Dydh da! An Biesen Yethow ov vy. Trigys ov vy yn Pow Sows. Dewdhek warn ugens ov vy. Treylyas ov vy. My a wor kewsel Sowsnek, Danek, Norgaghek, ha Swedek, ha my a vynn dyski Kernewek. Hedhyw yw dy’Gwener an kynsa a vis Gorthoren.
Alright, so it’s not much, but it’s honest work. I’m sure many of you have managed to guess (and I know for a fact that at least some of you have) by now that for the past three months, I’ve been trying to teach myself Cornish! I didn’t realise until a week ago that actually, if you go to my Instagram page, one of my most recent posts is literally a picture of the textbook I’ve been using. I had excitedly posted it more or less the moment it dropped through my letterbox, before I had decided that I was going to keep my learning journey secret for a little while. So, a thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m really terrible at keeping secrets. So that’s cool, I guess.
I’ll admit, realising that I’ve been studying (albeit not in the most focused manner) for three months and only have that one short paragraph to show for it is a little disheartening. I’m choosing to take it as a reminder that I still have a long way to go, but it’s a journey I’ve at least started. Before the arrival of the textbook, I knew next to no Cornish at all, and any progress is still progress!
So, you might be wondering… why Cornish? Well, I wish I had a more eloquent answer for you, but the truth is this: I had been learning a spot of Welsh (and technically, I still am) because I’ve always thought it was a beautiful language, and completely fell in love with North Wales as a kid on a family holiday. And I’ve flirted a couple of times with Irish, and Scottish Gaelic, and even had a brief love affair with Manx, but… the other Brythonic languages (and Cornish in particular) had never really been on my radar, other than as part of a bit of general reading about the Celtic languages as a whole. I’ve never even actually been to Cornwall, and the only thing I’d really heard (or absorbed through osmosis by being a language nerd on the internet) about the Cornish language before this was that it was undergoing a sort of renaissance (à la Welsh and Scottish Gaelic), but the number of speakers was still relatively low and that there was an ongoing debate about standardisation and orthography for so-called ‘revived’ Cornish. To this day, there are still multiple varieties of ‘standardised’ Cornish, and honestly I found that last part a little off-putting – for my little perfectionist heart, I’d hate to put a lot of effort into learning a language and then discover that I’d learned ‘the wrong kind’ of Cornish, if that makes any sense at all. It felt a bit like picking a side in a conflict I knew absolutely nothing about. Having returned to the debate recently, though, it seems like one (called the Standard Written Form, or Furv Skrifys Savonek in Cornish) is generally accepted for educational purposes, and reading that was like a red rag to a bull. Before I knew it, I’d found and ordered a textbook online, and I was ready and raring to go.
And you know, I was caught completely off guard. It had started as pure linguistic curiosity, but I found myself being completely charmed by Cornish. Sure, the textbook is a bit cheesy and of course the opening chapter spends a hell of a long time on numbers and dates (a wee bit more than I’d like, if I’m being completely honest, especially considering at that point we only know two verbs), but no textbook is completely perfect. Some people love that numbers stuff. For a long time, it was the only thing that made sense to me – so I enjoyed it purely for that. But it isn’t just the language that charmed me, it’s the community of Cornish speakers – all of whom have been incredibly welcoming, and not a single one of whom have done the supremely annoying thing of asking ‘why?’ when faced with a learner of their language. And for good reason! There’s no reason not to learn Cornish (or indeed any language), if you’re interested in it, or you think it’ll add value to your life in some other way. At the moment I’m compiling my own personal electronic word list with searchable verb forms (and preposition forms, because that’s a fun little quirk about the Celtic languages – prepositions decline by person, which I’ve never come across before!) and trying to make sense of the pages and pages of scribbled notes I’ve amassed over the past three months as I turn them into a more legible Google Doc I can keep with me on the go.
In summary, what started as a bit of a summer romance in terms of language learning seems to have gained enough traction to become an actual project. I can definitely see myself continuing to a point where I can at least hold a basic conversation, if not more. I’m a little nervous to speak this into existence, but I’m even considering using it for Polyglot NaNoWriMo this year. But it’s a little early to be committing to something like that just yet… We’ll see. Hopefully I’ll have more progress to report next time.
If I’ve managed to inspire you and you want to check out some Cornish for yourself, well there are loads of ways you can do that. You can get the textbook from Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek here, who also have a range of other Cornish books (though I’m not sure if they ship outside of the UK, that’s something you’d have to check with them). As well as the textbook itself, I’ve found Akademi Kernewek’s free online dictionary to be invaluable, and apparently today they’ve launched an app version on Google Play, with an iOS version following soon. Glosbe is actually also really helpful for Cornish, thanks to user submissions. There are also loads of Twitter Accounts and Facebook Groups you can join (if I have enough time before I post this I’ll link a few), or if you just want a taster, I’d recommend Twitter user @KernowFiction‘s series of Let’s Play videos, Gwren Ni Gwari, playing Minecraft in Cornish – I watched these religiously (dressed as a nun) just to get a feel for how spoken Cornish sounds, and honestly, there’s no better accompaniment to studying than a video like this.
As always, if you want to get in touch to share your thoughts, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram (I’m @sprakskatan on both), or you can leave a comment here if you’d like. Cornish corrections are especially welcome, because I’ve got no doubt in my mind there are mistakes even in that little paragraph I’ve managed to construct. Thank you for reading – take care, and see you next month!