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Cornish roots and history

The Cornish language in decline

The Plaque to John Davey of Boswednack in Zennor Churchyard

'Dydh da, Fatla genes?'...The ancient Celtic language of Cornwall was reportedly last spoken by Dolly Pentreath of Mousehole who died in 1777. There is also however, a tombstone at Zennor churchyard to John Davey of Boswednack (1812-1891), 'the last to possess any traditional considerable knowledge of the Cornish Language'. He sang traditional songs and could converse quite fluently. Why did it die out? While Cornwall remained largely untouched by the outside world the language remained intact. Some historians point to the failed 'Cornish Rebellion of 1497' - led by Michael Joseph 'An Gof' (the Smith) and Thomas Flamank - and the 'Prayer Book Rebellion' of 1549 as two major turning point in the demise of Cornish. The first rebellion was caused by excessive taxes being levied on Cornwall to finance King Henry VII's war with Scotland. The second rebellion is centred on the refusal to allow church services to be spoken in Cornish by the powers in London. There has however been quite a resurgence in interest since 1900 and some say that the language never actually died.

Roots of the Cornish language

Modern routes to the Cornish Language can be found at Blas Kernewek - A Taste of Cornish, from BBC Cornwall and MAGA. The word structure is quite different to that of English. When English superceded Cornish as the principal language some time in the 16th century, the people spoke the new language as foreigners. English words were used but in a Cornish framework: similar to the word order encountered in German. Cornish folk are more likely to say "Going Truro Are 'ee ?" rather than "Are you going to Truro ?". Un-informed people might think that this is 'bad' English grammar, it is in fact 'good' Cornish grammar! For a better sense of the language see The Lord's Prayer in Cornish.

The Lord's Prayer in Cornish

Agan Tas ny, us y'n Nef,
benygys re bo dha hanow,
re dheffo dha wlascor,
dha voth re bo gwres,
y'n nor kepar hag y'n Nef.

Ro dhyn-ny hedhyu agan bara pup deth-oll,
ha gaf dhyn agan camwyth
kepar del aven-nyny dhe'n re-na
us ow camwul er agan pyn-ny;
ha na wa agan gorra yn temptasyon,
mes delyrf-ny dyworth drok.

Rak dhyso-jy yu an wlascor,
ha'n gallos, ha'n gorhyans,
bys vyken ha bynary.

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