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.

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part IV

The Nation State and Internal Colonialism

Keating (2001) suggests that literature focusing on groups such as the indigenous Cornish is inherently written from “a hostile or patronizing perspective. Minority nationalisms are dismissed as archaic, narrow-minded and ‘ethnic’” (p xii). Conversely, there are theorists whose views would support the fact that Cornwall’s history may qualify it to be a territory which could be described as a separate nation state.

Cobban (1969) [1945] believed that a “nation is a community which is, or wishes to be a state” (p 108), with UNESCO providing a more detailed definition of a nation-state as being one where “the great majority are conscious of a common identity and share the same culture”. Here, the emphasis is on having a large group of people with a separate culture as being the crucial aspect of being a nation state, and members of Cornwall’s indigenous community would argue that they can be categorized into this group. Where problems arise is in the crucial addition of the phrase ‘great majority’ in UNESCO’s classification. It is questionable whether most inhabitants of Cornwall would identify themselves as being of a common (indigenous) identity, something which is made even more tenuous by the amount of in-migration into the territory, which has led to one academic calculating that this group accounts for approximately 60% of Cornwall’s population (M1: New: 13 February 2017). Hobsbawm (1990) has highlighted the fact that “the word nation…mean(s)…people belonging to a state even when not speaking the same language” (p 17) which emphasizes the increasing difficulty of effectively classifying Cornwall.

There is also a question mark on whether Cornwall self-identifying as a nation state would lead to anything more than increasing the “hostile and patronizing” reaction that Keating observed at the opening of this section due to the highly limited powers of a nation state compared to a sovereign state. Here, the diverging path is all about an emphasis of power, with a sovereign state defined “as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states” (Shaw: 2003: p 178). At the present time, Cornwall has no form of self-government and is wholly dependent on the power of the wider English nation, a situation which Hechter (1999) would recognise as Internal Colonialism.

This term was first referred to by Russian populists to “describe the exploitation of peasants by urban classes” (p xiii) before being used later to highlight the “economic underdevelopment of certain Russian and Italian regions” (ibid p xiv). On a wider scale, Hechter argues that the most prominent adverse impact of Internal Colonialism on the Celtic regions of the United Kingdom is caused by the English (or more specifically the Westminster government) imposing policies which had the perceived impact of making the Cornish, Welsh, Scots and Irish economically dependent on England. This is something which, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s with the final death of the historic mining regions of Cornwall and Wales only became more pronounced (Payton: 1992, 1993, 2004).

The economic impact of Internal Colonialism can also be seen in terms of reduced investment in infrastructure. Hechter (1999) highlights the fact that “peripheral rail routes are only built to suit English centres of production” (p 149). Proof of this can be seen with a glance at the Cornish rail network, which could at best be described as withered. Major towns such as Launceston, Wadebridge and Bude do not have stations, and a bus trip to these places can involve a very long journey.

Reactions against perceived impositions of Internal Colonialism occur primarily when “the cultural identities of regions begin to lose social significance” (ibid p 3), and there are those who would argue that the time is ripe for this reaction to gather momentum within Cornwall. This can lead to what Hechter (ibid) has termed peripheral sectionalism and involves a gradual momentum towards self-determination. The presence of political, cultural and linguistic distinctiveness are the main driving forces behind such movements. Whilst the vast majority of indigenous Cornish will not seriously consider independence from England, they do invoke their history as a separate territory, with the badge of vastly different cultures and language to emphasise that “Kenedhel heb tavas yw Kenedhel heb kolon” (“A man who loses his tongue has lost his land” [M: Interview]).

Nairn (1977) has argued that a potential move towards self-determinism is long overdue in order to bring about “the extremely long-delayed crisis of the original bourgeois state-form” (p 19), which is akin to a “slow motion landslide” (ibid p 68). He believes that, in order for the landslide to gather pace, a wider “political baptism of the lower classes” (ibid p 41) is necessary. This view, it can be argued is finally bearing fruit in other Celtic regions of the United Kingdom at the present time as Scotland pushes for a second independence referendum, just three years after their previous one, and Cardiff has a developing Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru (Welsh Assembly). Yet in Cornwall, the trees remain bare of fruit. Despite a petition signed by over 50,000 people (approximately 10% of the territory’s population at the time) being handed into Downing Street in 2001 pleading for a Senedh Kernow (Cornish Assembly), the then Labour Government refused to yield, despite their commitment to English devolution after transferring some legislative powers to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (Deacon et al: 2003). Why was it that Cornwall failed?

Billig (2010) may well reply that this was because too many people in Cornwall display what he terms as Banal Nationalism. For him, this is “not (the) flag which is being constantly waved with fervent passion; it is the flag hanging unnoticed on a public building”. For every 10% of the Cornish population that signed the Senedh Kernow petition, Billig would point to the 90% who did not. However, Joseph (2004) criticises Billig for neglecting to take into account a nation’s history, especially their “particular interpretation of recorded events” (p 118). For Joseph, the Cornish flag hanging on the public building would not be unnoticed, rather it is a signifier of a separate past, which could be used to build towards a separate future. This future is one which would depend on what path the indigenous people would follow, due to there being a distinction, as Snyder (1976) observes, between patriotism, which is “defensive, being based upon a love of one’s country” (p 43) and nationalism, which “takes on a quality of aggression that makes it one of the prime causes for wars” (ibid). Once again, we see a clear demarcation between Cornwall and its Celtic cousins, with historically, a notable lack of a widespread nationalist movement among the Cornish. Gong (2016) notes the influence that Celtic terrorism movements from the IRA in Ireland, to Wales’ Meibion Glyndwr and the Scottish Socialist Republic League have had (to these, I would also add the actions of the Front de Liberation de la Bretagne in Brittany), and queries whether the absence of a major Cornish resistance movement is seen as an excuse for Westminster to treat the territory with continued inertia with regard to devolved powers. Where there was a Cornish movement, An Gof in the 1970s and 1980s, they failed to carry out large atrocities either within Cornwall or across the River Tamar border. Gong questions what it would take for the Cornish to mobilise a force in larger numbers to be taken seriously and comes to the conclusion that it is unlikely to.

It could be argued that there is sufficient evidence for internal colonisers to excuse their refusal to release the grip with which they hold Cornwall even slightly. They would point to lack of a coherent indigenous community agitating for change which is born out by the total failure of the territory’s own political party, Mebyon Kernow to receive more than 4.2% of the vote in any constituency in a General Election (Democracy Cornwall: 2010 & 2015) and a cultural scene and language made up of reinvented parodies of ancient events, as an example of an area in a total state of confusion or delusion about its self-identity.

However, I would profoundly disagree with this sentiment. Cornwall has every right to identify itself as a nation. It meets every one of Kadchi’s Fundamental Tests of Nationhood (1985) [1951] due to there being “a separate historical past at least as ancient…as the surrounding land, an entirely different linguistic entity and a territorial inhabitation of definite areas” (p 904). Equally, the campaign of hostility and patronisation identified by Keating (2001) is an example of the oppressor:-

“weakening the oppressed to isolate them, to create and deepen rifts among them…by varied means, from the repressive methods of government bureaucracy to the forms of cultural action” (Freire: 1983: p 122).

Whilst there is very little appetite within Cornwall for an armed resistance campaign, there are growing movements led by cultural group Kernow Matters To Us (KMTU) to protest in more prominent ways than before due to major concerns about Westminster’s lack of understanding of Cornish issues. KMTU organised a protest against the proposed imposition of a cross border Parliamentary Constituency on 30th October 2016 which blocked the border between Cornwall and Devon at Polson Bridge, just outside Launceston for most of the day (see later section for a detailed discussion of KMTU’s influence). Hundreds of protesters waved anti-English placards and sung traditional Cornish songs.

NEXT WEEK: Social Identity Theory, Sonic Geographies and Sonic Exclusion. 

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 Part III

Cultural Identity Theory

Cultural Identity Theory is “generated by political antecedents; the possession of…collective pride and humiliation, pleasure and regret, connected with the same incidents in the past (Mill: 1972: p 391).

The history of Cornwall is one full of pride. Whether it be the stirring tales from the Prayer Book Rebellion and the march to Blackheath (Payton: 2004, Parker: 1998, Rowse: 1941), or, in more modern parlance, the achievement of what those in Cornwall consider to be the Cornish ‘national’ rugby union team in making Twickenham finals in the County Championship (Gregory: 1991, Clarke & Harry: 1991). These battles have ultimately led to what Mill suggests is, a “humiliation” of losing a widely spoken indigenous language and eventual subjugation by the English in terms of culture, industry and finance.  Yet, indigenous Cornish people would never use the term of humiliation to describe their past. In my experience, the overwhelming emotion is pride in their sense of a different identity, and in talking about how it can only be a matter of time before more Cornish people join together to regain some of what they have lost.

Benedict Anderson’s theory of the ‘Imagined Community’, one in which “the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members (Anderson: 2006: p 6), could see Cornwall as an example of a “sub-nation… which, naturally, dream(s) of shedding this ‘sub-ness’ one happy day” (ibid p 3). Anderson also highlights a number of social phenomena which has prevented Cornwall from asserting its perceived separate identity – notably the absence of widely read print media publishing in Kernewek, something which is still the case today – which he presents as the consequence of “print-capitalism” by the English language in “creat(ing) languages of power” (2006: p 45), and associated argument that “in 1840, even in Britain…almost half the population was still illiterate” (ibid p 75). With virtually all of the printed material in Cornwall in this period being in English due to it being the language of commerce (Kent: 2000), it became increasingly important for the Cornish population to read and write in English rather than Kernewek. Anderson also believes that education being controlled by the wider state led to “cadres for governmental and corporate hierarchies” (2006: p 116). Among my respondents in Cornwall, several pointed to the consequences of a Westminster imposed National Curriculum which offers limited scope for studies in Cornish history and language, leading to Cornish schools being no more than what Anderson has termed  “state sponsored lycees” (2006: p 127).

Yet, where Anderson’s observations run into problems are the wide differences between Cornwall and the United Kingdom’s other Celtic regions. Unlike Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, Cornwall has no indigenous language newspaper or television stations. In 1998, Westcountry Television, ITV’s South-West England franchise holder broadcast a half-hour series, Kernowpalooza entirely in Kernewek (Harvey et al: 2002), but this remained a short-lived experiment, and no Kernewek is spoken on television at the present time. Why have other Celtic regions been able to break through of the chains imposed in Anderson’s narrative? Generally because of varying degrees of devolution that have been given to them, including Brittany, and the Isle of Man’s status as a Crown Dependency. The Government may point to doing a devolution deal with Cornwall Council in July 2015 (Department for Communities & Local Government/Department for Business and Skills: 2015), but this does not include a Senedh Kernow (Cornish Assembly) and crucially contains little or no powers over housing, education, media and transport – which means there can be no provision for adapting the National Curriculum or actively protecting the rights of indigenous Cornish people over access to affordable housing. Anderson has also been criticised by Joseph (2004) for ignoring the fact that “national identities shape national languages…very profoundly” (p 13). This view has parallels with the situation in Cornwall. Whilst it is perfectly correct to state that Kernewek is a language where words have been borrowed from Cymraeg (Welsh) and to a lesser extent Brezhoneg (Breton), it is equally important to recognise that there are perfectly good reasons for this. Cornwall’s gradual growth of its indigenous identity, as a possible reaction to geopolitical and social issues, has meant that in order to evolve and reflect modern phenomena, it has needed to intertwine with its fellow Brythonic Celtic regions. The fact is that the demand to create new words in Kernewek has to have been present in order for it to occur, something which Anderson does not consider in depth within his study.

Whilst Cornwall may see its separate culture and history from England as one of its defining arguments in establishing itself as being more than another part of the South-West, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s work, ‘The Invention of Tradition’ (1983) sets out to highlight the contradiction of many cultural rituals not only being more modern than many believe, but also being modified or invented versions of events by disparate groups. Hobsbawm and Ranger attempt to place all invented traditions into three groups – “those which establish or symbolise social cohesion, establishing or legitimising institutions or states and those which concentrate on the inculcation of beliefs, value systems and conventions of behaviour” (ibid p 9). They highlight what they see as the spurious actions of the Welsh in recreating the Eisteddfod after over 500 years in abeyance (ibid p 56-57), Irish ballads being ‘transferred’ to Scottish settings to create Scottish folk songs (ibid p 17) and the questionable reintroduction of tartan and kilts into Scotland (p 19-22). Added to this is the status of the Cornish tartan, which was created in 1963 by E.E. Morton Nance (Cornish Culture Association Guide: 2015) and, indeed the St. Piran’s Flag (more commonly known as ‘the Cornish flag’), which was described in 1838 in the work of Davies Gilbert, who also notes its similarity to the family shield of the Saint-Peran family of Brittany, a land which has had historic trading links with its Celtic cousins in Cornwall for centuries (Gilbert: 1838: p 332). It is worth pointing out that Hobsbawm and Ranger do not just provide examples of Celtic nations as exhibiting invented or bogus traditions as part of national identity; they also investigate the roots of the British Monarchy’s ceremonial pageants.  For Hobsbawm and Ranger, invented traditions are caused by a clear desire, often coming out of a time of crisis for the cultural group or nation where its:-

very lifeblood…was ebbing away. It required a superhuman effort by a small        number of patriots to force their fellow countrymen to appreciate their    heritage…(by) ransack(ing)  the past and transform(ing) it with imagination (ibid p99).

At the turn of the 20th century, a concerted campaign to revitalise Cornish culture and identity centred around receiving recognition that Cornwall had a Celtic past (D.R. Williams: 2004). Made a bard of the Goursez Vreizh (Breton Gorseth) in 1903 for his work on the Cornish language, Henry Jenner sought Cornwall’s entry into the Celtic Congress, something which was finally accepted in 1904 (Lyon: 2008). The influence of the Goursez Vreizh, the Welsh Gorsedd and Eisteddfodau convinced Jenner that Cornwall should begin its own bardic community, or Gorsedh. Following almost exactly the ceremonies he had seen in both Brittany and Wales, he held the very first Gorsedh Kernow ceremony at Boscawen-Un in 1928 (D.R. Williams: 2004), when he and twelve other Cornish bards were initiated by the Welsh Archdruid (ibid). Eleven years later full bardic robes and regalia, directly modelled on the Welsh robes were introduced (Lyon: 2008 & D.R. Williams: 2004). If the Welsh Gorsedd was a highly modified version of a ceremony from the twelfth century by Iolo Morganwg, then some may venture that the Gorsedh Kernow ceremony was a copy of the ‘new’ Welsh version.

Finally within this section, there needs to be examination of regionalist discourse. Bourdieu (1991) stated how this is a “performative (one)…which aims to impose as legitimate, a new definition of the frontiers to get people to know and recognise the region” (p 223). Here we need to differentiate between performative in the shape of active regional arts and culture, and performative in terms of using an indigenous language. Whilst the arts may provide the widest possible entry point into a culture due to there being no language barriers and, potentially no detailed knowledge of indigenous history required (at least at the level of someone observing the culture, if not fully immersing themselves in it), a language as part of this culture is an extremely important additional component. Joseph (2004) states: “Language and culture are like ‘republics’ populated by words in the one case and ideas in the other” (p 108). I would go further by suggesting that language and culture need to be part of the same republic. Cultural and linguistic groups need to be as one in promoting identical messages and symbiotic events in order to build authenticity and the strongest chance of succeeding. Joseph also touches on the topic of membership of a particular nation – something which is vitally important in the narrative of my Methodology chapter in particular. He states:-

The two basic senses of ‘nation’ can never really coalesce. For them to do so, no-one but members of the nation-by-birth would inhabit the national territory, and no members of the nation-by-birth would live outside the territory (ibid p 92).

Therefore, can a nation be truly authentic unless the only people that live in it are born there and remain there? If you believe this to be true, then every single person who moves into an area acts as a diluent to indigenous culture (Deacon: 1984), and therefore there can be no real sense of an authentic national identity and culture in the vast majority of the world’s nations. Hecht et al’s Communication Theory of Identity (2001), provides additional elements to consider. By dividing an identity into four distinct parts (personal, enacted, relational and communal), there transpires a method by which a single person could act in different ways depending on the circumstances in which they find themselves – whether on their own, in language use and in relation to other people or groups. Nationalist Cornish people, I suspect would find it difficult to comprehend how someone could operate on a different level of identity depending on who they were with or where they were, yet it does provide some explanation for the phenomena of non-indigenous Cornish people moving into the territory and beginning to learn Kernewek and/or actively participate in local cultural groups. If such in-comers met up with friends or family from where they used to live before moving to Cornwall, you would not expect them to speak Kernewek to them or necessarily indulge in Cornish cultural pursuits with them – they would more likely be talking in English, perhaps even in the regional dialect of their previous town about issues closely related to their former home. Yet when around their local acquaintances in Cornwall, it would be more probable that their interest in Cornish cultural or language issues came to the fore.

NEXT WEEK: The Nation State and Internal Colonialism.

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 – Part II

Introduction Section II: Contemporary Identities in Europe – Politics, Culture and Language

This research project has its roots in both a session I chaired at the 2015 RGS-IBG Annual International Conference at the University of Exeter entitled: ‘The Contemporary Growth of Regional Identity in Europe’ (RGS-IBG: 2015), and the ‘Cornwall Connections’ conference that I co-organised with the Institute of Cornish Studies, which took place in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, University of London in March 2016.

The session at the 2015 RGS-IBG Conference gathered together researchers who were studying European regions such as the North of England, Cornwall, Catalonia, Veneto and Brittany. The topic was particularly relevant at the time that the session took place as Catalonia was several weeks away from launching another bid for secession from Spain and the Lega Nord had enjoyed success in Italian regional elections a few months previously which saw it become the largest party in Veneto (with Luca Zaia becoming President of Veneto) and the second largest party in Lombardy (Consiglio Regionale del Veneto). Session delegates such as Professor Klaus-Jurgen Nagel and Professor Fabrizio Eva, argued that these events were partially explained by the indigenous populations becoming concerned about the dilution of their separate identities and a lack of comprehension of regional issues from the national government. These parallels were voiced in the vast majority of the other presentations during the session, and in the examples given by the audience in the question-and-answer section where additional examples of regional identities in Germany, Canada and Australia were provided.

Held six months later, the Cornwall Connections Conference focused on social and historical links between Cornwall and London, with a particular focus on geo-politics. There were several papers which dealt with a Cornish sense of maltreatment from Westminster, and how this has manifested itself within London-based Cornish cultural groups, and those within the territory agitating for change. The parallel arguments which emerged from these two conferences prompted a desire within me for further investigation.

As I began to study the issues during the summer of 2016, I saw the need to examine closely paradigms around reactions against internal colonialism, sonic geographies (including sonic exclusion) and the expression of regional or quasi-national identities through culture. It was very apparent that, regardless of which particular region that my own research would focus upon, it would act as a bridge towards territories which were experiencing similar situations. The essential dichotomy that these regions have, is how to solve the problem that Moreno (2002) has termed “the dilemma of nationalities” (p 399). The populations of such territories are made up of those that are ultra-nationalists/secessionists, a second group who feel they belong more to the wider nation of which their region is part, and a final one who have no strong feeling either way. The debate heard at the RGS-IBG conference session in 2015 suggested that more people were being swayed by the secessionist opinions.

So, what were the events that led to feelings of diluted regional identity? How exactly were national governments ignoring the needs of their regions, who were the people amplifying regional frustrations and what techniques were they using to amplify it? Looking at Catalonia and Veneto, these issues were a perceived increase in EU migration and difference in the amount of money that the national government was taking from a region in taxation and the amount that was coming back in terms of investment (Eva: 2015 and Nagel: 2015) Figures from 2014 suggest that Catalonia alone is responsible for 19% of Spain’s total GDP but only receives back 9.5% of total government spending (Agència Catalana de Notícies – Catalan Government News Agency). Where this particular region has succeeded is in terms of a well-organised ‘Catalanizing’ agenda led by a large middle class group which crucially included the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie (Keating: 2001 and Miley: 2013). Having such an influential group of people driving the Catalan argument has led to the Convergència i Unió (CiU) political party being able to launch a hugely successful coalition known as JxSi – Together for Yes! The group only missed out on an overall majority in the Catalan parliament by eleven seats in September 2015 (Generalitat de Catalunya – Catalan Government). Such movements have ensured that the Catalan is the main language used for teaching in the territory’s schools, although at present this is under threat from the Spanish government (Agència Catalana de Notícies – Catalan Government News Agency).

Within Cornwall, there are similar concerns over indigenous identity, finance, government policy and migration (although, crucially, this is migration from other parts of England rather than the EU as a whole). Trotsky (2017) [1932] believed that change could only occur when the masses entered forcibly into the realm of rulership over their own destiny. To achieve this, it would be necessary for those agitating for change to have degree of influence within the fields of education, language, religion and the media in order to formulise what Gramsci (1971) termed passive revolution. Historically, Cornwall’s middle-and upper-class owners of mines and land in Cornwall during the 18th and 19th centuries turned their backs on Kernewek in order to trade with businesses across the River Tamar, which meant having to learn English. If the drivers of an economy embrace a different language, and consequently a different culture, then a dominant voice in a region disappears. Equally, religion was not going to come to the aid of the Cornish, and indeed, it played a major role in the loss of Kernewek as a widely spoken language due to the imposition of the Book of Common Prayer.

Only since 2004 has the territory had a university, and, indeed, the joint University of Exeter/Falmouth University campus at Penryn does not contain a Celtic Studies department – a situation which marks Cornwall as the only Celtic region not to have such a faculty within a university in the territory. This historic lack of a higher education institution meant that it was impossible for any sort of radical debating venue for the educated elite of the territory to be established. Allied to this issue is the status of Kernewek in schools. Cornwall does not have devolved government in the way that Scotland, Wales and Brittany do. Consequently, there can be no indigenous language policy without it being agreed by the Westminster parliament, which would involve amending the National Curriculum to include provision for Kernewek language teaching (see later sections).

Closely linked to position of democratic deficit is the political situation in Cornwall. The territory’s own political party, Mebyon Kernow has historically struggled to gain both publicity and votes in Westminster elections, unlike their related parties in Scotland and Wales. Indeed, in no constituency did they gain more than 2% of the total vote in the 2015 General Election (Democracy Cornwall: 2015). This fact has meant that very little pressure can be applied on a national level to the government if the party performs so badly in elections. Interestingly, Cornwall’s most celebrated politician – David Penhaligon, along with others such as Andrew George and Peter Bessell, left Mebyon Kernow to gain electoral success (Penhaligon: 1989). The consequences of a lack of political pressure being applied by a Cornish political party at Westminster for recognition and change has also been reflected in the 2017 Compliance Report from the Advisory Committee on the Council for Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities which was critical of the government’s treatment of the Cornish (Morris: 2017 and Doronieth Kernow). The report expresses major concerns about the Conservative Party’s removal in funding for Kernewek, the potential imposition of a cross-border Cornwall/Devon parliamentary constituency in the present Boundary Commission Review and the Cornish people’s inability to self-identify as Cornish in National Census. The report also criticises English Heritage for the way they have persistently distorted Cornish history (Doronieth Kernow see also later sections) and both BBC and ITV for their minimal profile of Kernewek but also a lack of coverage of Cornish news stories (compared to ones highlighting events in Devon).

NEXT WEEK: Literature Review – Part I: Cultural Identity Theory.

The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017 – Part I

I am now in a position to begin publishing extracts from my MA Cultural Geography dissertation entitled The Renaissance of Kernewek 1900-2017. It is rather a long piece of work, and so will be broken down into many separate parts, published here over the next month or two.

This week, we begin with the first of a two part introduction which attempted to set the scene.


“Medh den heb davaz a gollaz i dir”

(T. Price: 1858: p 23)

Brezhoneg phrase which translates as “A man without language has lost his land”

Cornwall has had a historically complex and often tempestuous relationship with England. As the author and playwright Alan M. Kent observes, “It is and is not an English county. It is and it is not mentioned in the same breath as Wales, Scotland and Eire” (2000: p11). The territory had its own kings and spoke a different language.

Throughout history, the Cornish people have fought battles against the people of England. An early example of this was seen in 1497 when thousands of Cornishmen, led by Michael Joseph an Gof (the Smith) marched to London in protest at the raising of taxes by Henry VIII to fund a war against Scotland – a country with which the Cornish considered themselves to have a closer relationship than England (see Payton: 2004, Parker: 1998). During the English Civil War, Cornishmen joined the fight against Parliament (Payton: 2004, Rowse: 1941, Stoyle: 2002). At this time, the Earl of Essex and the Roundheads were forced to retreat when invading the territory with the consequence that 6,000 out of the original 7,000-strong Essex army were killed or taken prisoner (Knight: 2016). There is also evidence to suggest that Cornwall has never been legally incorporated into shire England (Angarrack 1999, 2002 & 2008) and questions persist over whether or not, legally speaking it is the Queen or the Duke of Cornwall who has the final say in Cornish matters (Kirkhope: 2014, Williams: 2004). Additionally, there are those in Cornwall who claim that their land has status as a quasi-independent ‘nation’ (Angarrack 1999, 2002 & 2008) due to Cornish Stannary Law. This, they argue gives Cornwall a power of veto over Westminster due to the fact that the Cornish Stannary Parliament, which last met in Truro in 1753, has never legally been dissolved (Rowe & Nute: 1996, Angarrack 1999, 2002 & 2008 and Kirkhope: 2014).

The very essence of what makes many Cornish people feel a race apart from those across the River Tamar border is the Celtic heritage that is seen to play a central role in establishing the foundations for their identity. The fact that; “Celtic identities are in part about class and place-based differences within white identities and privileges” (McCarthy & Hague: 2004: p 389) is crucial to where Cornwall has found itself historically, and where it remains today. Arguably the most important example of this ‘place-based difference’ is the Cornish language, Kernewek. The language reflects, and to some degree cements Cornwall’s historic ties with its Celtic cousins:-

“It was with the kindred Welsh and Bretons that we joined our forces in warlike enterprise…there was one event, of all others the most effectual in strengthening the alliance of the Cornish with their ancient friends, I mean the war against the infidels of the East (England)” (Polwhele: 1806a: p 6-7).

Celtic languages are divided into two classifications. Kernewek is known as a Brythonic Celtic language in common with Brezhoneg (Breton) and Cymraeg (Welsh). The other Celtic languages are grouped as Goidelic Celtic and cover the indigenous tongues of Ireland (Gaeilge), Scotland (Gàidhlig) and Gaelg or Gailck (Isle of Man) – (Berresford-Ellis: 2000). Whilst a recent study by Weatherhill (2016) has sought to disprove the long held theory that Kernewek died out towards the end of the eighteenth century (see also Parry: 1946), it is an inescapable fact that the imposition of the Common Prayer Book in English during 1549 did much to diminish the language. Unlike in Wales, where legislation was provided for the Bible and Common Prayer Book to be translated into Cymraeg, such an adaption was never ruled permissible for the Cornish language (Payton: 2004). The consequence of this linguistic exclusion was a major rebellion – the so called Prayer Book-Rebellion – which saw the Cornish lay siege to Exeter over the period of a month before ultimately being defeated in a battle at Clyst St. Mary in Devon (Rowse: 1941).

Additionally, the razing of Glasney College in Penryn a year earlier, in 1548, had a detrimental impact in terms of academic and literary writing in the Cornish language. It was at Glasney that many medieval mystery plays such as the Ordinalia were believed to have been written (Coleman: 2015, Kent: 2000, Whetter: 1988). These fourteenth century works, — comprising the plays Origo Mundi, Passio Christi and Resurrexio Domini have been highlighted by Coleman (2015) as being among the oldest surviving play scripts in Europe, with the oldest remaining stage diagrams in the world. After the loss of Glasney, only infrequently were literary works published in Cornish; the written word virtually died out by 1650 (Kent: 2000). Indeed, the razing of Glasney also meant that archival material of Cornish language texts were taken away from the territory to ensure their survival in the reformation period. Hawke (2001) and Coleman (2015) carried out intensive research which unearthed rare Cornish-language mystery plays in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and the Bodleian Library in Oxford which were written around 1500.

Some have ventured that the Cornish language could have survived in this period if it had been supported by the territory’s gentry. This was not, however, a realistic hope: Cornwall’s landowners, tin and copper mine owners and management had to speak English in order to sell their goods at market both across England and the British Empire. The workers of Cornwall had, therefore, to begin learning English in order “to converse with their superiors, (and) to address the Deity” (Polwhele 1806b). See also Wakelin (1975), Spriggs (2003), Mills (2010) and McMahon (2015).

The maintenance of Cornwall’s Celtic heritage was the driving force to get more people speaking the language. Stoyle (2002) identifies William Scawen, a Royalist Civil War soldier and MP for St. Germans & East Looe in 1640, as someone who was “the founding father of the modern Cornish language movement” (ibid: p 134). Scawen commissioned the translation of a fifteenth century Cornish poem, Passio Christi into English, and a book in English detailing Cornish identity entitled Antiquities Cornubrittanic (1688). Another important staging post in recognition of Cornwall’s separate identity came in 1707 with the publication of Edward Lhwyd’s Archaeologica Britannica. In this work, Lhwyd traced the Celtic languages and provided a dictionary of their terms. Lhwyd’s work provided a starting point in its linguistic description of the Cornish language (D.R. Williams: 2004) which would eventually be built upon by Henry Jenner.

It was not, however, until the early twentieth century that there was a concerted effort to raise the status of Kernewek. In 1904, Jenner published A Handbook of the Cornish Language before establishing the Gorsedh Kernow, the Cornish group of bards in 1928. The Gorsedh closely mirrored the work of Welshman Iolo Morganwg, who had similarly ‘invented’ a bardic community around his personal interpretation of a long deceased, ancient movement in Wales (see Morgan: 1983). Jenner’s work also included a Cornish-English dictionary published in 1938, which has been updated and can still be found today in bookshops around Cornwall. The revival’s bid to gather pace became increasingly bogged down in the 1980s and 1990s with heated arguments about what an authentic indigenous Cornish language should look like (George: 1995, Williams: 1996 & 2001, Grant: 1998, Everson: 1999, Mills: 1999 and Kennedy: 2001 & 2002). Unified Cornish, established by Robert Morton Nance, had its supporters as did Ken George’s Kernewek Kemmyn (Common Cornish). Also emerging during this period was Nicholas Williams’ Revised Unified Cornish. These unfortunate arguments led to Glanville Price, Professor Emeritus of French at the University of Aberystwyth, deriding the modern version of Kernewek as being akin to “a painting, so hastily restored as no longer to qualify as an authentic work” (1984: p 144). Finally, in the early twenty-first century, the establishment of MAGA (the Cornish Language Partnership), led to agreement on a standard written form of the language, and by 2010, UNESCO altered its classification of Cornish to recognise that its prior description of being an extinct language was no longer true.

The consequence of these events was that the profile of Kernewek increased rapidly. Kenneth McKinnon’s (2002 & 2004) research for the British Council estimated there were 300 people able to hold a conversation in Kernewek. By 2005, O’Neill & Texier’s survey claimed that the numbers had increased to 3,000. According to the 2011 census, 557 people in England and Wales stated that Kernewek was their first language (ONS: 2011).

NEXT WEEK: Wider Contemporary Identities in Europe – Politics, Culture and Language