Once-extinct Cornish shows signs of comeback

cornish language

It’s estimated that half the world’s 6,000-plus languages are in danger of disappearing.

Many have become victims of progress and development that has aligned speakers of endangered tongues with a more dominant culture that relies on a handful of principal languages, such as English, Russian or Mandarin.

A vast number of the world’s endangered languages haven’t even been set down in written form, which further hinders efforts to keep them alive as older speakers die off.

Yet, a glimmer of hope for those who see the inherent value in the diversity of spoken languages can be found in the revival of the Cornish language in the United Kingdom.

Cornish, considered extinct for decades, has undergone a rebirth in years, with a small but steady increase in speakers as cultural awareness of the distinctive nature of the Cornwall region has been recognized and celebrated.

Today, London is home to a vibrant group of Cornish speakers and it’s estimated there are today in Britain hundreds of fluent Cornish speakers and thousands with at least some ability, according to The Independent.

In addition, a small number of children in Cornwall have been brought up to be bilingual native speakers, and, in a development unheard even of a century ago, the language is taught in many schools.

Cornish was the language of the Cornish people, who inhabited the far southwestern corner of England. Along with Welsh and Breton, Cornish is directly descended from the ancient British language spoken throughout much of Britain.

As the English solidified their hold on the British Isles, languages such as Cornish went into decline.

cornwallDolly Pentreath, who died in 1777 at the age of 82, is popularly claimed to have been the last native speaker of Cornish, but there are documented cases of Cornish speakers into the 19th and even the early 20th century.

As with Irish, Scottish and Welsh, Cornish was looked down upon by English speakers, and UK schools discouraged use of the language by students in any form.

By middle of the 20th century, Cornish was considered “extinct,” meaning it no longer had any speakers.

Yet, today Cornish is considered to be at an early stage of revival.

“It’s far from being compulsory in schools, but about a quarter of primaries offer some Cornish,” according to The Independent.

(HT: An Sionnach Fionn)

5 thoughts on “Once-extinct Cornish shows signs of comeback

    • I’m cautiously optimistic that given our technology today we can at least preserve some of the endangered languages before they’re gone completely. We lose much more than just a unique way of speaking when a language dies out.

  1. Wonderful post; it’s great seeing people take an interest in presumed dead or endangered Brythonic languages.

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