Cornish language

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Cornish is a very old language from the unitary authority area of Cornwall in the southwest of England, UK. Cornish is a Celtic language and is very similar to Welsh, and slightly to Gaelic.


A long time ago Cornish was the only language spoken in Cornwall, but more and more people began to speak English instead of Cornish. In 1550, when the prayer book was written in English instead of Latin, the Cornish people got angry and there was a rebellion. Because many Cornish speakers died and because they would now hear the Bible in English the language was used less and less.

By 1800 there were only a few people who could speak Cornish, and no-one spoke it to each other any more. The language was then considered endangered.

People say that a woman called Dolly Pentreath was the last person who could speak Cornish. This is not quite true, but she was one of the last people to use it instead of English.

Methods of spreading

Some people learned about Cornish by traveling around talking to people who could still speak it and by reading old plays and books. Some people wanted to learn the language and speak it, so in 1904 a learned man called Henry Jenner wrote a book to help people. After this some people began to learn the language and speak it again.

Modern day

No one knows how many Cornish speakers there are now. People think there are probably about 8,000 to 13,000 people who speak Cornish. Some young people have grown up speaking it. A majority of people in Cornwall know a few sentences or words in Cornish. In a hundred years the Cornish language has grown from almost no speakers to many thousands which is very exciting for many people.

There are now many new books, films and songs in Cornish. The Bible has now been translated into Cornish. There is an event called the open Gorseth where there is a story and poetry competition. Sometimes Cornish is used in churches.

There used to be a problem with Cornish, in that there were three different dictionaries with different spellings and people did not agree about how to write the words, or how to say them. This was confusing for people when they have not been speaking long, so in 2008 people who used the different types of Cornish came together and agreed on a new standard form of Cornish to be used everywhere.


File:Origo Mundi kynsa gwersow.jpg
The beginning of Origo Mundi (Origin of the World) a play written in Cornish in the late 14th century

Here are some words in Cornish:

  • Kernowek: Cornish
  • Kernow: Cornwall
  • Den: Man
  • Benyn: Woman
  • Duw genes!: Goodbye!
  • Dydh da!: Good day!
  • Onen hag oll: One and all
  • Gorthugher da : Good afternoon.



* Ferdinand, Siarl (2013). Brief History of the Cornish language, its revival and its current situation. ''E-Keltoi'', '''2''', 199–227