dimarts, de juliol 11, 2006

Response to Query on Cornish from CMC (English / Welsh / Cornish)

My a yl kewsel Kernewek, mes nyns yn ta ;) Nyns yeth marow yu'n Gernewek. Dasvewa a wra!

Hynny yw: Rwyf yn gallu siarad Cernyweg, ond dim yn dda. Nid iaith farw yw'r Gernyweg. Mae hi wedi dod yn ôl!

That is, I can speak Cornish but not well. Cornish is not a dead language. It's living again!

Ok Noah, you asked for it, and you got it ;)

To preface, let me say that in my professional life I'm an Assistant Professor of Foreign Languages and Humanities at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Upstate New York. There I teach French, Spanish, German, Intro to Linguistics and World Lit (as well as our equivalent to a Rhet/Comp course from time to time). In addition to those languages, I speak Welsh well, and a smattering of Cornish, Breton, Irish, Russian and Latin, and I can usually understand very slow and deliberatie conversations in Dutch and Italian. Ok, enough defending my background and on to the important stuff...

First off, we have to put Cornish into its proper place. The box into which it fits is under the heading of a "revived language" because while it ceased to be used a community language by large and far by the time of the death in the 18th century of the ever so famous Molly Pentraeth, it didn't really die. Incidentally, basically no one in the Cornish language movement in this day and age accepts Molly as the last "fluent" speaker of the language. A few people did indeed continue to use the language in certain daily activities (some fishermen in particular along the more watery edges of Cornwall). From those ashes was born the Cornish Revival among antiquarians and academics who took the small burning embers of a community language, looked at Welsh and Breton which were (and for now still are) very lively indeed, and tried to fill in the gaps so that Cornish could be used in every possible mode of daily life. They didn't quite succeed yet, and that work continues (check out the Govel website at http://www.govel.net/).

As for how any language dies, barring out and out genocide, which is not garanteed to work, the first people who hold responsibility are unequivocably those who speak it. Yes, there certainly was a certain amount of external pressure on the Cornish language from England, but the historical status of Cornwall (still in question among many camps) never saw the systematic banning of the language as was done in Wales and done much more so in Ireland. To the contrary, the social prestige of English had much more to do with it. Cornish ceased to function as a community language long before great institutions of English language supremacy and bureaucracy such as Inland Revenue, the NHS, and the national school system even came into being. In fact, thanks to the Stannary Parliament (http://www.cornish-stannary-parliament.abelgratis.com/), certain segments of Cornish society had their own legal system which functioned in whatever the individual's language was (so not all legal matters had to be addressed in English, as was the case in Wales).

So the case of Cornish moribundity was not so much the big bad English empire as much as the slow assimilation over time of a neighboring culture who came to view its own heritage as being worth less than the one belonging to the people next door. Moreover, it didn't just happen in the 18th century. It began happening long long ago. Cornish shows a lot of borrowings (implying the prestige of the borrowee) from Anglo-Saxon, French and Middle English. Among my favorites are such things as: Wolkomm (welcome, from Anglo-Saxon); kewsel (from causer in French, to converse (archaic)); and Gromercy (Thank you very much, from Middle English and before that Old French).

Cornwall was always a small country, and its people fell victim, as people often do it in small and relatively marginalized cultures, to the lure of power and prestige of a neighboring culture. There was not, at the time, unfortunately a consciousness of minority cultures, or indeed a consciousness of the benefits of being bilingual (still lagging behind in many countries, including my own country, the US). Parents, most likely mothers especially, saw the upward mobility of English over Cornish and began to instill in their children a disdain for their own language. Surely that message was delivered by the English aristocracy as well as those who sided with them. Eventually children raised with such ideas would come to look at their traditional language as something ugly and not worth saving. This pattern is not unique to Cornwall, rather it is a very common way in which languages become moribund and eventually die.

The good news is; it doesn't have to stay that way. Cornish and Manx (another Celtic language from the Q-side of the family) are both language revival success stories (although nowhere near as grand as the story of Hebrew). There are indeed several hundred each of Cornish and Manx native speakers, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 to 3,000 people who can speak the language to degrees varying from advanced or even near native to novice, and those numbers appear to be growing. Welsh hoochie hottie and songstress Gwenno Saunders, now at the "ripe old age" of 22 or 23, is an example of a young lady whose first languages were Welsh and Cornish, and is someone who represents not only Cool Cymru, but Cool Kernow (if you have not snapped up a recording of her Welsh and Cornish single Vodya, and you like Electronica/dance I highly recommend it - the video which accompanies it had a number of my Linguistic students drooling, could it have been that wet beach scene??). This transition from seeing a language as belonging to just impoverished old fisherman to hot twenty-somethings in a very revealing bikini is an emminently important transformation. It's one of the most important steps in language survival and revival. A language has to have a growing and vibrant youth culture, cos let's face it guys, old people are gonna be dead soon ;)

There ya go Noah, the story of Cornish with interspersed opinions from a quasi-professional in the field. Feel free to shoot back questions or comments, if you haven't fallen asleep by the end of this email.

Bennath Dyw genowgh!
Robert Jones

(ORIGINAL QUERY FOLLOWS:)
Hey just had a question...though it is kind of big...Why exactly did Cornish die out? I am assuming a lot of english persecution of the language similar to what happened to welsh, but it's a lot more fun and meaningful to ask a group like this, as a dictionary will reflect really what the historian wants you to believe...Hwyl, Noah

4 comentaris:

Rhys Wynne ha dit...

Bydd Menter Iaith Caerffili (www.mentercaerffili.org - ble dwi'n gweithio) yn trefnu cwrs 'Cyflwyniad i'r iaith Gernyweg' trwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg dydd Gwener.
Dwi'n edrych ymlaen.

Dwi ar ganol darllen llyfr 'Spoken Here' ar hyn o bryd a newydd ddarllen pennod am iaith ynys Manaw (Manaweg?), sydd â hanes tebyg i'r Gernyweg o ran iddi (bron â?) beidio bod yn iaith gymunedol ond bod adfywiad diweddar, er yn fach.

Gwyddno Schenectady ha dit...

Hei na Rhys - gwych, ti'n bwriadu astudio tipyn bach o Gernyweg! Kernewek yu hwari :) Mae'r Gernwyeg yn hwylus!. Hyd at "Spoken Here," llyfr ardderchog. Rwyf yn ei ddefynddio yn fy nosbarth ieitheg!

Anònim ha dit...

Mae geiriador Kernewek - Sowsnek - Kernewek i'w gael arlein fan 'ma :

Gerlyver.

Anònim ha dit...

Aaa, diolch iddoch. Mae Cernyweg wastad 'di fod yn fach o bendrymonogl iddai, a dwi'n falch eich fod wedi clirio rhai cwestiynnau oedd ganddai lan.

'Di o'n wir mae yn agos iawn at Cymraeg, fel iaeth? Clywais i honno o'r blaen ond, wel, dwi byth wedi clywed am/cwrdd a unrhywun sydd yn siarad yr iaeth o'r blaen. Dwi byth hyd yn oed wedi'i clywed o wedi'i siarad.

Wrth topig Cornyweg, ichi'n rhedeg blog dda iawn fan yma. Mae'n neis weld yr heniaeth ar yr rhyngrwyd, chimod? Be' bynnag, rwy'n flin am fy Nghymraeg warthys i, mae gen i arferiad o ysgrifennu tafodiaeth...

Ee... Hwyl, a diolch