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Cornish is a modern Celtic language which derived originally from South Western Brittonic along with Breton. It is first attested from a number of glosses dating from the 9th Century. The language for the period from the 9th to 12th centuries is known as Old Cornish. Middle Cornish covers the period between 1200 and 1600 when the language flourished, reaching a maximum of c39,000 speakers in the 13th century. During this period the miracle plays known as the Ordinalia were written at Glasney College. Most Middle Cornish texts are in the form of poetry. Late Cornish covers the period between 1600 and the late 19th Century. Literature from this period is mostly prose in nature, including sermons, translations of parts of the Bible, and letters.


The Cornish Language Revival is generally considered to have started in 1904 with the publication by Henry Jenner of ‘A Handbook of the Cornish Language’. No fixed orthography for Cornish had been established in its Middle or Late phases, so Jenner decided to base much of his orthography on Late Cornish. Robert Morton Nance had decided that too many English words were being used in Late Cornish, and preferred to base the spelling of Cornish on its Middle phase, publishing his ‘Unified Cornish’ orthography in 1929. This became the standard for the next 55 years or so. However those years saw more and more people finding fault with that system for a variety of reasons including inconsistent orthography and a lack of consistency between spelling and pronunciation. In 1986 Ken George proposed his own system, named Kernewek Kemmyn (Common Cornish) again concentrating on the form of the language prevalent in the Middle Ages. Others, such as Richard Gendall, preferred to base their spelling system on Late Cornish. resulting in his ‘Modern Cornish’ system, and Nicholas Williams adapted Unified Cornish to become ‘Unified Cornish Revised’. The period from 1985 to 2008 saw competing orthographies and some personal differences. In 2002 Cornish was recognised by the UK under the European Convention for Regional and Minority Languages. The opportunity for some investment by public funds brought the competing groups together. In 2008 a Standard Written Form was agreed with minor differences allowing for Middle and Late variants. Nicholas Williams did not concur with the SWF and further developed his UCR orthography to become Kernowek Standard.


The 2011 census saw 557 people declaring Cornish to be their main language. Estimates of the number of fluent speakers range between 300 and 2000. The Covid pandemic resulted in Cornish classes going online rather than being held face to face. A BBC news item of February 2022 reported that there had been a huge increase in demand with many learners living in America or Europe as well as in Cornwall, England and other Celtic countries. 6,000 primary school pupils were also receiving Cornish lessons.

Pages in category "Cornish"

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