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Welcome to a language that's now only "mostly dead".
“Critically endangered” doesn’t sound like anything much to boast about – but if you’re talking about the Cornish language, then it’s time to break out the bunting and uncork the champers. Up until December 2010, it was listed by UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger as “extinct”, so this would appear to be a rare linguistic example of switching the life support system back on again after the patient has been pronounced dead.
To be fair, Unesco had only just invented the “critically endangered” category in its classification system, and was happy to state for the record that the previous categorisation of “extinct” wasn’t a true reflection of the Cornish language’s status. There may have been no actual native speakers for centuries, but the fact remains that Cornish has experienced an upswing in interest of late: the number of speakers is now in the thousands and rising, due in part to the teaching of the language in Cornwall schools. It also can’t hurt that, after decades of squabbling, there’s now an agreed Standard Written Form of Cornish, so at least everyone is now singing (or at least speaking) from the same page, as it were.
However, if you want a real linguistic success story, how about a language which became extinct over a hundred years ago before lurching, Frankenstein-like, back from the grave? That language is… ah, but we’re out of space for now. Tune in again next week for more…