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October 6, 2014

Compulsory Cornish?

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.


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