The opening verses of the Ordinalia, one of the most famous works of Cornish literature.
Myttin da! Regular visitors may recall our recent delight at the Lazarus-like rise of the Cornish language from the mortuary slab as its official status was changed by the UN from “extinct” to merely “critically endangered”. I’m glad to report that a further blow was struck this week for one of Britain’s smallest and pluckiest minority languages. As the first part of a policy designed at promoting written and spoken Cornish, Cornwall Council will now be encouraging its staff to greet bemused members of the public with a few choice words of the “native” lingo when they phone up.
Cornish (or “Kernewek” to its friends) is what’s referred to by linguists as a Brittonic language, which locates it as a branch of the Insular Celtic section of the Celtic family. Its closest relatives are Welsh – a language which, as a result of my upbringing in south-east Wales in the 1970s, I almost completely managed to avoid – and Breton. However, after hearing some modern Cornish spoken on the radio earlier today, I have to say its apparent lack of any guttural sounds reminded me less of either of its Celtic cousins and more of the invented language you hear in “Moshi Monsters”… at first you think you’re listening to English until you realise none of the words make any sense. Has it always sounded like that, I wonder? Well, let’s be fair… if you‘d just come back to life after a period of being mostly dead, maybe the new you would sound a little different too?
Whatever the case, it’s great that the Kernewek comeback continues – and here at Robertson Languages, as enthusiastic promoters of spoken human language in all its forms, we look forward to a future which fulfils the hope voiced by Cornwall Council that the language will soon be spoken once again in pubs and on street corners.