One of my favourite magazines is The Salisbury Review, all of whose articles are challenging and counter-cultural, many with the added advantage of being hilariously funny. When I renewed my subscription recently they asked me to circulate some of their articles in the hope of gaining them more subscribers. I’ll do this from time to time on this blog, because they’re “worth it”, as the advertisers say. Here is a snippet, for starters. Just before the Scottish referendum, when it looked as if Alex Salmond and his Nationalists might just win, Roy Kerridge wrote:
Britain appears to be falling to pieces, perhaps to return to the days of Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria. If Cornwall becomes the Republic of Kernow, it will be the last straw. For any Cornishman contemplating such a thing, I would say, Think of the Children. Cornish nationalists are sure to revive the dead Cornish language and force unhappy children to learn it. One generation’s ideal is the next generation’s torment. Shakespeare, filled with compassion, wrote of the boy crawling like snail unwillingly to school. He little thought that in later years boys would crawl unwillingly to school because they had to learn Shakespeare for English homework.
I have very mixed feelings about this. For instance, as a boy I hated learning poetry by heart, but now I am very glad I was forced to do so. I can still recite in my head lengthy passages from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar–which is an excellent way of dispelling boredom (though certainly not as beneficial as saying the rosary). And though I have found it rewarding to study the Cornish language (though not in any depth) I would be reluctant to make it compulsory for children, even if it is pleasant to think of an tavas kernewek being spoken throughout Kernow from Launceston to Land’s End. It seems to me that Celtic languages are particularly difficult, with all those damned mutations at the beginnings of words. (For instance, mam, mother; an vam, the mother.) Especially as there are rather esoteric reasons why these mutations don’t always apply. ( An tavas kernewek could be wrong: it may be an davas gernewek for all I know.)
Cornish (like Welsh) is reasonably predictable in its spelling, at least (in my opinion) compared with Irish, which to me looks like some concocted tongue from science fiction. One Irish speaker to whom I expressed this view replied pityingly that Irish spelling is completely logical, conveying the appropriate sounds with remarkable accuracy. I will have to take his word for it, because on the Irish language he knows what he is talking about, and I don’t.