Some Memoirs of the Language

The Cornish language and I have had a relationship since 1980, when I decided to learn it, armed only with Caradar’s Cornish Simplified (which is anything but), and Sandercock and Fudge’s excellent Kernewek Mar Plak, which has formed the basis of many teaching books every since. I learned Unified back then, but I could see that it was far from perfect. I started reading up on manuscripts in their original spelling, and was particularly attracted to Creacon of the World, and Keigwin’s translation of King Charles’ letter to the Cornish (a copy of which is in the back of my own book, Kernuak Es). For a while I wrote using that orthography but it didn’t go down well with my fellow Cornish users ! Things were pretty well-natured back then though, and I remember clearly at a Penseythen Gernewek several people that I know and respect highly, all around a table belly-laughing at Cornish-word play. But later, they were to become bitter adversaries: Three corners of a triangle.

Thus came the three-way split between Kernewek Kemmyn, Unified, and Late Cornish. I very nearly gave up Cornish at that point. Gone was the (mostly) good-natured knock-about between my friends, to be replaced with bitter acrimony. I joined the re-formed ‘Agan Tavas’, which then became the safe-haven for Unified users, as the Cowethas became the Kowethas, who switched from Unified to Kemmyn, and Cussel an Tavas went their own way with Late Cornish. I could see the merits in Late Cornish in particular, but also something of the merits of Kemmyn too, but it still seemed to me that Unified was the ‘least bad’ of the three forms. At least a user of Unified could read most of the principal texts without difficulty. It was a terrible time for the language and the personal abuse was dreadful.

Let me make it quite clear that no one side was blameless. There have been zealots in all three traditions, who cannot bear even the most modest deviation from their own preferences in terms spelling, grammar, or vocabularly. I’m very glad that this intolerance has now subsided, but it has taken more than 20 years for matters to return more or less to normal. However, the language movement is far from united, but then it’s a good thing that no one group has a monopoly, and there is now a widespread acceptance of difference, which can only be a good thing too. I hope that does not sound too idealistic.

More to follow when I get a moment.