Why on earth would anyone learn Cornish?

About 8 months ago, I posted on LinkedIn about growing up in Cornwall but never hearing anyone speak Cornish (https://lnkd.in/gDuDbtQa).

Welcome to Cornwall sign in English and Cornish on the Tamar Bridge, Saltash
Sign on the Tamar Bridge crossing into Cornwall at Saltash.

So Kernewek is a dead language, right?

Yes. And no.

The 2011 Census recorded only 557 people in England and Wales who gave Cornish as their main language (in contrast, there were over 3000 speakers of Maltese). But in the same year, the UN upgraded Cornish from ‘extinct’ to ‘critically endangered’. And every time I go back to Cornwall, the visibility of the language has increased in the bilingual place names and street signs, and there’s an ongoing programme to teach Kernewek in primary schools.

Now, when COVID brought life to a halt in 2020, everyone who was stuck at home picked up new hobbies, such as baking banana bread or knitting. My lockdown project was researching family history.

After working back through generations of Londoners on both sides of my mother’s family, I stumbled across a great-great-great-grandmother who was born in Launceston, Cornwall and discovered that her family, for as far back as I could trace it, was Cornish.

New year, new challenge. I am going to learn Cornish – and now that I’ve told you all about it, I need to stick to it! The personal connection to Cornwall makes this interesting but more than that, as a Celtic language, Kernewek has little to no connection with the languages I already do know (German, French, Italian, some Latin).  

So I’m going to be experiencing what it is like to learn a language from scratch as a complete beginner – something I haven’t done since I was 11 and started French – but with an app of course, rather than in a classroom. I’m aiming to do a little every day and will report back from time to time on my progress.

Duw genowgh hwi oll! // Goodbye all!

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