1000th Road Sign Translated Into Cornish

Not so long ago, UNESCO classified the Cornish language as “extinct.” Under pressure from English, the language began its long decline in the middle of the 16th century.

It’s not clear if the language ever died out completely or not. What is clear is that by middle of the 17th century, few if any families were teaching it to their children.

Now, after over a century of revival efforts, there are almost 600 people who use Cornish as their main language. At least 20 people have been raised to speak it as their native language. In 2010, UNESCO reclassified Cornish as “critically endangered.” Not bad for a language once given up for dead!

Since 2009, Cornwall has been replacing old, worn-out street signs with new bilingual signs in English and Cornish. That program has reached a new milestone. Cornwall Council just announced that the 1000th Cornish street sign is now in place at Marina Drive in Looe.

Julian German, the Cornish Council’s portfolio holder for economy and culture, told the Western Morning News:

“Using the Cornish language is really important for many reasons and I would like to thank all of those involved in reaching this milestone. It’s great to see we now have one thousand bilingual signs across Cornwall. The Cornish language is an important part of Cornwall’s heritage. The use of Cornish is growing in all walks of life and the opportunities to learn and use it are increasing all the time.”

Curious how “Marina Drive” became “Rosva Vorek”? Here’s a bit of translation geekery:

“Rosva” = Drive, from the Cornish elements “ros” for wheel and “va” for place.

Vorek = “sea-like,” or perhaps “oceanic.” From the Cornish elements “mor” for “sea” and “-ek,” a suffix that turns a word into an adjective.

But wait…then shouldn’t it be “Rosva Morek?” The Cornish Language Partnership explains:

“Like most languages, nouns in Cornish have a gender and are either masculine or feminine. In this case the word rosva is feminine. In common with the other Celtic languages, in certain cases the first letter of an adjective is changed, or mutated, after a feminine noun. So in this case Rosva Morek becomes Rosva Vorek.”

Photo credit: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Paul Stainthorp

The Cornish Language: In Danger or Flourishing?

According to a new study, the Cornish language is in trouble. Big trouble. Researchers at University College have listed it as one of 33 languages “at risk of dying out,” along with Jersey French, Guernsey French, Manx and others.

However, in the Western Morning News, Cornwall councillor and Cornish Bard Bert Biscoe disputed that assessment. According to Biscoe:

“Knowledge and awareness of the language is growing really rapidly. There are several hundred fluent speakers and they are dedicated to teaching the language and passing it on. The numbers of people developing fluency in Cornish is increasing almost daily.”

So which is it? Is Cornish flourishing, or about to kick the bucket? Perhaps a little of both. The language began to decline after the 13th century. The number of Cornish speakers dropped rapidly after the failed Prayer Book Rebellion of the 15th century.  By the 18th or 19th century, it was considered extinct.

However, efforts to revive the language have been in progress since the late 19th century, and great strides have been made. It was officially recognized as a minority language by the UK government in 2002, and UNESCO changed its status from “extinct” to “critically endangered” in 2010. Bert Biscoe is correct that the number of Cornish speakers has been growing, and there were 2,000 fluent adults as of 2008.

Even University College professor Christopher Moseley believes that with enough effort, the language can be saved. What really matters is whether or not the language gets passed on to the next generation. So far, a small number of people have been brought up as native bilinguals of both English and Cornish. Will they do the same with their own children? Will children who study Cornish in school today teach it to their future children? The future of the language depends on it.

Meanwhile, travel planning company  GoEuro is promoting tourism to these areas as a way to save the languages on the list, according to Mashable. Do you think that’s a good language preservation strategy? We’d love to hear your take in the comments!

Photo credits: Attribution Some rights reserved by madnzany

Day Care Aims to Teach Cornish to Toddlers

Cornish toddlers can now learn the Cornish language through a Saturday day care program at Cornwall College in Camborne. The program teaches the tots language through play while their parents take an adult Cornish language class. So far, according to the BBC, seven children have been registered for the crèche, which is part of the Cornish for the Nursery Schools movement (Movyans Skolyow Meythrin in Cornish). The first lessons included some Cornish vocabulary as well as popular songs in Cornish.

Nursery school organizer Rhisiart Tal-e-bot told the BBC that:

“This is an idea which I have had for several years. This is about teaching parents how to bring up their children alongside our local heritage. There will also be classes run at the same time as the crèche so that adults can learn a little about the county.”

Cornish is a Brythonic Celtic language that used to be widely spoken in Cornwall.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, 39,000 people spoke Cornish in the 13th century. However, after that, use of the language began to decline in favour of English. Cornish ceased being used as a spoken language in the late 18th or 19th century; however, a movement to revive the language began in the early 20th century. Today, there are approximately 150 people in Cornwall who can speak it fluently. The language was recognized as a minority language by the government of the United Kingdom in 2002.

The nursery school is the first of its kind, so we will have to wait and see whether or not the movement takes off. Still, teaching children the language as early as possible, alongside English, is probably the best hope for a more widespread Cornish revival.