Before I spent some time learning Cornish for this year of investigating endangered languages, I really knew nothing about it. I’ve never been to Cornwall and have no real connection to the place except that it’s in the same country I am. All I really knew was that it’s a Celtic language, and it’s very endangered. I learnt a lot more in between!
What is Cornish?
Cornish is another Brythonic language, spoken in Southwest England (i.e. Cornwall). It became extinct as a first language in the late 18th century, but a revival began in the early 20th century. Although it’s difficult to find an exact number of speakers now (the ONS has a figure of 557 speakers in England and Wales from the 2011 census; maybe we’ll see a higher number this year!), there have been increases in publishing and schooling in the language, which suggest it is getting healthier.
Moreover, UNESCO changed their classification of Cornish from ‘extinct’ in 2010, indicating that there are a relatively significant number of speakers. Still, it is considered ‘critically endangered’ – so there’s a long way to go.
And just in case you’re wondering what Cornish sounds like, here’s a cool video from Wikitongues for you!
Why did I choose Cornish?
When I originally chose my list of languages for 2020, I made sure to include all the endangered languages that were indigenous to the UK (and Ireland) – as these are the ones closest, geographically-speaking, to me. I had no real experience with any of them, but Cornish and Manx were the most unknown, so I was very excited to get on with learning a little!
Like I said in the intro, I’ve never been to Cornwall, but I was aware that there’s some amount of a Cornish-speaking community there. However, as Cornish is not a ‘national’ language, they seem to face more difficulties than speakers of most of the other Celtic languages with regards to official (or governmental) support.
What can I expect to achieve in 18 days?
I found a good course to use, so was hoping to get through a fair bit of that. There wasn’t much in the way of apps or courses from the big publishers, sadly – or, at least, nothing I could get hold of at short notice.