Reflections on my Cornish Journey

In less than one week is St. Piran’s Day, the national day of Cornwall and the date which I aimed to get good in Cornish by. In an interesting twist of fate, March 5th is also the Jewish holiday of Purim this year.

While on that topic, it should be noted that Yiddish and Cornish have one nagging characteristic in common…well, two. Make that three. Well-(1) publicized revivals, (2) a wealth of literature from throughout history, as well as (3) the fact that, historically, there have been multiple spelling systems for the language.

I say “historically” because YIVO (an organization which, back in pre-war Lithuania, raised Yiddish to the status of a scholarly language, rather than the language of “women and the uneducated”) now has a spelling system that is consistently used among many students and teachers of the Yiddish Language nowadays, but obviously there was a time before that system came into being.

My Cornish book tells me that I should either speak about the spelling systems of the Cornish Language with caution or, better yet, not speak about it at all.

Rather than throwing around a lot of terms that you’re probably going to forget when you’re done procrastinating by reading this blog, I’ll say this: there are different spelling systems of the language, based on snapshots from the life of Cornish as taken from the corpus of Cornish Language texts throughout the ages.

If you browse Cornish Wikipedia long enough, you’ll notice that the authors who edit the articles can’t agree on a spelling system. Notes saying that “this article was written in Modern Cornish” (or one of the other systems) are not uncommon.

Here’s the thing, though: the spoken language is the same, regardless of what spelling is used for it. This does allow for a significant amount of headaches (figuratively).

So, where is my project now?

Right now I am in serious danger of not meeting my goal. And that might be okay, as long as I can reflect on where I went wrong rather than blaming the fact that my book got lost in the mail. There’s always St. Piran’s Day 2016, as well as five more days.

My goal is to feel that I am conversational in spoken Cornish and can get a good, or at least okay, grasp of reading the salad of written Cornishes that exist.

So, obstacles:

  • Celtic Languages are well-known for having prepositions that have pronoun-endings. In Irish, we have “liom” meaning “with me”, but “le” means just “with”. The Cornish equivalent would be “genev” (with me) and “gans” (with).

 

And there are more prepositions as well. This system is actually quite similar to what is found in Hebrew. Just because I’ve done it multiple times doesn’t make it easier.

 

  • There are some pronunciation quagmires. One phrase that I heard on some introductory podcasts…so often that if you say this phrase to me, I might be tempted to scream…is…

“Yth esof vy ow tesky Kernewek” (I am Learning Cornish)

Pronounced more accurately as “there of ee a tesk ee kernuwek”…don’t ask me why that “s” is pronounced as a rolled “r”. I honestly don’t know and, at some point when you become experienced at learning languages, you stop asking “why?” completely.

Luckily there is plenty of spoken material with Cornish Language Podcasts and the like, as well as the fact that my book (which is written in German) gives very helpful pronunciation guides. I would say that it was probably slightly easier than Faroese’s to learn…

  • Mutation. Ugh. The insane cruelty that is to be found in the Celtic Languages. If you look up the word “to learn” in the English-Cornish dictionary, you’ll get “desky”. Now look at that sentence above. What do you see? If you see a changed consonant, you’re right.

 

What Irish does is add a letter to a consonant for it to mutate. This is logical, but it gives you no idea of how it would be pronounced.

 

Is maith liom (I like. Literally, “it is good with me”. Pronounced “Is ma liom”)

 

Vs.

 

Oiche mhaith! (Good night! “ee heh wah”)

 

The pronunciation of “m” goes to “v”.

 

Cornish (as well as Welsh and Breton) does something else: mutates them phonetically. In other words:

 

The “vy” in the sentence ““Yth esof vy ow tesky Kernewek” is actually “my” (I) without mutation. But when it mutates, you can see how it is pronounced logically!  And “desky” changes to “tesky” as well.

 

The mutation zoo of the Celtic Languages is for another post. Or for a discussion in the comments. End of this discussion.

 

  • There are quite a lot of English words to be found in the revived Cornish (very unsurprising!). The English language itself is referred to as “Sowsnek” (“Saxon”) and England is Pow Sows (“Saxon Country”). But what is also interesting to note is that some aspects of Celtic grammar found their way into “Saxon”, including the verb “to do” existing in phrases like “I did not know that”.

 

  • Because of the revival, learners can be very comforted by the fact that the majority of people who speak this language do so as a second language (as is actually the case with…English…). Being in the company of fellow learners, even virtually, is a good thing.

 

  • Radyo an Gernewegva (the Cornish Radio Service) offers weekly podcasts in Cornish. You can find virtually every Christmas song you can name covered in a Cornish version, as well as well-known pop-classics, including yes, the Beatles, as well as the fact that the most recent one as of the time of writing included…a Cornish cover of scenes from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (!!!) (You can find it on Episode #212 at around 22:00)

 

The unpredictability of the program as well as the fact that there have been more than a few earworms from independent musicians is…well…intriguing. I like it. It is an experiment of human creativity.

 

  • A lot of vocabulary is oddly similar to what can be found in the Romance Languages. With Breton, this makes sense (with French influence), but with the other Celtic Languages, Cornish included, it is due to the fact that the Celtic Languages and the Romance Languages are actually…adjacent sub-families, believe it or not!

 

  • Welsh, Breton and Cornish are from the Brythonic branch of the Celtic Languages, which means that they share many features (even though they are not mutually intelligible!). Speakers of these languages often get asked if they can understand a Gaelic Language or if they are similar.

 

The Gaelic Languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx) make up the other branch of the Celtic Languages. So while there are similarities (like the preposition system mentioned above), don’t count on too many between the two branches.

 

  • Enough with talk. More music. Enjoy!

 

http://www.anradyo.com/promoting-cornish-musicians/

kernow

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Your Questions about Cornish: Answered!

kernow

No, this flag is not a set of four black buttons. This is St. Piran’s Flag, which is the national symbol of Cornwall and also of the Cornish language.

Ever since my last blog post as well as earlier I got a number of questions about the Cornish language from a variety of people, and here is where they will be answered!

  1. Cornish? Where do they speak that? Like…Cornwall?

 

Right you are! And before you go ahead and ask “isn’t Cornwall a part of England, and can’t you just use English when you go there? And isn’t Cornwall so tiny that it isn’t worth the effort?”

In response to that first bit, you go ahead and try telling Cornish people that see what happens. I wrote about the unique history of Cornwall here. The existence of Cornwall predates the existence of England, and the Cornish Language has been described by some as having “ancient roots”. Make of that whatever you want.

Cornish is a language that you have to conscientiously search for its speakers, and most of them obviously reside in Cornwall, and a few in other areas of the United Kingdom, especially London. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, there are curious souls like myself who have been intrigued by the story of Cornwall and its revived language and seek to embark on a journey to learn it.

And believe it or not, it still is used in some public ceremonies! Not also to mention that there are signs in Cornish in Cornwall and workshops held in Cornwall, London, and even some areas of the United States.

As to tiny, Cornwall is actually larger than Luxembourg, and is a popular vacation destination that has been name-dropped in lots of literary spheres—from Shakespeare to the recent Broadway production of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Only two days ago in Barnes and Noble at Union Square did I see an entire travel book devoted to just Devon and Cornwall (Devon borders Cornwall to the East).

Land’s End? Cornish. Penzance? (Pirates, anyone?) Cornish. Truro (mentioned briefly in the first episode of Black Mirror?) Cornish. And also a place known in English as the “Scilly Islands”.  This is an abbreviated list.

  1. Don’t like only five people speak it?

A more common variation of this question is “don’t like only two hundred people speak it?”

If you count native speakers, then yes, the numbers are somewhere in the hundreds. But after being dead for quite a while (although there are few that debate the idea of Cornish having died at all), it is better than nothing.

And…AND! This doesn’t include the non-native speakers! And there are thousands of them that are not only actively producing a literary and musical culture, but actively solicited for it!

If you want a language that will give you employment opportunities that few even know exist, consider learning a language with few speakers. One person at a polyglot gathering told me that “the fewer speakers there are of a language, the more that language is deemed important by its speakers”.

Perhaps this was a jab at language revivals or attempts to save endangered languages (not the first time!), but the fact remains: if you speak a rare language, even as a non-native, expect employers to hunt you down! (I, of all people, should know.)

  1. What’s the point of learning Cornish if so few people speak it?

 

Allow me to introduce you to the book that started this whole bonanza, Henry Jenner’s Handbook of the Cornish Language. This book came out in 1904, and the preface reads as follows:

 

“This book is principally intended for those persons of Cornish nationality who wish to acquire some knowledge of their ancient tongue, and to read, write, and perhaps even to speak it.  Its aim is to represent in an intelligible form the Cornish of the later period, and since it is addressed to the general Cornish public rather than to the skilled philologist, much has been left unsaid that might have been of interest to the latter, old-fashioned phonological and grammatical terms have been used, a uniform system of spelling has been adopted, little notice has been taken of casual variations, and the arguments upon which the choice of forms has been based have not often been given.

The spelling has been adapted for the occasion.  All writers of Cornish used to spell according to their own taste and fancy, and would sometimes represent the same word in different ways even in the same page, though certain general principles were observed in each period.  There was a special uncertainty about the vowels, which will be easily appreciated by those who are familiar with Cornish English.  Modern writers of all languages prefer consistent spelling, and to modern learners, whose object is linguistic rather than philological, a fairly regular system of orthography is almost p. xa necessity.  The present system is not the phonetic ideal of “one sound to each symbol, and one symbol for each sound,” but it aims at being fairly consistent with itself, not too difficult to understand, not too much encumbered with diacritical signs, and not too startlingly different from the spellings of earlier times, especially from that of Lhuyd, whose system was constructed from living Cornish speakers.  The writer has arrived at his conclusions by a comparison of the various existing spellings with one another, with the traditional fragments collected and recorded by himself in 1875, with the modern pronunciation of Cornish names, with the changes which English has undergone in the mouths of the less educated of Cornishmen, and to some extent with Breton.  The author suggests that this form of spelling should be generally adopted by Cornish students of their old speech.  The system cannot in the nature of things be strictly accurate, but it is near enough for practical purposes.  Possibly there is much room for controversy, especially as to such details as the distribution of long and short vowels, the representation of the Middle Cornish uueeu sometimes by î, sometimes by ê, and sometimes by eu or ew, or of the Middle Cornish y by ie, or y, or occasionally by an obscure ăŏ, or ŭ, and it is quite likely that others might arrive at different conclusions from the same evidence, though those conclusions might not be any the nearer to the sounds which the Cornishmen of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries really did make.  As for grammatical forms, it will be seen that the writer is of opinion that the difference between Middle and Modern Cornish was more apparent than real, and that except in the very latest period of all, when the language survived only in the mouths of the least educated persons, the so-called “corruptions” were to a great extent due to differences of spelling, to a want of appreciation of almost inaudible final consonants, and to an intensification of phonetic tendencies existing in germ at a much earlier period.  Thus it is that inflections which in the late Cornish often seem to have been almost, if not quite, inaudible, have been written in full, for that is the author’s notion, founded on what Middle Cornishmen actually did write, of what Modern Cornishmen were trying to express.  For most things he has precedents, though he has allowed himself a certain amount of conjecture at times, and in most cases of difficulty he has trusted, as he would advise his readers to do, to Breton rather than to Welsh, for the living Breton of to-day is the nearest thing to Cornish that exists.

Why should Cornishmen learn Cornish?  There is no money in it, it serves no practical purpose, and the literature is scanty and of no great originality or value.  The question is a fair one, the answer is simple.  Because they are Cornishmen.  At the present day Cornwall, but for a few survivals of Duchy jurisdictions, is legally and practically a county of England, with a County Council, a County Police, and a Lord-Lieutenant all complete, as if it were no better than a mere Essex or Herts.  But every Cornishman knows well enough, proud as he may be of belonging to the British Empire, that he is no more an Englishman than a Caithness man is, that he has as much right to a separate local patriotism to his little Motherland, which rightly understood is no bar, but rather an advantage to the greater British patriotism,  as has a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Welshman, or even a Colonial; and that he is as much a Celt and as little of an “Anglo-Saxon” as any Gael, Cymro, Manxman, or Breton.  Language is less than ever a final test of race.  Most Cornishmen habitually speak English, and few, very few, could hold five minutes’ conversation in the old Celtic speech.  Yet the memory of it lingers on, and no one can talk about the country itself, and mention the places in it, without using a wealth of true Cornish words.  But a similar thing may be said of a very large proportion of Welshmen, Highlanders, Irishmen, Manxmen, and Bretons.”

 

Well, as far as I know, I am not Cornish, but there might be some traceable ancestry. After all, I do have some British roots…and then there are those who want to understand the Celtic Languages as whole to a higher degree, especially since Welsh and Breton are related to Cornish very closely (although they are not mutually intelligible).

An attraction to a language is not something to be logically explained. End of discussion.

I’m going to write yet another blog post at some point about the vocabulary, grammar, and the sounds of Cornish, but I wanted to use this in order to get some questions answered.

 

And here’s one article from the BBC that contains the following gem, to sum things up:

 

“Contemporary written Cornish is also continuing to develop in quantity and quality. There have been a number of literary publications which have developed the essay, the short story and poetry in Cornish. More recently novels have been produced, along with an increasing amount of children’s publications. In terms of output and publications per head of language users this may constitute a record even higher than Icelandic. Texts from medieval times, especially drama, have also been revived in modern performances, allowing plays enjoyed centuries ago to find new contemporary audiences.”

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/multilingual/cornish.shtml

 

I have 11 days to become fluent in Cornish. Can I do it?

The St. Piran’s Day Challenge: Quest and Plan!

I have come to a conclusion: for me, it is actually a lot harder to forget something than to learn it. I can choose to learn a language, but choosing to forget a language actually takes more time. It isn’t like deleting files from a computer.

Anyhow, back in December or so I announced my desire to try to learn Cornish, a Celtic Language from Cornwall that passed into extinction and then back into life. Two other languages I can think of (in Europe) shared this fate: Manx Gaelic (of the Isle of Man) and Livonian (of the Baltic States). Some may also say that Modern Hebrew can be included in this category as well.

Why? That’s for another post.

Enough with the “why’s”, now with the “what” and the “how”

What I intend to do: get good enough in Cornish so that I can (1) have a conversation and (2) write a blogpost in the language. I have a deadline, and that deadline is March 5th, which is St. Piran’s Day, the National Day of Cornwall.

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How I intend to do it:

  • Acquaint myself with the language well enough so that I can write a blogpost about what makes the Cornish Language special.

 

  • Use Spaced Repetition (programs to ensure that I can memorize words and grammatical concepts).

 

  • Listen to Cornish Radio whenever using the computer leisurely.

 

  • Hope that my phrasebook arrives (it got lost in the mail, I ordered it back in December, now I got it again and I expect it to arrive this week), and then use it to memorize key phrases.

 

  • Speaking exercises before bedtime.

 

In the meantime, I have an assignment for you: if you have questions about Cornwall or the Cornish Language, go ahead and ask them! Don’t want to confuse you too much, now, would I?

Next time: See item no. (1)!

 

February 2015: The Revolution Has Begun

At the end of January I promised that I would start committing myself more passionately to languages by thinking about what I really want and undertaking that. So here is that thought process and plans.

What I want to do is explore new languages. At this point I have reached a critical mass of maintenance that I find it difficult to commit time to a new language, and sometimes the maintenance doesn’t come easy. This means that I have to let some languages go, and I will miss them indeed but, when I want them again, I can easily pick them up…

Obviously forgetting my Native Languages (English and Biblical Hebrew) are not an option, and even if they were it would be a tremendously stupid investment.

Of my conversational languages, the ones that I deem the most useful for me and my work are German, Hebrew, Yiddish and Spanish. Truth be told, I consider myself to be quite weak in Spanish sometimes and I know the reason—because I’ve had some bad experiences with my attempts to speak it at points, more so than any other language I have attempted.

I’m surrounded by Spanish now, living in New York City, and I have to learn how to forgive myself a lot more easily…

So these four stay!

Another problem I’ve been having is that I think my “Scandimania” is sometimes going out of control. Despite that, I’m actually going to keep the core Scandinavian Trifecta (Swedish, Norwegian and Danish), although I think that I’ve become a bit disenchanted with Icelandic for the time being, although I haven’t with Faroese.

So I’ll be replacing Icelandic with something else…

Dutch and Northern Sami are next up. While I do like the taste of Dutch in my mouth and how useful (and fairly easy) it has been for me, at some point my wild spirit needs to be tamed and I’d like to be fluent in a more exotic language. So I think Dutch is on its way out, and as for Northern Sami, I’ll keep it around for now. I think it is worth maintaining because I find it genuinely enchanting and, actually, quite useful online.

(By now you’re wondering, “wow, this guy is completely nuts”…)

Going down through the list, I think that it never was fair that of the two languages I learned for my MA Thesis, I only kept Finnish going quite well and forgot Modern Greek almost altogether. Truth be told, I want to mix up my palate a bit and that involves pushing Finnish to the side.

And Greenlandic and Inuktitut stay for the time being.

And now for my not very good list: French, Italian, Russian, and Irish. Obviously I want to become better in Irish, and ideally get that up to fluency, so that stays. Russian I’m making small progress on and the other two…snails…(French? Snails? What did I just say?)

So my new list:

Native:

English, Ancient Hebrew

Good:

German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Faroese, Northern Sami

Okay:

Greenlandic

Not Really That Good but Getting there:

Irish, French, Italian, Russian, Inuktitut

 

Learning (and very basic):

Cornish, Some Mystery Languages

Goal List:

  • Becoming Okay at Cornish
  • Become good in Irish
  • Get really into those mystery languages! Get passionate about them!
  • Set aside days and time periods in which I speak only in the target language (e.g. while working)

My heart feels a bit pained for having to let some languages go, but on the other hand if I could get my previous energy back the way I had it in previous years, it will have been worth it.

IMG_2807

Mu Mátkkis Dávvisamegielain Birra

Odne lea Sámi albmotbeaivi, ja muhtumin mun jurddašan ahte mu dilli Sámi kultuvrain lea hui ártet munnje, ja maid jurddašit nu mu ustibat (muhto ii juohkehaš, mu mielas).

Dávjá jurddašan “Manne amerihkálaš / juvddálaš  ferte hupmat ja čallit Sámegiela? Manne son háliida riepmat dakkár mátkki, jus sun ii leat sápmelaš dahje skandinávalaš?”

Mu ádjá bearaš leat Ruoŧas eret, muhto dađi bahábut eat goassege leat deaivvadan. Mu human ruoŧagiela mu jagi Ruoŧas dihte, ja mun maid lean áigon oahppat buoret mu soga historjjá birra.

Sámigiela oahpahus mus ii leat eakti sivva, ja dábálaččat mus sivva ii goassege leat go mun áiggun oahppat ođđa giela (o.d. Kalaallisutgiella, Kornagiella, Inuktitutagiella).

Mu mánnávuođa áigge, mun ovtto  liikojin muohttagii  ja nai mun lohken stuorrát kárttagirjiid. Mun gehččen Eurohpá , ja jurddašedjen “ Orrutgo olbmot Finnmárkus ja Slavbard:is?”

Ruoŧas (go mun studerejin Stockholmas)  maŋážassii deaivvadeimme—Sámi Kultuvra, Dávvisamegiella, ja mun— Skansen:is ja maiddái  davviriikkalaš museas.

Mun duođas in goassege jáhkkán ahte Amerihkká  lea mu eakti ruovttueana, ja nai mus lea rahčamuš gaskkas mu soga bealit. Mu áhčči leat juvddálaš sogas eret, ja mu eadni amerihkálaš sogas eret (dál mu eadni lea nai juvddálaš , maŋŋil ovdal sin heajat).

Sámi máilbmi áddehaddá munnje oasi mu sielu ja fearána soga—sohka fearániin mii lea maid mu iežas eallimis

Sámi leavga maid lea hui čáppat:

sapmi

Mu eadni háliida gullat mu báddema “Sámi Soga Lávlaga” ja maid “Sámi Álbmotbeaivvi Lávlaga”.

Danne mun lean almmuhan videoid… didjiide…

VIDEO COMING SOON!

VIDEO COMING SOON!

Lihkku beivvin!