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: Some rights reserved by Paul Stainthorp