences due to being sourced from several centuries later!
Since then supporters of all three types of Cornish have battled for 'maket share'! Unfortunately this battle has tended to put off those with a more casual interest among the Cornish community! Still the vigour of the language movement in all three groups is remarkable and interest across the world seems to be returning. What will become of the three streams in the future is too hard to tell as yet! NB: For various reasons (mainly my knowledge or lack of it) all Cornish in this page is in the Unified form!
It is impossible to say what remnant of the language came to Australia with the earliest sailors, or last century with miners and farmers, but perhaps a few words within their distinctive English dialect speech. What is known is that in the 1960's there were those who in isolation sought out rare Dictionaries in Libraries to assuage an inner hunger for knowledge of their roots. In the 1970's a group led by the Late Bill Dedrick and his wife Doris, met in Melbourne around a kitchen table with common things marked with Cornish names, and progressed to learning from books. The pending 1981 visit of the Late Denis Trevanion and his wife Marjorie) both Cornish Bards in the language was seen by Chris Dunkerley in Sydney and the late May Cocks (Sec. of the Cornish Assoc of SA) as an ideal opportunity to run some introductory classes. These were enthusiatsically attended by a number of self-learners from Canberra, Sydney, and Melbourne, and many others who were curious. From these classes started a regular class in Adelaide led by the late Ron Daw and his sister Lilian James. This class was very successful for a number of years, with both Ron and Lilian becoming Bards by examination. Others utilised the new KDL correspondence course run by Ray Edwards from England, and Stephen Amos from Melbourne becoming a Bard by examination in Cornish. A joint study class in Sydney also ran for a few years. In all three states some gained 1st or 2nd grade qualifications.
Learning the Cornish Language in Australia ....
By the late 1980's there had been dozens doing at least 1st grade work. The decision to switch to Kemmyn came at a bad time for Cornish instruction in Australia, just when the novelty was wearing off and the hard grind of consolidation was to begin. It 'kicked the stuffing' out of learning here, and only in the past few years has there been some revival with Lilian James leading this as Australian tutor for the KDL correspondence course (Kemmyn and Unified), and some work with 'Modern' by a group meeting in Canberra and a small number via a University distance learning course from Newcastle (NSW) University.
Kemmyn: Accredited Correspondence Course: Mrs Lilian James, 13 North Boulevard, Tea Tree Gully, SA, (08) 8264.5837- 1st Grade course $30 + postage during the course.
Modern: Canberra Group Matthew Spriggs, (02) 6247.5614
Modern Cornish Pages of Dr Charles Penglase ( Uni of Newcastle)
Email me for details of: KEVREN Newsheet (See No. 16) - Australia's link for Cornish enthusiasts
Some other good Cornish Language places on the Web are ....
Cornish Lexicon - Gerlyver Kernewek - Sawsnek
Cornish Language Pages
Cornish On Line
CLAS - Cornish Language Advisory Service
William Bodinar prose
Cornish lessons - L Sitek, USA
A Cornish Page - Dewi Annear
Gwiador Cornish Language Page - Snell
Look too at the Cornish Bards at
'Kevren' is a Newsletter for those in Australia who love the Cornish Language.
It is published periodically and is at issue No. 16 . Anyone wishing to get a copy can do so by sending a stamped self-addressed envelope!
Baner Sen Perran (St Piran's Flag) As well as the flag for the Saint of
Cornish Tin miners, today it is recognised as the flag of the nation of Cornwall itself.
Some favourite Cornish language sayings:
"My ny vynnaf cows Sawsnek!" - I will not speak Saxon (English)!
Q. "Fatla genes? - How are you? A. "Pur dha mur ras" - Very well thanks!
"Ty woky!" - You idiot!
* The Cornish Association of NSW
You can email me also for the following organisations:
* The Australian Cornish Associations
* The Celtic Council of Australia (in NSW)
And don't forget in
look at the Cornish heritage pages of
look at the Cornish Coming Events page:
Back to the CANSW Pages..:
To the Dunkerley Home Page:
To the Australian Federation of Cornish Associations Page:
| This page was established on 10 July 1996. Always under construction | last revision 01 April 2008
| © 1996 - 2008 : Chris Dunkerley of Kevren |
This Cornish language page in Australia is sponsored by Kevren Newsheet