Cornish Issues To Be Discussed At Major International Conference

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Delegates at the 2018 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference will be exposed to Cornish issues.

Within the last few days, I have heard that a session proposal put forward by myself, three other Institute of Cornish Studies students and Dr. Alan M. Kent has been accepted for the 2018 Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) Annual International Conference in August at Cardiff University.

The RGS-IBG International Conference is an annual gathering of the world’s leading geographers, and each year well over a thousand delegates from countries all over the world gather together over three days attending sessions which focus on what the RGS-IBG consider to be the most important geographical issues at the present time. Therefore, we are exceptionally proud that our session has been accepted.

Entitled ‘Changing Geographies of Cornwall and Cornish Identity’, our session attempts to explore the fact that Cornwall is a land within the United Kingdom with a unique identity. “It is and is not an English county. It is and it is not mentioned in the same breath as Wales, Scotland and Eire” (Kent: 2000: p11). The synopsis of our session asserts:

“This palatinate duchy territory enjoys the burgeoning status of its unique indigenous culture, language and heritage amid battles to win recognition from wider Governmental authorities despite being awarded Minority Status under the Council for Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 2014. Allied with conflicts over second home ownership and the population of indigenous Cornish people falling below 50%. The area is still without a devolved assembly and threats persist of a cross-border Parliamentary constituency with Devon. Why is this important? Why does Cornwall’s separate identity matter? With the backdrop of calls for greater autonomy in Europe over the past couple of years, this session aims to explore Cornwall’s unique status within the UK, why the Cornish want to gain greater recognition as a nation and who the groups are that are aiming to gain it.”

Over the course of our session, five papers are to be delivered:

Phili Mills (MRes – Institute of Cornish Studies, University of Exeter) – Place Names; Changing Identities and Landscapes.

Tom Fidler (Phd – Institute of Cornish Studies, University of Exeter) – Cornwall’s Multiple Identities – The Fractured Landscape of Identity in Cornwall.

Dr. Alan M. Kent (The Open University & The University of La Caruna, Galicia – The Festive State: A New Geography of Festivals in Cornwall.

Andrew Climo (MPhil/PhD – Institute of Cornish Studies, University of Exeter) – Does Cornwall Parallel Wales, Scotland and Eire in Terms of its Onomastic Traditions?

Ben Gilby (MPhil/PhD – Institute of Cornish Studies, University of Exeter) – The Contemporary Renaissance of Kernowek – The Indigenous Cornish Language.

Nearer the time, further information on each of the papers that we are to present will appear on this blog.

St. Piran’s Day in Penryn – A Tale of Two Extremes: Part III

In this, the final part of this short series about my experiences this St. Piran’s Day, I reproduce a second section of excerpts from the presentation I gave as part of paper at the Institute of Cornish Studies’ Keskowsow event at Penryn campus.

Breton Links:

Cornwall has long had very close established linguistic, industrial, and cultural links with Brittany, and these links form one of the integral parts of my research. 

A researcher at Rennes, specialising in Dialectology and Breton place names, Antoine Châtelier, has forwarded me a short sound clip of a ninety-three year-old native Breton speaker called Roger Allanic from Hoedic Island, off the coast of Lorient. Allanic reported to Chatelier that his Great Great Grandfather (who lived in the Napoleonic era) went to fish in Cornwall and was surprised to hear that fishermen there “spoke in Breton” (Châtelier: 2016). At this point one can assume that this may just have been instances of local fishermen counting their fish in Cornish, but it is something to examine further. It will also be fruitful to see if any other fishermen on Hoedic Island have any related hereditary tales.

It is known that archives in Brest, Quimper, Rennes and Vannes also contain documents related to exchanges of letters between Cornwall and Brittany in the nineteenth century, the language context of which needs further exploration. One such Breton example is Jean-Francois le Gonidec, a nobleman who published a work on Breton grammar in 1807 and a Breton-French dictionary in 1821 (see Piette: 2008). As an eighteen year old, it is known that le Gonidec:

” …escaped the guillotine in Brest during the suppression of Brittany’s autonomy (and) sought refuge with friends in Penzance…within a mile or so of where the last remains of the language still lingered” (Berresford Ellis: 1974: p 122).

What sort of linguistic links did he have with the area, could he make himself mutually understandable in Breton to the local people? Berresford Ellis suggests not. However, this does seem worthy of further investigation as Cornish language researcher Barnaby Carver believes that “Exchanges between Brittany and Cornwall throughout the 1800s isn’t something that I am aware of being investigated before” (Author email exchange: 23rd November 2017).

Documents unearthed in the Archives departementales du Finistere at Quimper highlight communications between John Hobson Matthews and Francois-Joseph-Claude Jaffrennou, editor of a Breton periodical, and co-founder of the Goursez Vreizh in the same year in which Hobson Matthews wrote a letter, an extract from which states:

“If I do not mistake, I am the only person that has hereditary link to Cornwelsh at all. I have learned a bit from the mouth of the late Dr. Stevens, who was a cousin of my father. He learned it from his father, Andrew Stevens, who learned it from his Grandfather, Andrew Stevens from Trevegia-Warha in the parish of Towednack” (Hobson Matthews: 1899a – translated into English by Alban Roinard)

Jaffrenou himself was a fascinating character, whose file in the archives of Archives départementales du Finistère is worthy of further exploration for wider Celtic and Cornish links. Active in the Breton Regionalist Federation and writing extensively on Breton matters, he was Grand Druid of the Goursez Vriezh from 1933-1955, a period during which he  was arrested and accused of wanting to make Brittany an independent country within Nazi Europe (adapted from Reece: 1977). 

The same archives have also revealed another piece by Jaffrennou, this time writing under his Goursez Vreizh bardic name ‘Taldir’(Wall of Steel). In it, he talks of the Cornish “patriots” he met at the 1904 Inter-Celtic Congress at Carnarvon. Within this list, he mentions J.D. Enys (Penryn), Sir. Trelawny (Liskeard), T.R. Bolithe – an error on Jaffrennou’s part, should be Bolitho – (Trengwaiton, Madron), Peter Thurston (Redruth), J.B. Cornish (Penzance), Rev J. Percy Treasure (Cheshire) and Duncombe Jewell. Jaffrennou remarks “there was an element…who made praiseworthy efforts to resume the broken thread of tradition” (1927: p 293).

It is also reported in The Western Morning News on 1st May 1924 that Trelawey Roberts, who we have already heard mention of in relation to the London Cornish Association, sent a postcard written in Cornish by an eleven year-old girl which appeared in the Breton Autonomist Party periodical Breizh Atao (Brittany Forever/Brittany Always) – this is another archive worth exploring to discover who the girl may have been.

A separate finding from France came within the archives of radical republican newspaper Le Rappel, which was founded on the initiative of Victor Hugo. In a piece entitled ‘Chez les Celtes de Cornouailles’ in dated 1902, Charles Hancock writes about the similarity of the Breton and Cornish languages, as well as the territories’ shared history and characteristics. The periodical also contained a piece by Victor Hugo, albeit published posthumously on 28th May 1889 which mentions further links between Cornwall and Brittany (ibid). The importance of these historic cultural and trading links is perhaps summed up in a contribution from the readers’ letters section of Le Rappel on 16th September 1903. Hugues Destrem from the Côtes-d’Armor port town of Treguier writes of the possibility of “peasants from Cornwall coming to Brittany” if the financial hardships being suffered across Cornwall continued. Brittany would be a chosen location for these people as a result of this shared history and language roots. It appears that further documents of interest and importance are likely to be discovered within the Breton territory.

William Barnes

Recent unpublished research by Alan Kent has brought to light the work of William Barnes, who was a Church of England priest, poet and language scholar who lived between 1801 and 1886. Barnes, Kent writes, “viewed positively the influence of Celtic and Anglo-Celtic languages and literatures.”

The Barnes Archive, at the Dorset County Museum reveals that Bernard Jones thought that Barnes had translated three poems which were originally in Cornish. The first of which, is believed to have come from the Ordinalia, and reads:

All we pray young and old,

To God always mercy with pity

That we may be preserved from the evil one

And all saved without end.

Kent believes that neither Bernard Jones or Barnes appear to have identified what the original piece of work is, but potentially the appeal to them may have come from their original rhyme and rhythm in Cornish:

Ol ny a pys yowynk ha hen,

War thu pup prys mercy gan ken,

May fem guythys rak an bylen,

Hagh ol sylwys trank hep horfen.

It is also suggested by Kent that Barnes is likely to have reproduced the version of the Ordinalia that Norris translated, which makes one assume that Barnes did little or no knowledge of the Cornish language himself.

The second extract that appears in Barnes’ work appears to come from the poem Delkyow Savy (Strawberry Leaves), which was first compiled by Thomas Tonkin in 1698. The excerpt used by Barnes is:

Where are you going, little fair maid,

With your rosy cheeks and your golden hair?

I am going a-milking, sir, she said.

The strawberry leaves make maidens fair.


Pelea era why moaz, moz, fettow, teag,

Gen agaz bedgeth gwin, ha agaz blew mellyn?

Mi a moaz tha’n venton, sarra wheag,

Rag delkiow sevi gwra muzi teag.

Note the translation of the above refers to a white face and yellow hair, and going to the well rather than milking. Again, it is thought that Barnes came through earlier work by Tonkin, Gwavas or Pryce.

The final extract, comprising of short two lines:

Hai down. Ho! Down derry, derry down.

All among the leaves so green. O!

Kent cannot find any record that this was either originally written or translated into Cornish, and indeed feels that the composition of this piece is “resolutely English”, although it was sung within Cornwall. However, potentially the most exciting find relates to a poem from 1877, ‘A British Earthwork’. The piece speaks through an archaeologist who has excavated an area. The archaeologist goes on to imagine the lives and experiences of people who would have been around the location in the past – and they appear to be speaking a form of Cornish. Three verses end in Cornish and the third verse in Welsh. Interestingly, eight years later, Thomas Hardy’s short story ‘A Tryst at an Ancient Earthwork’ appeared, which has close parallels with the events of Barnes’ poem, although no use of Cornish! Kent notes that, as far as he is aware, “Cornish literary scholarship, as a whole, has failed to note this piece”, and, perhaps, more importantly, that “Cornish was not dead in the nineteenth century.”


St. Piran’s Day in Penryn – A Tale of Two Extremes: Part II

Last week’s blog post covered the first half of my St. Piran’s Day in Penryn, delivering a session for a Year Two class at a local primary school. Leaving the primary school behind me, I made the short walk across to the Penryn campus to present a paper at the Institute of Cornish Studies’ Keskowsow event – a very different audience to the six and seven year-olds I was leaving behind!

Three of the ICS’ postgraduate researchers; myself, Andrew Climo and Phili Mills each presented papers related to our present work. The event began with an opportunity for the audience of around fifty people to discuss Cornish issues informally over lunch of pasties and saffron buns before Andrew Climo delivered the opening presentation into Cornwall’s unique identity and examined whether Cornwall parallels national identities such as Wales, Scotland and Eire, or if it is just an aberrant ‘Celtic-ish’ corner of England. Phili Mills’ talk followed. Entitled, ‘What’s in a Name? Is your Surname Cornish? Does Where you like have a Cornish language name? Mills examined how knowing if your family is Cornish and where they came from helps to piece together your family history and cultural identity before highlighting how surnames and place names unravels what ancestors did, where they lived, how they lived, and if they spoke the Cornish language.

My presentation, ‘The Cornish Language from the Late Eighteenth Century to the Early Twentieth Century’ encapsulated a summary of some of the early findings from the opening six months of my Cornwall Heritage Trust funded PhD.

The remainder of this blog post covers extracts from the first half of my presentation, with the concluding part following next week.

News from Down Under:

One of many potential examples of potential Cornish language usage in Australia came courtesy of Alan Kent who revealed a potentially previous unknown speaker of the Cornish language in the mid to late 1800s. Kent had just been sent a sound recording made in 1970 of John William Pearce in Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia reciting a rhyme in Cornish, Fleghigow dor (Little Children of the Land). At this point it was believed that Pearce would have been in his seventies. Kent explained to me that Gavin Cheshire told him that his grandfather did not know or understand the language, but had learnt parrot fashion from his own grandmother. The family then discovered that Grandfather Pearce’s paternal grandparents – William Drew Pearce and Elizabeth Collins (both born in 1846) – had left St. Austell for Rockhampton in 1875. William Drew Pearce worked as a miner at the Peak Downs Copper Mining Company in Central Queensland. John William Pearce also remembered his grandmother using the terms “Eswthaki” (meaning something like “Good Night”) and “Bethisto” (meaning something like “Shut Up!”).

One of Ten Remaining Cornish Speakers”:

An important early reference to a Cornish language speaker came in an extract from ‘The Cornishman’ Newspaper on 2nd February 1888 which identifies William Copeland Borlase as being “one of ten remaining Cornish speakers”. Borlase was the Great Great Grandson of renowned Cornish historian Dr. William Borlase, and he later became the Liberal MP for East Cornwall (1880-1885) and St. Austell (1885-1887). According to Lake’s Falmouth Packet & Cornwall Advertiser (1894: p 3), he wrote an article entitled ‘The Land of a Lost Language’ in the Christmas edition of ‘English Illustrated Magazine’. Interestingly, Rev. W. Jago, writing in The West Briton & Cornish Advertiser on 10th October 1889 believes that Borlase “himself has not pretended to this accomplishment (of speaking Cornish)” [p 7].

However, if Borlase was indeed a Cornish speaker, one therefore has to ask, who would be the other nine suggested by The Cornishman? My preliminary newspaper research can identify potentially five of these individuals through mentions of people speaking Cornish in the pages. Henry Jenner is one, with John Hobson Matthews another. The third is likely to be Louis Charles Richard Duncombe-Jewell of Liskeard (1866-1947). Duncombe-Jewell founded the Cornish Celtic Society (Cowethas Kelto-Kernuak), and at the Pan Celtic Congress of 1901 called strongly for Cornwall to be identified as a Celtic nation.

Georg Sauerwein (1831-1904), a German publisher, polyglot, poet and linguist who wrote two poems in Cornish, and Dr. Charles Picquenard (1872-1940) are likely to be the other two individuals. Picquenard, from Quimper, was a doctor, professor, poet and writer in French, Breton and Cornish. Additionally, he was one of the founders of the Goursez Vreizh. Therefore, the question remains, who are the other four people likely to be?

At the present time, this is a question that cannot be answered with any degree of certainty. There are, however, some potential leads worthy of following up. Loveday Jenkin informed me that Reverend Leverton was using Cornish “in the late 1800s and early 1900s…(and his) descendants have moved back to Penryn and have books and letters from that period.” The Penzance Town clerk, Thomas Cornish states in The Cornishman on 28th July 1887 (p 4) that “there are four or five other persons still living in the village of Mousehole who can converse in Cornish”, along with a short paragraph written in the language which Cornish has translated. Peter Jacka of Newlyn is referred to in The Cornishman on 28th April 1910 as having “some little knowledge of the ancient Cornish language” (p 4).

There is also the Kelynack family. Lyon (2001) mentions a Mrs. Kelynack of Newlyn who was interviewed by Henry Jenner in 1875 (p 13) along with her husband John due their having Cornish language ability. Mrs. Kelynack, Lyon asserts, was taught Cornish by her fisherman father John Tremethick, a contemporary of William Bodinar. My own research has uncovered a report on John Kelynack giving a fisherman’s cry: “Breeul meta truja bizwandhu pemper whether all isserowed all along the line-oh” at the ‘Centenary of the Old Cornish Language’ in Paul (Royal Cornwall Gazette: 4th January 1878: p 6) and a Miss. Kelynack of Camborne is referred to when attending a Cornish saints and place name lecture given by the Reverend G.H. Doble at Redruth in the 11th June 1923 edition of The West Briton.

Additionally, Rod Lyon has mentioned Jacob Care (1798-1892) from St. Ives, who also lived in Mevagissey. It is quite possible that Care is the same person who I discovered signing a letter as ‘JMC’ in the 21st August 1879 edition of The Cornishman which clearly demonstrates a knowledge of the Cornish language.

The London Cornish Association:

Although appearing at the very end of the period that my research is focusing on, I discovered a fascinating article in the 21st February 1924 edition of the Cornubian and Redruth Times mentioning the fact that the London Cornish Association was to hold a meeting at Kings Weigh Clubhouse in Oxford Street with the Cornish language prominent in proceedings, and as well as speeches there would be “songs in the language”. The report goes on to state “It is thought to be the first occasion since Oliver Cromwell that real Cornish will have been spoken in London.”  A report on the events that took place appeared in the Western Morning News on 25th February 1924 highlighting a lecture given about Cornish by Trelawny Roberts, who also spoke Cornish as part of the event.  Examination of the London Cornish Association Archives reveals that the event formed part of their 25th Anniversary celebrations, but originally, language was not going to form part of the occasion. Examination of the minute books sees that the initial idea was for a Cornish tea, with a first class concert followed by a supper. This particular entry into the minute book is worth remembering – as it could potentially go some way to explain events which followed a few months later.  Roberts’ lecture was extremely well received and a number of LCA members contacted their committee stating their wish that the LCA could provide some sort of Cornish language lessons. Trelawny Roberts was contacted and readily agreed. However, the plan had fallen apart by September 1924, when Roberts fell out with the LCA committee. A strongly worded exchange of letters ended with him accusing the LCA of having “too narrow a focus” and being “more interested in dinners and concerts than Cornish culture.” Thus ended an opportunity for Cornish language classes to commence in mid 1920s London.

NEXT WEEK: The second part of the presentation, focusing on links to Brittany, and the poet William Barnes.



St. Piran’s Day in Penryn – A Tale of Two Extremes: Part I

I spent this year’s St. Piran’s Day in Penryn – quite apt given the town’s integral role in the history of Cornwall.



Above: Penryn, location of a St. Piran’s Day of two very different parts. (Author’s own photo)


The day would be spent being part of two different St. Piran’s Day events, firstly in a primary school within the area, and secondly, presenting some of the early research connected to my Cornwall Heritage Trust funded PhD on ‘The Cornish Language From The Late Eighteenth Century To The Early Twentieth Century”. The first part of the day working with children aged six and seven, the second presenting to a room full of people with a huge amount of expertise and experience in the field of Cornish culture, history and linguistics. Audiences probably don’t differ more than that!

In this first account of the day’s events, I will be focusing on the work done within a Year Two class, ahead of next week’s summary of the paper I delivered at the Institute of Cornish Studies’ Keskowsow event at the Penryn Campus of the University of Exeter.

St. Piran’s Day may have dawned grey and wet, but it certainly didn’t dampen the excitement in the Primary School when I arrived to spend just over an hour working with a class of Year Two children. In the school hall, Cornish Pirates’ back-row forward Tom Duncan had come in especially to do some rugby activities with Key Stage Two pupils, and walking down the corridor there were the sights and smells of children making their own ‘splits’ to enjoy later that day – perhaps after the Pasty lunch that the canteen was providing for all pupils that lunchtime!

After the Lego fuelled fun of a wet playtime, the Year Two class gathered on the carpet to listen to me tell them a version of the St. Piran’s Day story, especially adapted for the day (Click here to access my PowerPoint of the St Pirans Story). The children were able to explain that St. Piran “was a very special person for Cornwall”, but were not aware that Cornwall was the only part of the UK who were celebrating his special day. Several recounted experiences of visits to St. Piran’s Oratory and describing how it appeared out of “lots of sand that was somewhere where you could get lost!” Particular enjoyment was had by the parts of the story where St. Piran performed some magical events – such as bringing harpists back from the dead, ensuring that his millstone floated on the water, and arrival of a cuckoo in November. St. Piran’s jovial and obvious love of life make him someone who instantly appeals to the young, and the children were very pleased that Cornwall’s saint was such a great, clever person. His character is one who provides children with a perfect starting point to learn about Cornish culture and history.

After the story, we moved on to learning some basic Cornish words and phrases. One of the children provided the example of “Myttin da” as the one Cornish word that he already knew. The class repeated eleven Cornish words or phrases out loud:

Dydh da = Good day (Hello)         Dyw genes = Goodbye

Myttin da = Good Morning           Nadelik = Christmas

Dohajydh da = Good Afternoon  Pask = Easter

Mar Pleg = Please                           Gool Peran Lowen = Happy St. Piran’s Day

Meur ras = Thank You                  Loundres = London

Kernow = Cornwall

The children were then given a sheet of paper with the words/phrases in Cornish on one side, and mixed up translations in English on the other, and I gave them the task of cutting them out, matching the words and then sticking them down into their books.

With the task at an end, two of the class came up to me exclaiming: “Learning Cornish is fun!” Hopefully these activities are just the starting point of ongoing work with the school over the coming months.

NEXT WEEK: Part II: – Keskowsow – Institute of Cornish Studies’ St. Piran’s Day Event.


The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part IX


The overwhelming reaction among my respondents was that the immediate future of Kernewek was bright. There was a sense that they expect the rise in the numbers speaking Cornish to continue due to language learning being a possible reaction against political neglect from Westminster and the increasing numbers of in-comers moving to the territory. Additionally, if the trend of people moving into Cornwall and learning Kernewek continues, then this could further boost the numbers speaking the language.

This has be mixed with a degree of caution, as there is a clear division between those learning the language, potentially as a means to boost their cultural capital, and those using it to converse in naturally on a day-to-day basis. The cutting of Government grants to fund Cornish language learning, which has subsequently been replaced by the promise of a smaller amount towards different projects, has certainly not helped to promote the language among the indigenous, working class Cornish people. The lack of recognition for the language in the mainstream Cornish media, most notably on the BBC and ITV, but also within the written media, must be highlighted as a major stumbling block in encouraging the indigenous population to engage with, and in their native tongue.

The present status of Kernewek is one which offers wide scope for further research to be undertaken. One such case is the fact that Cornwall does not have the devolved powers that other Celtic regions have to boost its indigenous language and culture. Related to this is the political question surrounding Mebyon Kernow (MK). Movements for change in regions such as Brittany, Catalonia and Veneto have been greatly aided by galvanised campaigns from regional political parties. It could be a productive piece of research to compare the situation in these parts of Europe with the situation that MK is presently experiencing in Cornwall. These regions could be considered to have parallel needs, aims and history of internal colonialism – with only the respective socio-economic data marking a clear difference. Such research could enable one to consider whether or not it is too simple to assert that Cornwall’s weak economic situation is the prime reason for MK’s failure to lead a coherent campaign for greater separate powers in the way that Lega Nord and Convergència i Unió are pressing for in Veneto and Catalonia respectively.

One of the most fascinating findings to come out of this dissertation was the degree to which in-comers are moving into Cornwall and learning the language, yet not using it to speak in once fluency was achieved. It would be worth considering the status of at least one other Celtic language to discover whether or not such a phenomenon is being repeated elsewhere in the country. Are the minority indigenous languages of the United Kingdom being learned by middle-class people moving into such regions as a means to increase their cultural capital, as we have seen to an extent in Cornwall? Such research and subsequent findings may possibly arm language groups with data which could lead to changes in the way that they are teaching, managing and promoting the growth of their language. It might also provide information on the role of minority indigenous language learning as a tool of social cohesion – people moving into an area and becoming able to speak the indigenous language may aid the potential acceptability of them by the indigenous population. Yet if such people are moving to an area, learning a language and never using it, then it merely adds to the negative stereotypes of in-comers who treat the traditions and culture of their new home region as something they see as a hobby, rather than an integral part of the regional identity.

The recent growth in numbers of people who can speak Kernewek must be celebrated, but there is a danger that some may view this as being a trend which will not only continue naturally, but also progress to a level whereby the language will be spoken almost as much as English in the territory. Already, among the Nationalist community, and indeed some language campaigners, there is real belief that “the way things are going, it is highly likely that Kernewek will be spoken regularly in the home” (H: Red: 11th February 2017). My research would suggest that this is not the case unless there is a major shift in what people do when they have learned to speak Cornish. Indeed, Councillor Loveday Jenkin, whose parents have both been Grand Bards of the Gorsedh Kernow, and is fluent herself in Kernewek, cautions that she believes “Cornwall is approaching peak learning figures for the language, and unless wider Westminster governmental policies towards Cornwall change, continued growth in those being able to speak the language is not sustainable” (Interview).

It remains questionable as to whether or not:

“Barring wholly unforeseen circumstances, the language is now safe for all time; never will the history of the 17th and 18th centuries be repeated. Cornish will be learned and         used as a living language for as long as there are Cornish men and women”                      (Miners: 1984: p148).

NEXT TIME: This is the final part of the series relating to my MA Cultural Geography dissertation. Next week, the blog will focus on the two extremes of my St. Piran’s Day experiences in Penryn.

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part VIII

The View of In-Comers:

It is worth pausing at this point to consider the consequences of Kernewek’s use as a signifier for “the 40%” of the Cornish population that consider themselves to be indigenous.  (M1: New: 13th February 2017). For some, sonic exclusion is one potential consequence. Whilst there are some who welcome that phenomenon (“It seems OK for the English to say ‘We want our country back, but there are different acceptancy levels when the Cornish use the same words” – S interview), others show concern (“Potentially it is an issue, and an inclusive mentality is vital” – G interview).

As we will see further on in this sub-section, the vast majority of in-comers that I spoke to were overwhelmingly positive about Kernewek, but it is important to point out that there were a small number of in-comers who admitted to feeling a degree of unease with the situation. Some felt that Cornish cultural groups, and the language are guarded by stringent gatekeepers who appear to want to keep Kernewek as a language which is either only spoken by the indigenous population, or those who have ancestral links to Cornwall.

Allied to this impression was the almost unanimous opinion stated throughout my interviews that Kernewek is generally only spoken at planned social gatherings. Former Grand Bard of the Gorsedh Kernow, Rod Lyon summed up the situation when he said: “Many see the learning of Cornish as a winter-evening’s pastime…The genuine Cornish speaker will use the language on all occasions” (Interview). There are two schools of thought about the consequences of this. Firstly, there is the opinion that we are still only in relatively early stages of the language being spoken again, and a stage-by-stage approach is being taken. As the self-confidence and number of fluent Kernewek speakers grows further, those who subscribe to this side of the argument feel that eventually, “the language will be used domestically again” (H: Red: 11 February 2017). Conversely, others believe that this is simply an example of Kernewek’s revival being not only artificial, but ultimately unsustainable as a living language if only a few families speak it at home.

The point of self-confidence among speakers of Kernewek is an important one. The prevailing view among indigenous members of the Kernewek language community is that their group are “no longer a clique-y one” (C: interview), but it is worth recognising that there is a perception among those who do not speak Kernewek that this is not the case. There was also recognition among the vast majority of people to whom I spoke, whether indigenous Cornish or in-comers, that sonic exclusion is likely to become more of an issue in Cornwall if the present trends of in-migration continue.

The main finding, however in relation to in-comers in Cornwall was that,  particularly the middle-class in-comers were, in some cases, playing a central role in a growth of Kernewek speaking. In three separate locations of my focus groups (the exceptions being London and Redruth), I heard accounts of in-comers actually teaching indigenous Cornish people to speak Kernewek. This opened up further scope for investigating exactly why this was going on. Firstly, there is the view that people moving into Cornwall have skills that the indigenous community may not be able to offer:-

“A lot of active members of the local community are actually second home owners, who, after retiring, become full time residents. They serve on local committees and volunteer important professional skills that are not already in place in the town. This is incredibly important in making St. Ives a town which has the contemporary skills sets that it otherwise would not have” (Interview with Mayor of St. Ives, Councillor Linda Taylor).

One of the views given as to why indigenous Cornish people may not be learning the language in similar numbers to in-comers in some areas was: “There’s no financial incentive for the Cornish to learn the language. No-one else speaks the language apart from us, so where is the use for it for businesses?” (M2: New: 13 February 2017).

Herein lies the crux of the matter – it appears to my respondents that it is the middle classes and in-comers who are learning the language in largest numbers. As one interviewee told me: “In my Cornish language class, I am the only one attending with any Cornish heritage!” (H: Interview). It should also be noted that it seemed to be widely accepted that a number of in-comers have a more positive attitude to the language, and indeed playing an active role in indigenous Cornish culture than some of the indigenous population. Why, we might ask, is this?

An explanation could come from Bourdieu’s theory of Cultural Capital (1977, see also Bourdieu & Passeron: 1977). Cultural Capital is “a mechanism for the transmission of social status…(and) can be differentiated into three sub-forms; institutionalised, incorporated and objective” (Moskal: 2016: p 143). It is the institutionalised cultural capital that interests us most in this particular case. Here, capital is accrued due to an individual’s success in gaining language learning skills from educational institutions, and the resulting intellectual and financial consequences (Georg: 2004 and Smala et al: 2013). Whilst the situation of learning Kernewek is highly unlikely to provide financial or job benefits in the same way that being able to speak Chinese or Spanish could, it is an example of having motivation to gain an additional skill, which sets such a person apart from those who do not possess such abilities (MacLeod: 1987, McCollum: 1999, Polanyi: 1995). The motivation and skills that can be perceived to be part of second language learning are “a range of symbolic resources (language, education, friendship)…which will in turn increase the value of their cultural capital” (Norton: 2013: p 6). Research has demonstrated the positive impact of second language learning on cognitive functions (Bialystok: 2010) and metalinguistic awareness (Thomas: 1988). For such people, it is argued that the ultimate end goal is not necessarily to be able to speak a second language fluently for day-to-day use, but instead, gain enhanced intellectual skills to demonstrate their proficiency in accruing new knowledge, and possibly the social status which goes with it.

Tsimprea Maluch et al (2015) have noted particularly the class based distinctions of second language learning, believing that “socio-economic status and cultural background…are highly correlated with language proficiency and have the potential to mask or even negate the positive effects of bilingualism” (p 77). It is this opinion which seems to be particular true in Cornwall. A prominent feeling from the indigenous population was “we Cornish don’t have the spare time or money to learn Cornish. We have to earn a living! The in-comers have all the money, they can do Cornish language learning in their spare time” (R: New: 13 February 2017).

Instances of in-comers learning Kernewek as a way to boost their cultural capital frequently presented itself during my research. “In-comers see learning the language as a way of ‘buying’ into Cornwall” (G: Interview). Indeed two in-comers told me that having a St. Piran’s flag flying on their property and learning the language was a way of gaining some sort of status symbol among their friends from London in highlighting the fact the Cornwall has a separate culture to the rest of England (L: Interview and H: Interview). Another respondent who moved into Cornwall from the West Midlands in the 1990s said that learning the language was important to him initially as “I love Cornwall and I wanted to do something for it, but I don’t use it for having a conversation in” (P: Res: 12 February 2017).  Left-wing writers such as Trotsky (2017) [1932] and Marx (2008) [1888] would argue that a movement agitating for change will only achieve recognition when the working class mobilise in sufficient numbers to force the bourgeois rulers to implement some modifications in policy. Therefore, the situation where a number of middle class people who are learning the language emphasises the unnatural nature of its growth. We have already heard how Gramsci (1971) noted the importance of the educated in building a passive revolution. However, in order for the middle-class educated population that is learning Kernewek to have a major role in the language becoming part of everyday Cornish life, they would need to actively converse in Kernewek rather than merely learn it. The status of the class position of those learning Kernewek is one which needs to be researched further as criticism was raised in several of the focus groups of Cornish becoming little more than a “hobby language” (L: Interview, M: Interview, T: Interview, M2: New: 13 February 2017).

In terms of the indigenous Cornish people’s views of the consequences of numbers of in-comers learning Kernewek and then not actually using it to converse in, responses seemed to be mixed. Some were relaxed about the situation, and were more interested in celebrating the fact that this was an example of people moving to the area and taking an active role in engaging with local culture and history. For them, the fact that more people were capable of speaking Kernewek was the most important thing (“I know a guy who has only recently moved here and already he’s learning the language. It’s great that the interest is there” J: Pen: 10th February 2017). Among this group, at the very least, there was a grudging recognition, offered without prompting, that a number of people have moved into the territory and become sufficiently engaged with the area to want to learn Kernewek.

Contrary to this, there were others who were of the belief that “all of them in-comers treat it (Kernewek) with contempt, they just rubbish it. They don’t want any part of it” (K1, K2 & M: Pen: 10th February 2017). Those with this opinion tended to use it as a further example of people moving into Cornwall and treating the indigenous culture and language as a pastime which is something to play with.

NEXT WEEK: Conclusions


The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part VII

Kernewek, Politics and Representation

“We have non-Cornish people representing us at Westminster who really don’t get who we are or what we need. The death of the proper Cornish MP died with David Penhaligon” (D: Lon: 28th January 2017).

The quote above sums up the general view among my respondents about politics and politicians in Cornwall. Something similar was verbalised at every single one of the focus groups that I held. David Penhaligon, Liberal MP for Truro from 1974 until his tragic death three days before Christmas 1986 when his car was hit by a van, remains the embodiment of what a Cornish politician should be. Even when he served in the so called Lib-Lab pact from 1977-1978, his constituents and the wider Cornish community remained the focus of his politics (Penhaligon: 1989). A key reason given for the desire of a new generation of Cornish MPs following in Penhaligon’s footsteps is the fact that many Cornish people I spoke to believe strongly that their present members of parliament are “too busy putting party first and Cornwall second” (K: Pen: 10 February 2017). A prime example of this was seen when not one of Cornwall’s six MPs backed an early day motion signed by Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs to restore funding for Kernewek (Early Day Motion 1429 Session 2015-16).

At the present time, all six of Cornwall’s MPs are Conservative. Traditionally, the territory is a Liberal heartland, with Labour winning occasionally in the Falmouth/Camborne region. The Conservatives had not won a seat in Cornwall between 1992 and 2010, and when they finally succeeded seven years ago, they only took one seat (Democracy Cornwall: 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2015).

Can it be ventured that the Conservatives now holding every single Cornish parliamentary constituency could be linked to increasing numbers of in-comers from other parts of the UK? It seems that opinion is evenly mixed. There are those who felt: “Most people moving here come from places like Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. They’re Tory areas and they bring their votes with them!” (M2: New: 13 February 2017). Others felt that it was simply a local example of the wider backlash against the Liberal Democrats’ role in the coalition government, and that “normal service will be resumed for the Lib Dems in the next General Election in Cornwall” (K: Pen: 10 February 2017). Garry Tregidga, who has carried out extensive research on the political situation in Cornwall over three decades felt that the explanation for Cornwall ‘going blue’ was down to: “Media fear factors. The Cornish people watched the Nine o’clock News every night during the campaign and saw the Lib Dems being ripped apart and the Conservatives outlining the dangers of the SNP unless you voted for them, so they went Tory” (Interview).

Whilst there was little overall agreement about the reasons for Cornwall becoming represented entirely by Conservative MPs, there was universal agreement between the indigenous population and in-comers in my interviews and focus groups about the damaging social and cultural consequences that Cornwall has faced as a result of their vote. The reasons for the increasing anger boil down to three areas – the abolition in government funding for Kernewek, perceived disregarding the consequences of granting Cornwall status as a National Minority under the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention (Morris: 2017), and the likely imposition of a cross-Tamar parliamentary constituency. My respondents were very clear in their belief that all three of these issues have led them to join Kernewek language classes or indigenous Cornish cultural groups. A representative opinion to highlight this fact was that: “The denigration of us by Westminster is at the centre of everything to do with language and culture” (M: Red: 11 February 2017).

The main issue here is the government’s alleged misunderstanding of the consequences of awarding Cornwall National Minority Status in the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention in April 2014. Both the issues of language funding and a cross-border constituency would, upon reading the Framework Convention, go against what National Minority Status stands for. Campaigners point to Article Five Paragraph Two of the document that seeks to prevent the “assimilation of persons belonging to National Minorities against their will” (Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorites An Explanatory Report: 1995). In terms of language funding, there were Cornish people able to quote verbatim Article Five Paragraph One and Article Fourteen Paragraph Two which order signatory governments to ensure that National Minorities are able to develop and preserve culture and be provided with “adequate opportunities to learn the minority language” (ibid). Matters were not helped in October 2016 by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government saying:-

“Some in Cornwall see their county as distinct from the rest of their region, a special case that should be handled separately from everywhere east of the Tamar. If we’re going to make a success of the South West, that whole attitude has to change” (South-West Growth Summit: 2016).

Respondents who were both indigenous and in-comers, referred to these comments as a perfect example of the government not comprehending the fact that National Minority Status does prove that Cornwall is distinct from the rest of its region, and it does make it a special case. Indeed, the coalition government’s own press release announcing Cornwall’s new status in April 2014 stated:-

“The decision to recognise the unique identity of the Cornish, now affords them the same status under the European Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish” (Department for Communities and Local Government: 24th April 2014).

The overwhelming view among my respondents was that Westminster are just “paying lipservice to the Cornish without really understanding what it (National Minority Status) or us (the Cornish people) are all about” (L: Red: 11 February 2017). It should, therefore be no surprise that some Cornish people feel that the physical distance between their region and Westminster is akin to being ‘out of sight and out of mind’. This has arguably lead to a situation identified by Hoosen as a “geographical dimension (which) is fundamental, ultimately and increasingly inescapable and to be ignored at our peril” (Hoosen: 1994: p 370).

If this situation, and the actions of the present group of Cornish MPs are seen as attracting people to actively participate in Cornish culture and learn Kernewek as an unintended direct result of their policies, one may be forgiven for questioning whether this could lead to a long awaited electoral breakthrough for Mebyon Kernow (MK), Cornwall’s own political party. My respondents did not seem to think this was likely. Views on MK ranged from wild misconceptions (“Mebyon Kernow are nationalists, they would cut the Tamar Bridge in two and block anyone from England coming in” K: Pen: 10 February 2017) to the commonly held view that “A vote for MK is a wasted vote” (M2: New: 13 February 2017). When I suggested to those who held the latter opinion that, several years ago that could have been the view of people when asked whether they would vote SNP in the historic Labour heartlands of Scotland, they offered a potentially more telling explanation for not voting MK:-

“There’s too big an influx of people from upcountry living here so you will never have enough people voting MK for them to have any voice. People from upcountry bring their politics with them” (P: Res: 12th February 2017).

With 60% of Cornwall’s population believed to be in-comers (M1: New: 13 February 2017), this argument is far more convincing. Tellingly, MK’s leader Dick Cole told me that he believes his party “will always struggle in the General Election as they are never about local issues. That’s why we do well in local elections and council elections” (Interview). At the present time, Cole’s party hold four seats on Cornwall Council, but their vote remains largely static. MK lost 466 votes between the 2009 and 2013 Cornwall Council elections, but gained 296 votes between the 2010 and 2015 General Elections (Democracy Cornwall 2010 & 2015). Added to this the refusal of the broadcast media to give MK any party political broadcasts (due to the party not standing in a sufficient number of English seats to be granted one), it appears that any hopes of Cornwall’s political party breaking through remain slim. In this situation, those in Westminster would have little challenge in Parliament on the impact of their policies in Cornwall. In my research around the territory, it was clear that there remained a vacancy for a group to latch onto the apparent desire of those living in Cornwall to use indigenous language and culture as a weapon against Westminster’s inability to comprehend Cornish issues and needs. That group could turn out to be Kernow Matters To Us (KMTU).

The group’s mission statement pledges to campaign for a voice for Cornish people which is listened to. Additionally they pledge to ensure that Cornish people have access to suitable housing, health and social care and are able to actively learn about their own culture and history (Kernow Matters To Us: 2016). The national media have picked up on the momentum gained by KMTU and they now contact the group for views on Cornish issues before going to Mebyon Kernow spokespeople, as has been seen in their media profile over the past eighteen months. KMTU have been particularly prominent in campaigning against what they term as “the Disneyfication” of Tintagel, and their vocal opposition to this saw large articles written in The Guardian (Morris 2016) and a feature in the 19th February 2016 edition of the BBC One programme The One Show. The group also speak out publicly against second home ownership and the consequences of it for the Cornish people and Cornish identity. The increasing profile of KMTU includes a social media presence which is significantly larger and more active than that of MK. Indeed a look at the respective group’s Facebook pages over a four day period (20th-24th March 2017) reveals thirty-one posts on the KMTU page compared to four for MK. KMTU’s increased media profile and use of social media campaigning could suggest that the Cornish people are turning to a group with more of a social and cultural activist foundation than a political base.

The future of any language is always dependent on the next generation engaging with and speaking it. In Cornwall, there are high hopes that children in the territory, who are growing up in an era where Kernewek is increasingly visible, may want to learn the language in greater numbers. Those of this opinion point to School Census data (previously known as PLASC data) which shows that the number of pupils in Cornwall who self-identified as Cornish rose every year from 2006, when 23.7% of pupils stated they were Cornish rather than English to 2013 (the last data set available) when the figure had grown to 46% – a total of 32,254 out of 70,097 pupils (Ethnicity breakdown from the schools census – Cornwall Council 2006-2013). However, a degree of caution must be applied, as there is a big difference between self-identifying as Cornish and actively learning Kernewek, as we will see in a forthcoming part of this dissertation.

The major barrier which exists to Cornish children learning their indigenous language is the fact that, since 1996 there has been no provision for it to be taught in schools. Up until this date, it was possible to take a GCSE in the subject, but the falling number of pupils taking the exam led to it being abolished (Linguae-Celticae: 2001). A campaign, involving Camborne & Redruth MP George Eustace, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, was launched last January to bring back the qualification, but at the present time, almost all of my respondents believe that it is not a realistic aim. Even at my Redruth focus group, where the vast majority of those attending self-identified as Cornish Nationalists, the prevailing view was: “Staff don’t have the time or the expertise (to teach Kernewek). Volunteers can only go into schools if the parents, teachers and Head are supportive” (M: Red: 11 February 2017). There is a question mark over what the impact of Kernewek being reintroduced into Cornish schools would be. Members of Language groups and the Nationalist community that spoke to me were positive that it would lead to vast numbers of young people communicating in the indigenous language. Yet experiences in the Republic of Ireland suggest that this does not lead to a sustainable growth in language use. O’Neill (2005) cites figures which state that, despite over 42,000 schoolchildren being taught in the Gaelscoileanna (Irish medium education), only 9.05% of pupils continue to speak in Gaeilge after the age on nineteen (p 279-280).

The respondents in all locations felt that the National Curriculum first needed to recognise and encourage the teaching of Cornish culture and Cornish history more widely in the territory’s schools – something which is still notably lacking due to “the provision of teacher training in Cornwall. They give no additional time in their training on local history and culture or on the Cornish language” (L: Red: 11 February 2017). The present cut in funding for Kernewek by Westminster, and budget restrictions that schools are facing nationwide has created a vicious circle whereby schools that may be keen to embrace Kernewek and Cornish culture are prevented to due to lack of timetable space and money. Whilst there were examples in Falmouth and Penryn of the university providing support, this is on a very small scale in the wider Cornish context. At the present time, this potential slack is being taken up by Cornish culture groups, such as Golden Tree Productions who have received funding from the Heritage Lottery and Arts Council as well as undertaking Crowdfunding for two major indigenous cultural projects.  Plen an Gwari (2015) – a book and connected school’s workshop campaign which embraced the Cornish language in telling the story of Cornwall’s literary and theatrical history and the 2016 Man Engine Tour, which was a celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape being awarded World Heritage Site status. The tour saw a ten metre high giant miner made out of mining parts being paraded through Cornish town centres, accompanied by a presentation by Golden Tree Productions with prominent usage of the Cornish language and traditional Cornish folk songs and sea shanties. This raising of awareness of indigenous culture has had some impact on the youth of Cornwall. As one indigenous inhabitant from the Helston area told me:-

“I’m learning Kernewek, my kids are learning Kernewek. People aren’t fighting against our language now. It’s beginning to set out on the road towards co-existence with English, and that’s splann!” (R: New: 13th February 2017).

If awareness of Cornish culture and history can continue grow, there are grounds for positivity about the role that the territory’s young people will play. Yet the link between awareness and engagement with indigenous culture and actively learning the indigenous language is very tenuous indeed.

NEXT WEEK: The View of the In-Comers

Keskowsow St. Piran’s Day Event At Institute of Cornish Studies

The Institute of Cornish Studies, based at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus will be running a free public event on St. Piran’s Day (5th March) showcasing the research that some of its postgraduate cohort are presently working on.

The event, entitled Keskowsow (Cornish for ‘Conversations’), will take place from midday in the Yellow Seminar Room at The Exchange Building, and includes a complimentary lunch of Cornish fayre. It is an opportunity to gather together to celebrate St. Piran’s Day, listen to presentations by the postgraduates who are researching elements of the Celtic identity, family history and the Cornish language, as well as viewing a new short film on the role of Henry Jenner on the revival of Cornish.

Andrew Climo will be discussing his research into Cornwall’s unique identity and examining whether Cornwall parallels national identities such as Wales, Scotland and Eire, or if it is just an aberrant ‘Celt-ish’ corner of England. Phili Mills’ talk, entitled ‘What’s in a Name? Is your surname Cornish? Does where you live have a Cornish language name?’ examines how knowing if your family is Cornish and where they came from helps to piece together your family history and cultural identity.  Mills will highlight how understanding surnames and place names unravels what ancestors did, where they lived, and if they spoke Cornish allied to the fact that place names explain the topography, habitat and people associated with the location. Ben Gilby’s research, funded by the Cornwall Heritage Trust, is entitled ‘The Cornish Language from the Late Eighteenth Century to the Early Twentieth Century’. Ben will be discussing the early stages of his work on uncovering who was using Cornish in the era, particularly in the 19th Century when the language was originally believed by some to have died out. All of the postgraduate students will include a question and answer element to their talks.

The event will close with an opportunity for those attending to be among the first to view the short documentary film in the Cornish language, Hwedhel Henry Jenner (The Henry Jenner Story) about the role of Henry Jenner in the revival of the Cornish language and Cornwall’s Celtic identity.  The film has been made with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Dasserghi Kernewek project which looks at the Cornish language revival.  The film will be introduced by one of the film makers, Charlie Fripp, and the Cornish Language Lead who commissioned the film, Mark Trevethan.

Those wishing to attend should email to reserve their free place.

A poster advertising the event can be accessed here: Keskowsow Poster.docx

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part VI

Introduction to Primary Data Collection & Kernewek as a reaction to In-Migration, Second Home Ownership and Tourism

The process of primary data collection commenced with individual interviews before initiating focus group recruitment. This allowed me to develop awareness of a range of issues which could then be explored in greater depth when the focus groups began. I was particularly conscious of getting as wide a range of opinions as possible during the in-depth interview stage, which was carried out between October 2016 and January 2017. To avoid an ‘echo-chamber’ scenario, I needed to source the observations of those who were in-comers to Cornwall and outside the academic or language campaigning fields as well as those who had lived in the territory from birth. This was achieved by being interviewed on BBC Radio Cornwall’s Saturday Breakfast Show with Donna Birrell where it was particularly emphasised that I wanted the opinions of these different groups of people. I was also able to draw on contacts within the Cornish media and the Institute of Cornish Studies in terms of gaining access to the academic community, politicians, language policy stakeholders and cultural groups. Due to geographic distance and financial reasons, all but three of the fifteen in-depth interviews were carried out either by email or on Skype.

Once this process was complete, I spent several weeks going through the 2011 census data relating to Cornwall to compile a shortlist of potential locations to carry out my focus groups. This was a particularly valuable exercise as it confirmed the major differences between various parts of Cornwall in terms of percentages of second home ownership, highest qualification achieved and numbers of Cornish speakers. The areas of Penzance/Newlyn, Falmouth/Penryn, Redruth/Camborne and St. Austell offered the biggest contrast in figures. The next stage was to organise venues within these areas to hold the focus groups. I was able to call upon contacts at Penryn Rugby Football club to hold a meeting there, and had the assistance of the Institute of Cornish Studies in being able to use both the Cornish Studies Library Meeting Room in Redruth and the Rescorla Centre for Local History and Culture just outside St. Austell with the final group taking place at the Newlyn Centre.

Recruitment for the focus groups took place in January 2017, and consisted of another interview with BBC Radio Cornwall, a social media campaign, articles published in the Cornish press, friends in Cornwall spreading the word and the help of the Institute of Cornish Studies. It was during this recruitment campaign that I received feedback from Cornish people, and those with Cornish ancestry living in London and the South-East wanting to take part, so an additional focus group was arranged in Barnes, South-West London. In the end, a total of five focus groups were held over a period of three weeks in January and February 2017. There was then a period of analysing the data gained to look specifically for trends and, equally importantly, highlighting any relationship between pattern of responses and social/demographic factors around the various locations that I held focus groups in Cornwall. Ultimately, I sought to discover whether Granville Price’s assertion that: “The old Celtic speech of Cornwall died out two centuries ago. It is still dead, and will remain evermore so.” (1984: p 134) was erroneous or not.


Within the following sections, I will examine the outcomes of my primary data collection against the three separate aims of this research stated in the Introduction section (Part I of this blog series). It will also consider the differing response between locations and potential reasons for this, drawing on data from the 2011 census.

Note:  Key to locations of response – Lon = London, New = Newlyn, Pen = Penryn, Red = Redruth, Res = Rescorla.

Kernewek as a reaction to In-Migration, Second Home Ownership and Tourism

Having a language which is derived from completely different roots to that of the larger surrounding nation is, ultimately the biggest possible signifier of that sense of ‘difference’ which is so important to Cornish people. This is very much reflected in the opinion of Kernewek revivalist Henry Jenner, who stated:

“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”

(2012: [1904] p xi)

Ultimately, for Jenner, the language was the badge that marked out Cornish people from inhabitants of England. It was key to making a wider population aware that there are people living in Cornwall who do not consider themselves to be English, and will use their indigenous language to signify this. For some of the respondents of my focus groups, the presence and use of Kernewek is “the ultimate expression of our identity” (G: Interview), which, as two different participants at my Rescorla focus group stated: “Is about preserving the Cornish culture which is distinct to others” (B: Res: 12 February 2017) and “It’s something the English don’t have! It’s unique to us!” (M: Res: 12 February 2017).

One of the most prominent, and expected narratives which emerged during my research was respondents suggesting that the increased visibility of Kernewek was a clear reaction against the increased numbers of non-indigenous Cornish people now living within the territory. One academic suggested to me that around 60% of the total population of Cornwall is made up of in-comers and second home owners (M1: New: 13 February 2017).  Cornwall Council Leader John Pollard told me that his body see the use and promotion of Kernewek as vital to “open people up to the different culture and history of Cornwall” (Interview). He recognised that the numbers of people moving into the territory created some antagonism with locals and pointed out that those relocating to Cornwall must “take on board local issues and feeling” (ibid). Pollard also pointed out that, under his leadership, the Council had taken on a degree of devolved powers from Westminster and have a policy which sees:-

“Council workers using Kernewek to welcome visitors, or when answering the         telephone. We have encouraged duel language signage…and First Kernow buses have responded to this with all their new buses having Kernewek displayed outside and inside (ibid).”

The issue of second home ownership has become a particular issue in St. Ives and Padstow where, the councils claim that over 25% of the town’s total housing stock is taken up by second home owners. The Mayor of St. Ives, Linda Taylor told me about the rationale behind her council’s decision to insert a section in the St. Ives Neighbourhood Plan which aims to ensure that no newly built developments within the town can be bought as a second home:-

“The national average wage is around £20,000 a year. In St. Ives, it is around £16,000          a year, which was having a real impact on recruitment and retention of key workers, specifically teachers, firemen and nurses. Local people came to us and wanted to fund part of the plan to see what could be done to help the local population” (Interview).

She spelt out to me that new builds will have a legal covenant in the deeds, and people moving into these properties would have to prove that they already pay council tax in the area and are registered with a local doctor.

Preservation of the past became another important narrative in my research. Respondents, particularly in industrial heartlands of Redruth (with its history of tin mining) and Rescorla (part of the ‘clay country’), pointed to the fact that, contrary to popular mis-conceptions, the Cornish language never totally died out with the passing in 1777 of Dolly Pentreath in Mousehole. Closely allied to this was the fact that these locations produced the strongest sense of language being a clear example as a marker between ‘them’ (the in-comers) and ‘us’ (the indigenous Cornish):-

“We are a distinct race and a separate land and our language is an important signifier against everything the English represent. They move down here and take from us. We pay more to Westminster in taxes than comes back to us. This is magnified by English people moving here and using our NHS and schools.” (M: Red 12 February 2017). 

Those of the view that the Cornish language revival is a response to in-comers also pointed to the fact that there is a feeling among some in the territory that they have, been effectively “under siege” (H: Red: 12 February 2017) from in-migration since the 1960s. If this is the case, why is it being perceived as not only a particular problem now, but also as a driver for a renaissance in Cornish culture and identity? Indeed, Buck et al (1993) produced a study focusing on the inherent difficulties that indigenous Cornish people faced in obtaining affordable housing due to competition with those moving into the area from other parts of England who could afford higher prices. Deacon (1984) and Penhaligon (1989) highlighted that the overwhelming number of in-comers to Cornwall in the period after the 1960s were retirees, who lived in the area for the last ten or twenty years of their life. Now, the belief among my respondents, particularly in Redruth and Rescorla, is that the in-comers, including second-home owners are much younger and, as well as living in Cornwall for the majority of their adult life, they work in the territory and send their children to school, which puts additional pressure on local access to work, housing, health care and schooling. Additionally, it is felt that these larger proportions of people cannot comprehend what it means to be Cornish due to “an inability to have a relationship with our land…which is about the strong sense of place” (M: Red: 12 February 2017).

Whilst there was universal praise for the rise in numbers speaking Kernewek, from in-comers as well as the indigenous community, it was fascinating to discover just who is learning the language, and how this differs around Cornwall. It is also worth pointing out, that around 10% of those who identified their first language as being Kernewek in the 2011 census live in London, with the Cornish language class at The City Literacy Institute in Covent Garden having a larger cohort of Kernewek learners than many classes in Cornwall (BBC Voices: 2014 & Williams: 2013). Those who attended my London focus group were concerned about who is speaking the language in Cornwall. They felt it broke down into two groups, those who they identified as Nationalists, and the affluent Middle Classes. For them, this made the rise in people speaking Kernewek unsustainable due to a need for it to become a community language. “It needs to become part of a larger cultural movement…make it part of the everyday experience” (T: Lon: 28 January 2017).

Within Cornwall itself, I saw the concerns of the London focus group in evidence first hand. All of the Cornish focus groups bar one (Redruth), contained people who learned the language as something to do in their retirement. Interestingly, this was recognised by the participants as a situation which they knew others would leap upon to deride Kernewek as “a hobby language” (M2: New: 28 January 2017). They identified the fact that this poses dangers to the potential sustained growth in people speaking the language as “No-one has to speak Kernewek. You hear more Polish and Lithuanian than Cornish in Cornwall” (L: interview). Notably, when the potential dangers of Cornish being seen as a hobby language was raised in Redruth, the respondents turned this into a positive: “The fact is more people are speaking the language. I know several people who are retired and have learned that language who are now teaching it to their grandchildren” (B: Red: 12 February 2017). The status of the language among the young is one which was particularly mentioned during my focus group in Penryn. This small town, with a population of 6,812 at the time of the 2011 census, is home to main university campus in Cornwall, and the participants were vocal about both the benefits and negatives that this has brought to their area. A prevailing thought was that it has made “being Cornish cool, and the language is part of that” (J: Pen: 11 February 2017). The university, which is also home to the Institute of Cornish Studies, has led to a clear definition of Cornishness in the town, which some at the focus group felt was a direct result of several thousand students from outside of Cornwall living in their immediate area. “It’s even reflected in our local schools now. My boys have learned a bit of Cornish history now thanks to a project by the university” (J: Pen: 11 February 2017). A first year university student, originally from the North-West of England was present at the focus group, and offered an insightful opinion on why Kernewek is now more visible:-

“There is support for preserving languages and dialects around Britain. It’s really     important, especially now as people are very into trying to reclaim their identity. I think the university here is embracing that, and helping it along with its language classes and projects in local schools.”  (B: Pen: 11 February 2017).

Whilst the campaign led by the university to develop greater awareness of Cornish culture, history and language in the Falmouth and Penryn area is undoubtedly a positive, critics may claim that this is an example of a middle class institution encouraging people to learn a language, creating false hopes for the future. There are those in Cornwall who are concerned that the numbers of people, who they would identify as middle class (who, they also claim are often in-comers) are using the Cornish language as a status symbol to become accepted in Cornwall, or simply “to use to try and impress their friends from up-country” (H: Red: 12 February 2017). The potential consequences of this are discussed in depth in Section 5.23.

There is an additional irony which several in-comers I spoke to did not pick up on. On more than one occasion, and in more than one location, people who were in-comers to Cornwall stated that the primary reason behind moving to the territory was because they felt that their original home town had lost its sense of English identity due to multiculturalism, which, they felt was particularly caused by EU migration. Each of those who highlighted this situation had views similar to: “I came to Cornwall because it feels like what England used to be like. There is a framework here of old ways, old style working class people” (P: Res: 13 February 2017). Yet, in-comers with this opinion don’t quite understand that their arrival in an area that they perceive to be ‘old England’ is actually a further example to a large number of the indigenous Cornish people that I spoke to of in-comers arriving and having no comprehension about the difference between Cornwall and England, and the potential consequences that their arrival has on indigenous culture and identity:-

“I had an argument with a man who had just moved here from Kent. We were on a bus in Saltash. He was raging ‘The problem in this country is all these people coming here and taking our jobs’. I said ‘I can’t agree with you more. The problem is it’s all the English people coming into Cornwall and taking our jobs!”  (M1: New: 13th February 2017).

The perceived negative impact of the arrival of people from outside Cornwall is not just confined to those coming to live in the territory. Over the last eighteen months further concerns are being raised by the indigenous community about missed opportunities to use the Cornish language in promotional campaigns and the ‘Disneyfication’ of Cornish culture (Morris: 2016). This, they argue has been seen with a carving of Merlin into the rocks and a King Arthur statue at Tintagel as well as plans to build drive-through fast food restaurants at the Heartlands World Heritage Site (Whitehouse: 2017), and state that it is an example of tourism having a negative impact on sites that are hugely important in Cornish culture and history. Such concerns were echoed in the compliance report of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in March 2017, as it highlighted concerns that “Cornish history is (being) distorted” (Doronieth Kernow and Morris: 2017).

In response, Malcolm Bell, the CEO of Visit Cornwall told me that “The tourism industry is responsible for over 20% of all jobs in Cornwall, and in 2015 brought in £491,755,000 into the Cornish economy”, which shows the essential status of the industry in the area. He pointed to a 2012 ‘Community Attitudes survey’ that identified that 89% of residents feel tourism is good for Cornwall. When I questioned him about the more recent criticism surrounding ‘Disneyfication’, Bell replied:

“We have to be honest and authentic and to some that may be Disney, to others it is not. We need to ensure that the culture is interpreted in a way that firstly gains the support of local people and local communities as well as being able to be understood by tourists coming to Cornwall” (Interview). 

In terms of Kernewek, Bell admitted that Visit Cornwall “do not actively promote it as all our customers would not be aware of it, let alone being able to understand it…(but) we did ask a question in 2015 and discovered that 33% of visitors knew that there was a Cornish language” (Interview).

The views of Malcolm Bell were put to the members of my focus groups, and the general consensus was that the percentage of visitors demonstrating a knowledge of the Cornish language without any marketing was far higher than they would expect – and therefore could quite conceivably be used in an advertising campaign by Visit Cornwall to “emphasise a notion Cornwall being a different land within England” (E: Res: 12 February 2017).

NEXT WEEK: Kernewek, Politics and Representation

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part V

Social Identity Theory, Sonic Geographies and Sonic Exclusion:

“Individuals have a need for positive social identification or self-conception…groups will produce flattering stereotypes of themselves and demeaning stereotypes of others” (Tajfel: 1981: p 256).

Conceived by Henri Tajfel in 1979, Social Identity Theory considers how people make sense of who they are through the groups which they become members of. An essential part of this sense of belonging are the feelings of pride and high self-esteem that are produced. For Turner (1996), it was best described as a:-

“…conceptial tripod. One leg was the psychological sequence of restoring positive      distinctiveness to group memberships. Another leg was complex set of social and      psychological processes that shifted behaviour from interpersonal to intergroup       levels, and the third crucial leg of the tripod was the social contextualisation of the psychological dynamic”  (1996: p 17).

Such membership of a group is both “a psychological process and a social product” (Turner & Giles: 1981: p 27) which relies on members becoming actively involved in activities together to reach some form of defined goal. This is an area which has parallels with Anderson’s (2006) notion of an ‘Imagined Community’ and Said’s (1978) theory of an ‘Interpretive Community’, where “nations don’t just have to be imagined, but also have to create their own histories, or interpretations of themselves” (adapted by Billig: 2010: p 70) plays an equally important role. This creation of history, reminiscent of Hobsbawm and Ranger’s (2000) ‘Invention of Tradition’ (see Section 4.1), also sets out to serve as material to reinforce a sense of ‘us and them’. This ‘invented history’ with tales of glorious tussles against those outside of the group, reinforced with recreated languages and other perceived distinctive cultural icons, creates virtual countries and prejudices, which can occasionally lead to conflict on a range of scales ranging from deliberate use of a different language to ensure a ‘pure’ membership of the group, to more overt forms of racism.

Yet how do people become members of such groups, and what is the membership process like? Hogg and Abrams (1988) identify three stages – firstly a self categorisation of membership, secondly comes the process of learning the norms of the identity, and finally, assigning these norms to themselves (p 324 and p 327). For those seeking to be members of a specific Cornish Identity group, a key component is an ability to speak Kernewek. Whilst one may expect that this could explain the increasing desire to learn the language because of an emotional tie to the territory of Cornwall, later sections of this research suggest that it is nowhere near as straightforward as that. No longer is it possible to say that people will learn Cornish simply because that person was born and bred to be Cornish or have Cornish ancestry. Instead, my research suggests that some in-migrants have begun to learn the language because they want to become a potential member of this particular social group as a consequence, and gain some of the status or cultural capital (see later sections for detailed discussion) that being a member affords them.

Tajfel’s (1981) observation that “individuals have a need for positive social identity or self-conception” (p 256) could explain why people who have no birth or ancestral links wish to learn Kernewek or become involved in indigenous cultural groups and activities. Such people would see it as an opportunity to fit in with their new community, or at least be seen to fit in. Indeed, Weale (2017) has highlighted how the government are encouraging people to learn “indigenous (Celtic) languages…as a means of improving social cohesion in local communities” (Guardian: 2017). Here, a clear distinction needs to be drawn as to whether or not promoting social cohesion by language learning would allow eventual membership of the groups who speak that language. Supporters of Tajfel, such as Ng (1996) believe that a social group using language as a signal of membership is wholly positive in “reflect(ing), creat(ing) and depoliticis(ing) power” (p 193). This is where Social Identify Theory runs in to problems. It does not adequately explain the social cohesion phenomena, or indeed a situation where in-comers or second home owners have admitted learning Kernewek simply as a status symbol to show off to friends from the Home Counties the quaintness of their new area. These would be examples of Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory:-

“…neglect(ing) the question of how people retain psychological continuity when making    transitions from behaving as a member of group x to behaving as a member of group y” (p 144).

Hutnik (1991) in turn, would see as an example of “self-categorizations which act as ‘switches’ that turn on or off aspects of social identity” (p 164). Using language learning or indigenous culture to reinforce negative stereotypes of an area, as such in-comers could be accused of doing, highlights Hutnik’s ‘switch’ mentality perfectly. Here, and in a far from straightforward situation, this group of people’s dominant group membership would be to the pursuits of their former town in the Home Counties, yet they are able to flick a switch to join a different social group for reasons that they perceive would enhance their membership of their original social group. It would be a fruitful future piece of research to determine what particular group membership these people would self-categorise themselves of being members of (Hogg: 1996: p 68). Additionally, more research would also appear to be required into the consequences of this situation on Gumperz & Cock-Gumperz’s (1982) assertion that “social identity and ethnicity are in large part established and maintained through language” (p 7). If a language is being learned but not used to communicate in, and people are moving into an area and treating the learning of the indigenous language as a way of enhancing their social standing in another part of England, what does this say about the authenticity of Kernewek?

Linked to this point are the theories of Sonic Geography and Sonic Exclusion. Kanngieser (2012) has noted how “Geography has had a notable history of bringing together sound, space and politics” (p 338). Studies in this area often focus on natures of soundscapes within a specific region, allowing for vital data to be gathered about language use and perceptions. There are two specific examples which could have parallels with the present situation of language choices in Cornwall. Bucher & Novokova (2015) carried out a study in each of Slovakia’s provinces to examine whether the populations considered themselves to be European, Slovak or of their region. Rural people were more inclined (60.4%) to self-identify with their particular region strongest (p 98). Critically those people who self-identified as being from urban areas believed themselves to be Slovak (35%) more than of their region or European (p 98-99). From these figures, it could be ventured that people from urban areas would be far less likely to appreciate the specific rural nuances of life in an area such as Cornwall. Therefore a similar piece of research taking place in Cornwall among in-comers would provide an insight into a conflict between learning to speak Kernewek and self-identifying as English.

The second piece of research was undertaken by Boland (2010), examining use of Scouse within the city of Liverpool and Greater Merseyside, in a work which examined what it meant to be authentically Scouse, and how the different component parts of this region viewed each other. A vitally important parallel between Boland’s research and my own is the fact that, like Cornwall, “During the 1970s and 1980s, Merseysiders became increasingly alienated from the rest of country. The ‘us’ and ‘them’ syndrome developed…” (Carragher cited in Boland: 2010: p 5). In Boland’s research, central questions and conflicts arose about people who were deemed to be “Plastic Scousers from the Wirral and to a lesser extent Knowsley” (ibid: p 6), and he went on to examine what it meant that some people perceived themselves to be members of a group that others did not think them sufficiently ‘qualified’ to join – creating a state of Sonic Exclusion. Allied to this are debates around whether or not you have to live within a territory for a certain period of time to be able to become an accepted member of a group and consequently if there can be different types of group membership and what the significances of this are. Although my study does not focus on accent or dialect, but rather an ability to speak Kernewek, it highlights views about which (if any) people are more socially authentic speakers of the language, and thus see themselves as being placed further up a potential hierarchy of group membership. Means by which people may consider themselves worthy of a place near the top of the hierarchy could be accurate pronunciation of place names (Kearns & Berg: 2002), an area which my own research identified as “an easy way to find out if you’re Cornish or not” (H: Red: 11 February 2017).

An important facet of Sonic Geography and Sonic Exclusion involves examining the spaces in which the languages are spoken. A 2013 study by Brickell noted how “Geographers have a more reticent relationship to the deployment of communicative resources” (p 207) and the influence of what Livingstone termed “spaces of speech” (ibid). By examining not just the social and geographical background of people who speak the indigenous Cornish language, but where they speak it, further important data can be gathered about the realistic viability of Kernewek. Long term, the present renaissance in the language needs to be continued by discovering how much it is spoken within everyday family conversations in a domestic situation, or if it remains a language only used on specially organised social occasions. This has parallels with a piece of research by Brickell examining the usage of native proverbs in everyday conversations in Vietnamese homes and how this has aided the reinforcement of “identity through a particular accent or the way in which…(words) are pronounced” (ibid p 208). Ultimately, if Kernewek speakers only speak the language at special gatherings, it becomes almost a forced use of the tongue in a false situation.

NEXT WEEK: Introduction to Empirical Data and Use of Kernewek as a Reaction to In-Migration, Second Home Ownership and Tourism.