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Subject: Re: Info on Kernow
From: Jon Mills <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.
Date:Mon, 7 Feb 1994 14:00:34 +0000

text/plain (55 lines)

> To J. Mills re The Cornish Language.  The las t I heard about Cornish was that
> it died out in the 1700's (maybe 1760) and that, recently, about two hundred
> ople have resurrected it.  How do the Cornish people feel vis a vis their
> ionship with the rest of the UK, England in particular?  I once heard of a
> ish man being asked if he was English, to which he bristled and answered, "I
>  British, not English."  Being your basic Canadian/ iceback Yank, I didn't
> rstand those subtleties until much later.  Tell us more.  Brian.
It is not really possible to say when Cornish died. It all depends what
you mean by "die". There is a myth that is often reported that Dolly
Pentreath of Mousehole was the last speaker of Cornish. She died at around the
date you mention. However it is certainly not true that she was the last
speaker of Cornish as there are several people that she is reported as having
conversed with in Cornish who infact outlived her. The reason, in fact, that
she is reported at all, is due to the fact that she spoke English. When
Daines Barrington of the Philological Society went to Cornwall in search
of a Cornish speaker, he was sent to Dolly is due to that very fact. Had
she been a monoglot speaker, he would have been unable to converse with her.
There was a John Davey of Zennor who is reported as having some traditional
knowledge of Cornish, though he was certainly not a monoglot speaker. He
lived until the end of the 19th century. Even as recently as the beginning
of the 20th century, fishermen were reported to be counting their catch in
Cornish. By this time the revival was well under way.
As I said, it all depends what you mean by "die". If you define a language
as dead when there are no more monoglot speakers, then Cornish is a dead
language today. However I wonder just how many monoglot speakers of Welsh
or Breton exist today. What has in fact happened in Cornwall, is a shift
towards a bilingual community. Today we have a small number who have been
brought up as bilingual from birth.
It is really impossible to say just how many speakers of Cornish there
are today. You would have define what one means as a speaker. Is one going
to count only those Cornish speakers who are resident in Cornwall? Would
one count anyone who had once attended a couple of evening classes. If
it is stipulated that they must be fluent to be counted, then it is
necessary to say precisely what one means by fluent. How is fluency or
proficiency to be measured? I would estimate that I personally know around
200 people that I could have a conversation with in Cornish.
With regard to your last point, the Cornish certainly DON'T regard
themselves as being English!
                           Dhewgh yn lel
                           (Yours sincerely)
                                    Jon Mills

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