Cornish is a totally different language from English. It is very similar to Welsh, and even closer to Breton—the language spoken in Brittany. These three languages all sprang from the same root many centuries ago.
A brief history
Cornish is descended directly from the ancient Brythonic language that was spoken in much of Britain during the Iron Age and Roman period, long before the English language developed and came to dominate. In the 5th and 6th centuries, the Anglo-Saxons from northern Europe invaded Britain and pushed the existing Celtic inhabitants westwards into Wales and Cornwall, where they continued to speak their own language. In the same period, Christian missionaries from Ireland and Wales came to Cornwall and helped shape its separate identity. In 936 AD, King Athelstan of England declared the River Tamar to be the official boundary between the West Saxons and the Cornish, who were seen as a separate nation, with their own language and customs. This separation continued through the Middle Ages, when on numerous occasions the people of Cornwall withstood attempts by the English authorities to force English customs, and the English language, upon them. Gradually, however, English customs and culture infiltrated Cornwall and the Cornish language began to be less widely known and spoken. The bulk of the literature in Cornish that remains today comes from the period 1200 to 1600 AD, known as the Middle Cornish period. By the middle of the 17th century, Cornish was spoken only in Penwith and Kerrier and was no longer being passed on to the next generation as a living language. The last native speakers of Cornish are believed to have died by the end of the 18th century. Tradition has it that the very last native Cornish speaker was Dollly Pentreath, a fishwife from Paul, who died in 1777, though in fact there were certainly others with traditional knowledge of the language who survived her. Scholars continued to study the language after it ceased to be used as a community language and some even made efforts to revive it, though there were differences of opinion on matters of both spelling and pronunciation. Plus ça change. The language was set back on its feet early in the 20th century thanks to the efforts of Henry Jenner and Robert Morton Nance. Today there is more interest in the language than ever and the number of Cornish speakers expands each year. An official body, the Cornish Language Partnership, oversees the coining of new words for modern items and concepts. Klass An Hay is part of this Cornish language revival movement, and invites you to come and join in the excitement of it!
An Yeth Kernewek
The Cornish Language
Forms of modern
You can choose to learn using either the latest Standard Written Form (SWF) spelling system or the ‘Kernewek Kemmyn’ (‘Common Cornish’) system which is still widely used. The differences between these forms are minimal and the teachers will support you in your choice and advise you of the differences. The Standard Written Form, or Furv Skrifys Savonek to give it its Cornish name, is the form you will see used on street-name signs and official documents.
What modern Cornish
Here’s a sample of the language written in SWF, with a translation below it:Y'n vledhen 1800 nyns o agan taves kernewek byw. Ny allas den klappya Kernewek, dell hevel. Mes y'n vledhen 2018 yma tus ow klappya an keth yeth na arta. Fatel yll homma bos gwir? Yma a-dro dhe dhew kans bledhen ynter an dhiw vledhen ma. Hwedhel agan taves yw hemma.Translation: ‘In the year 1800 our Cornish language was not a living one. People couldn't chat in Cornish, it seems. But in the year 2018 there are people chatting in this same language again. How can this be true? There are about two centuries between these two years. This is the story of our language.’