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 The cutting of Government grants to fund Cornish language learning, which has subsequently been replaced by the promise of a smaller amount towards different projects, has certainly not helped to promote the language among the indigenous, working class Cornish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.

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