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


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