Survival of the fittest: a Cornish

This kind of sums up my feelings about minority languages.

Language is one area where I’m uneasy about government spending. I mean, wouldn’t it be easier and less expensive if everybody was speaking the same language? The world might be a bit less interesting, but it would be a whole lot easier. I mean, if people want to speak a language like Gaelic for instance, then that’s fair enough; that’s their personal choice as much as it’s my personal choice to speak English. But why should that be funded by the government?

The decline of Gaelic is slowing down. My personal theory for this is that more people want to get more value out of their licence fee, by making the most of regional variations, when their favourite programme is replaced by Dè a-Nis? again.

Back to Cornwall though.

The government money is on the table and the political will in Whitehall and Europe is apparently growing to help Cornish speakers turn their native tongue into a viable, living language.

But there is one stumbling block: Cornish speakers cannot agree on how their language should be spelt.

So what’s it called?

Kernewek, Kernowek, Kernuak or Curnoack

Maybe there’s a reason why the language is dying out.

But it doesn’t end there.

The revival of Cornish began to gather pace in the 1920s when a version which came to be known as Unified Cornish was reconstructed using language found in medieval miracle plays and borrowing from related Celtic tongues such as Welsh and Breton.

Forty years ago, as interest grew, the Cornish Language Board was formed. Some members felt Unified Cornish was inaccurate and came up with a new system, with different spellings, Common Cornish.

In the mid 1980s, another splinter group set up the Cornish Language Council and championed a third system, Modern Cornish, based not on medieval manuscripts but the way the language was last spoken in the 1700s.

You know, I’m beginning to think that this is just a bunch of jobsworths with nothing better to do than learn a language that died out three hundred years ago.

I like this quote.

George Ansell, a supporter of Common Cornish, said that version was easiest to teach. “If people can’t agree, it will become a Darwinian situation – the survival of the fittest.”

Excuse me, but that seems to have happened already, and they all died out. And now they need government money to help one of them survive. But only if they can decide which one.

1 comment

  1. How the heck to the Welsh manage it – seems like everywhere you turn these days there’s “Welsh language version available” turning up. Are there a lot of Welsh speakers, or are they just a vocal bunch?
    From what I understand there’s a good deal of public money going to support Welsh, so in the interests of fairness a proportionate amount should go to support Gaelic – it’s part of the culture!
    I’m always very suspicious of the single language argument – surely we should be encouraging the kids to learn MORE languages, like they do in Europe. I’m also kind of concerned sometime that we seem to be losing our (UK) language and culture to that bombarding us from across the Atlantic.
    Round where I am, the primary school kids seem to thing it’s ‘cool’ to speak with a US drawl – oh my god!