Cornish: Kernowek, Kernewek

It’s Monday and time for the third post in my A to Z of endangered languages posts; for C, we’ve got the Cornish language.


Cornish is a strange one, because the language died as a community language in the nineteenth century, yet now it is classed by UNESCO as only being critically endangered – due to the revitalisation efforts that have surfaced since. It is one of the six Celtic languages and was spoken throughout Cornwall by the Celts that had crossed from Europe to Britain and Ireland. However, it is likely that the dominance of English pushed out Cornish – and the other Celtic languages – to the extent that the last monoglot speaker of Cornish died in 1665.

There has been a revival of the language, of sorts; efforts have been made to standardise the language, so what is learnt now is known as ‘Modern Cornish’, as opposed to the variants that existed before. There are schools and classes set up to learn Cornish, as well as some children being brought up bilingually, with Cornish and English. The fact that there has been such a re-emergence of speakers may mean that, as with Welsh and some of the other Celtic languages, there may yet be hope for the survival of the Cornish language.

Resources to learn Cornish

BBC: Blas Kernewek
Memrise: Cornish courses
Learn Cornish Now

Sources/Further reading

The Independent: Cornish language declared extinct by UN
Ethnologue: Cornish
Cornish Language Partnership (also has some resources for studying Cornish)
Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek
Omniglot: Cornish
BBC: Cornish language no longer extinct, says UN
The Celtic League: UNESCO – status of Celtic languages outlined by atlas
The Guardian: Amazon backs down over Cornish-language children’s book

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