What is the Cornish language?
Cornish is a Celtic language, a close relation to Breton and Welsh. It was spoken by Cornish people before the death of the last speakers in Penwith around 1800. A few semi-speakers were even reported until c1890 and traditional phrases were used in the twentieth century and by 1900 active efforts were being made to revive the language. People learnt to write and speak Cornish again and now there are several hundred who can speak the language and several thousands who know the odd phrase. Furthermore, the Cornish language is an important symbol of Cornish difference; eighty percent of our place names are in Cornish and the language has left its influence on people’s names and on Cornish dialects of English.
Those who revived the language in the early 1900s at first tried to pick it up where it left off, using its latest historical spelling and pronunciation. However, in the 1920s this project was abandoned and the leaders of the Revival decided to base Cornish on the religious literature of the 1300s, 1400s and early 1500s. Revived Cornish was therefore not a clear successor of historic Cornish but a version of late medieval Cornish.
The Cornish Language Council
Over the past 30 years our knowledge of the more modern phase of Cornish has grown by leaps and bounds, helped by the fact that this is the only period of Cornish that possesses a record of how it was pronounced. This encouraged some Cornish speakers to revisit the aims of the early revivalists who wished to adopt the sensible strategy of picking up the language where it had left off. The Cornish Language Council (CLC) believes this to be a more logical approach to the revival of Cornish, building on the historic forms of Cornish in the period when Cornwall was beginning to industrialise and a modern Cornwall was being born. The CLC encourages research into the Cornish of all periods but supports the teaching and dissemination of Modern rather than medieval Cornish.
Cornish has three main dialects, based on three different periods. The CLC continues the work of those who attempted to save the language in its last days in the 1700s, re-forging the links with the historic language. However, other Cornish users persist with an older medieval revived dialect. The other two forms are Unified Cornish Revived, whose users base their spelling and pronunciation on the Cornish of 1550, and Common Cornish, which claims to replicate the pronunciation of 1500. Common Cornish (Kemmyn), an name invented shortly after its adoption in 1986, also rejects historical spellings of Cornish in favour of a radically new system devised in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, this destroys our links to the historic language.
Other language bodies
The Cornish Language Board (CLB) and Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek are actively asserting that they speak for all the language community, while vigorously promoting only one section of the language community.
The Cornish Language Council : Cussel an Tavaz Kernûak
Supports the Cornish of the last native speakers, a period of the language known as MODERN CORNISH.
Skoodhia Kernûak an dowetha clappiers genidgak, ooz an tavaz gudhvedhez avel KERNÛAK NOWEDGA