About the Cornish Language

Cornish is a Celtic language closely related to Breton and Welsh spoken mainly in Cornwall and more distantly related to Irish Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. Cornish started to diverge from Welsh towards the end of the 7th century AD and the earliest known examples of written Cornish date from the end of the 9th century AD.

Old Cornish was used from about 800-1250 AD and traces of it also survive in some place names in eastern Cornwall. The Cornish used between 1250 and 1550 is known as Middle or Medieval Cornish and quite a lot of literature from this period still survives, including religious plays, poems and sermons. Literature in Late or Modern Cornish, the type of Cornish used between 1550 and the end of the 19th century, includes folk tales, poems, songs, and translations from the Bible.

In 1904, the Celtic language scholar and Cornish cultural activist Henry Jenner published A Handbook of the Cornish Language. The publication of this book is often considered to be the point at which the revival movement started.

The revival focused on reconstructing and standardising the language, including coining new words for modern concepts, and creating educational material in order to teach Cornish to others. In 1929 Robert Morton Nance published his Unified Cornish system, based on the Middle Cornish literature while extending the attested vocabulary with forms based on Celtic roots also found in Breton and Welsh, publishing a dictionary in 1938. Nance’s work became the basis of revived Cornish for most of the 20th century.

According the UK census 500 people class Cornish as their first language. It is estimated that a further 3000 people can hold conversations in the language. Use of Cornish words is widespread in |Cornwall with the vast majority of people knowing “Kernow” means Cornwall in Cornish.

Cornish is officially recognised as a minority language by the UK government under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, a status it has held since 2002. The Cornish Language Partnership is the official body for promotion and development of the language in Cornwall.

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