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

Research Findings From This Week

At the end of another week of newspaper archive research for my Cornwall Heritage Trust sponsored PhD on The Cornish Language from the Late 18th Century to the Early 20th Century, some fascinating information was unearthed which may well prove worthy of further examination.

A report from The Cornubian and Redruth Times in 6th September 1901 reveals a tourist from the Midlands referring to an old man who was in charge of a boat they were travelling in between Boscastle and Tintagel “using some Cornish”. The report states some of what the man said – whilst it is fair to say that almost all of which was said would fall under the heading of “dialect” rather than “language”, it shows that there was a potential of the odd Cornish word or two slipping into the conversation and so worth trying to find out just who this may have been.

The same newspaper reported on 23rd January 1904 about a Redruth man who had received written communication from Wales in the Welsh language because “the publishers thought Redruth people still spoke Cornish” and so would understand the Welsh!

One of the most fascinating finds this week relates to an article in The Cornubian and Redruth Times dated 21st February 1924 revealing that the London Cornish Association was planning on holding a meeting at King’s Weigh Clubhouse, Oxford Street using the Cornish language, with it stating that: “It is believed that this will be the first occasion since the time of Oliver Cromwell that real Cornish has been spoken in London.” A planned address by Mr. Trelawny Roberts entitled “Nebbaz Gerriau Dro Tho Carnoack” (“A few words about Cornish”) and songs sung in Cornish. After making this find, I have contacted the London Cornish Association and, along with a fellow 1st Year MPhil/PhD student hope to go along in January to view their archives in a bid to find out more about this event and any other potential material.

There was also mention of an article published in the French radical republican newspaper Le Rappel, which was founded on the initiative of Victor Hugo. In the piece in Le Rappel, dated 12 August 1902, Charles Hancock writes about the similarity of Breton and Cornish, shared history and characteristics. A browse of Le Rappel‘s archives (thanks to Anton Chatalier, University of Rennes for links) reveals several other articles relating to Cornish issues. One such piece, by Victor Hugo, albeit published posthumously on 28th May 1889, talks about links between Cornwall and Brittany, and another article on 16th September 1903 by Hugues Destrem talks of the possibility of “peasants from Cornwall coming to Brittany” if the financial hardships being suffered across the territory continued, as a result of this shared history and language roots.

Plenty of food for thought in these pieces!


Research Progress – Two Months In

Last week saw my first presentation as part of the Institute of Cornish Studies Postgraduate Study Circle for students researching elements related to the Cornish Language.

At the present stage – at the present time I have begun to

  • Build on existing relationships with key stakeholders in the Cornish language community – liaising with bodies such as Cornwall Council, Gorsedh Kernow and Cornish Heritage Trust.
  • Commence newspaper archive research – British Newspaper Archive holds ten Cornish newspapers from the period on its records.
  • Make relationships within the academic and cultural communities of Brittany & identifying key locations, people and groups to visit during period of Breton based research later during research process.

At the present time, I have completed three of the ten archival sections of the Cornish press relating to the period of my research, with The Royal Cornwall Gazette, The Cornish Telegraph and The Cornishman all combed through. This has led to the generation of over forty potential names of people who had expertise in, or were using the Cornish language within the mid to late 1800s. Liaising with former Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard Rod Lyon, who has carried out research in this area, reveals that around a quarter of these names are either “new” to him, or have not been explored in any depth before. At the present time it remains questionable as to how potentially exciting this should be. It could well be that these are names that people have looked into previously and rejected as being spurious.

The Breton angle of the research is something which continually seems to crop up in the newspaper archival searches, and it is therefore pleasing that I have been able to establish relationships with academics at the Celtic Studies department at the Universite de Bretagne Occidentale and Centre for Research on Breton and Celtic Studies and British Studies departments at the Universite Rennes 2. A researcher at Rennes,  specialising in Dialectology and Breton place names, Antoine Chatelier, has forwarded me a short sound clip of a 93 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 (more or less Napoleon’s time) went to fish in Cornwall and was surprised to hear that fishermen there “spoke in Breton”. 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. Consequently, I am in the early stages of putting together some form of joint research relationship with Chatelier leading to a potential Cornish/Breton study day in Rennes, linked to Peter Harrison of the British Studies department there. 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, 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.

The research has also revealed the character of John Hobson Matthews. Born in 1858 in Croydon, he was a linguist, author and archivist. His father was from the St. Ives area (Trewhella family) and mother from Great Grimsby. He lived much of his life in South Wales, around Cardiff in particular. Hobson Matthews was the first salaried archivist in the UK when he had the job of being the Keeper of Cardiff Records. He was known particularly in Cornwall for his book, ‘History of Parishes of St. Ives, Leland, Towednack and Zennor’. Hobson Matthews claimed, in an article published in The Cornish Telegraph on 13th July 1899, and in the Cornubian and Redruth Times the following day as being “The last hereditary Cornish speaker.” This followed written communication with Monsieur Jaffrenou, editor of a Breton periodical in the same year.

Hobson Matthews was a strong supporter of Irish Home Rule and was linked to the Gaelic Union. He published a piece in a staunchly Republican newspaper. The South Wales Daily News reported on 18th July 1899 that he had been made a bard at the Welsh Eisteddfod, and later led a party of Welsh bards to Vannes in 1899 to meet their Breton counterparts.

Whilst Hobson Matthews claims may, at first sight be potentially exciting, there needs to be a hefty pinch of salt taken. My initial research has uncovered a large number of critics about his other claims and writing. For example, The Illustrated London News’ of 13 August 1892 describes his book on St. Ives as “hampered by a false theory” with St. James’ Gazette on 18 April 1899 describing his book on ‘Records of Cardiff Vol. 1’ as “a sham”. There is a sustained period of criticism being put in his direction in the letters pages of South Wales Daily News from 1891-1900. There are, seemingly, endless examples of ongoing rows and petty squabbles between Hobson Matthews and others who are doubting the veracity of his statements/claims. “Misleading” and “ignorant” are among the criticisms. Hobson Matthews describes himself as merely being “the amiable czar of the archives” (17 Apr 1899).

I have now started work going through the archives of Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser, and looking ahead to a St. Piran’s Day Cornish language presentation with the Institute of Cornish Studies in Penryn – when this is finalised more news will become available.





Researching the Cornish Language in the Late 1700s to Early 1900s – A PhD

I am in the very early days of PhD research at the Institute of Cornish Studies, based at the Humanities department of the University of Exeter’s campus in Penryn, Cornwall. My research, generously financed by the Cornwall Heritage Trust is on ‘The Cornish Language: 18th Century to the Early 20th Century’. This PhD was the culmination of a MA Cultural Geography Research degree in the outstanding Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London, where my dissertation was entitled ‘The Renaissance of Kernewek: The Indigenous Cornish Language: 1900 – 2017’ – a paper which will be published in this blog in an abridged version over several parts in the near future.

My PhD has three main research questions:

i) What was the reach of Kernewek in the 18th and 19th centuries?

Within this era in Cornwall, mass emigration was taking place and a vital part of my research attempts to examine the relationships between remaining Kernewek speakers and the wider indigenous Cornish groups both within Cornwall and among the diaspora. Discussions that I have had with other Cornish language researchers over the course of my Masters dissertation suggest that there may well have been pockets of Kernewek speakers in the area around Summercourt in Mid-Cornwall and Lanherne, near Newquay, as well as some Kernewek being spoken and written on the Lizard peninsula much later than previously thought. If research in these particular areas could prove this, then it could, potentially, lead to the east/west model of language retreat being rethought. Lyon (2001) offers  potential locations and individuals that would serve as starting points for this particular branch of the research. There are two examples within Lyon’s work which I am particularly interested to investigate further. Firstly, the potential identity of the several hundred miners “using uncouth jargon” (ibid p 11), in 1795 around Flushing, which quite possibly was a form of Kernewek.  Lyon suggests this group may have come from the St. Day and Carharrack area. Secondly, the example of John Davey who died in Boswednack in 1891 (ibid p 18-19). Morton Nance expressed doubts about Davey’s use of Cornish, suggesting instead that he picked it up from reading Pryce’s work Archaeologia Cornu-Britannica but Lyon asserts that he “would have had a good knowledge of Cornish, learned traditionally at home” (ibid p 19).  Due to Davey dying in the late nineteenth century, it would be, potentially highly significant to discover whether or not he had learned the language and, perhaps if he was in a position to speak it or teach it to others.

A final aspect of my research within this first framework, would be to consider whether or not Kernewek was used as an example of resistance against the earlier imposition of English – a situation which Gramsci (1971) may recognise as Passive Revolution. It would be particularly fruitful to investigate whether or not there were examples of local figures who were actively involved in the use/promotion of Kernewek and attempting to discover their motivation.
ii) How was Kernewek language use recorded?

Within this section of my research, I wish to examine the locations of language use with an emphasis on the communications between Cornish emigrants and their families and friends who remained in Cornwall.  In terms of the Cornish language community within Cornwall in the period, I wish to examine the relationship between Kernewek as a day-to-day domestically spoken language and the influence of some of its words on Cornish dialect within the English language to see the extent to which there may have been a cross-over in this era. Using the existing research of Lyon (2001) as a starting point, it would be worth examining records from areas around the Lizard and Zennor – both locations in which he suggests that the Cornish language may have still existed to a degree throughout the nineteenth century.

Creating interest among the young generations will be vital in the progression of my research, and I am very keen to use my experience as a qualified primary school teacher to develop ‘Language Detective’ sessions with Cornish primary schools in conjunction with the Institute of Cornish Studies and the Cornwall Heritage Trust, to get as many people on board with finding out what their own families may know or what documents they may have. The next generation of Cornwall needs to have some ownership of this research as they will be the ones who will take it forward in the future.

An additional route that my research would take would be to examine the interconnection between Cornish words in the English dialect and the intersection between them. It is highly likely that much of this cross-over took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Looking closely at early examples of this, and the people who were writing in Cornish dialect may open avenues to explore whether or not these people may have been communicating in Cornish for longer than had previously been thought. A consideration of gender issues could also prove worthwhile – it is possible that the language use of Cornish women, as a socio-economic group has been ignored, with only the men’s language choice being recorded. Research in this area, again, potentially in the form of written correspondence, could unearth evidence of women using Kernewek into the nineteenth century.

iii) What relationships were developed with other Celtic groups and nations, particularly Brittany?

With reference to the Celtic Revival and separate literature surrounding the establishment of the Breton Goursez, I believe it is particularly important to research the connections between the Cornish language communities and their Celtic cousins in Brittany. Stoyle (2002) and Spriggs (2003 and 2005) have noted the emphasis placed by Scawen on the loss of links between Cornwall and Brittany having a negative impact on the use of Kernewek. Despite this, I believe it would be important to investigate what links remained linguistically, particularly within the maritime and fishing industries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Attempting to discover use of Kernewek by Newlyn fishermen and whether or not they may have used aspects of the language when conversing with their Breton counterparts who began fishing around Cornwall from 1902 could offer some important information.

There has been a long history of trade between the regions of Cornwall and Brittany, but more research is needed to discover what written correspondence took place between the two areas in the nineteenth century. Discovering if any letters or written documents remain in Kernewek or Brezhoneg and if so, finding out about the identity and roles of the people who wrote them could be extremely worthwhile. It is known that in the post reformation period, there was a translation of saints from Cornwall to Brittany, and records in Breton monasteries could be a potential source of information as well as the public records offices and university libraries and archives in the territory. Preliminary links that I have made with Dr. Jean-Yves Le Disez at the Université de Bretagne Occidentale, who co-edited the book Bretagne/Cornouailles (Britanniques): Quelles Relations? will prove to be important in this area.

NEXT WEEK: Preliminary Research – in the archives of the British Library…


Lyon, R.T. (2001): ‘Cornish: The Struggle for Survival’: Taves an Werin.





Cornish Culture & Tourism: A Fine Line Between Authenticity and Disneyfied Kernow Part IV

In this final part of the paper I presented for the Gorsedh Kernow Conference, we look at potential solutions to the problematical representation of Cornish culture in the tourism industry, offered by respondents to my research.


The establishment of Heritage Kernow by HM Government and Cornwall Council is an example of what could be a hugely positive step forward. Note the insertion of the word could though. Cornwall Council describes the group as: “Existing to bring partners together to improve understanding, interpretation and stewardship of the culturally distinctive historic character and heritage assets of Cornwall.”  However, like most things, how successful this body will be is likely to depend solely on who exactly is involved on the management committee of the organisation. My conversations with English Heritage were greatly disturbing and so an effective and open minded committee for Heritage Kernow is absolutely vital.

The Heritage Kernow Board, of which the Gorsedh Kernow Grand Bard is a member has met sporadically and has come under significant criticism for not listening to grass roots organisations and individuals. Linked to this major concern, my respondents were clear about the importance of having a body who had real control, strong equal relationships with Cornish cultural groups and power to get their voice and narrative about Cornish identity represented within the tourist industry. A key point was that: “This body needs to be financed and run within Cornwall for Cornwall.”

Ian Saltern, highlighted to me: “The pressing need for such an organisation to monitor, advise and assist with developing the presentation of Cornish culture through tourist attractions. There is a fear of getting it wrong which leads to some avoiding Cornish culture entirely and tokenistic representations of Cornish culture playing to jaded clichés.”

The fear of getting it wrong, it could be asserted, is only there if you don’t sufficiently engage with or include indigenous Cornish cultural movements – a fact which goes to further underline the vital importance of getting such an organisation off the ground.

For any organisation to have a chance of success, the existing bodies need to be open and willing to work effectively with the formulation of what Heritage Kernow could be. The National Trust are in the early stages of updating their Cornish language policy, and Ian Marsh, the General Manager for West Cornwall has formed a working relationship with archaeologist and writer Craig Weatherhill to formulate a new document, which has been shared with me. Whilst it must be emphasised that this work is, at the present stages, in draft form, it could potentially offer a major improvement in the visibility of Kernewek and understanding of Cornish culture at the Trust’s sites in Cornwall.

Section 2.1 of the draft document notes that The National Trust recognises the distinctive cultural history of Cornwall and the place of the Cornish language as a unique and positive asset with The Cornish Language Office and other recommended experts forming a relationship to provide the Trust with help and advice, including translation services” (Weatherhill: 2017: p 2).

At the present time, the fact that the National Trust are willing to engage and openly consider further enhancing their use of Kernewek is positive. Whilst the final document when it is put together may be modified from how it presently reads, it appears that there is recognition of the momentum that is gathering around Cornwall. All it needs now is for other institutions to engage with this. There are many people, the vast majority of whom are volunteers, doing quite outstanding work around Cornwall to highlight, promote and stage examples of indigenous culture, history and arts. The skills of these people need to be harnessed by Cornwall’s tourism bodies and site owners so that their work, and the unique identity and history of Cornwall can get the wider recognition that it so desperately deserves.

Should these bodies seek to develop more recognition of Cornish culture, and build more of an inclusive and two-way relationship with cultural and historical groups around Cornwall, they would, quite possibly be pushing at an open door – as long as, and this is the key thing – the relationship that they seek to develop is one which represents Cornwall in a mature and truthful manner.


Weatherhill, C. (2017): ‘National Trust Policy for the use of the Cornish Language – Draft’.

The Push For Independence In Catalonia

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Above: Could this soon be the world’s newest national flag as Catalonia’s independence bid grows?

Back in 2015, I published this article on Doronieth Kernow about movements for independence in Catalonia. Given recent events, it seems worth republishing the piece:


Following Scotland’s independence vote last year, another historic region of Europe is in the process of trying to become an independent state. Catalonia has had a tempestuous relationship with the nation state of Spain ever since Ferdinand of the Principat of Catalonia (or Aragon as it was named) married Isabel of Castile which led to unification. Although Catalonia still had political autonomy, this marriage had, perhaps unwittingly, set in motion a long running series of battles to prevent the region being fully integrated into a greater Spain – a process which began in the 1830s (Nagel: 20151) and concluded with the dictatorships of Primo de Rivera in the 1920s and General Franco from 1939 (adapted from Nogue & Vicente: 2004: p 120-121).

Throughout the Franco era, the use of the Catalan language was forbidden, as was raising the Catalan flag. The only outlet for the identity of the region was through CF Barcelona, who competed in the higher echelons of the Spanish and European football world. People “threw their cultural pride in to Barca. At a Barca match, people could shout in Catalan and sing traditional songs when they could do it nowhere else” (cited in Peffer: 1984: p 120). As Franco’s grip on power lessened during the 1970s, it was through some of the directors of CF Barcelona that Catalan nationalism began to surge. They used their influence within the nationalist Convergencia Democratica de Catalunya to “promote a campaign advocating the use of Catalan in schools, use Catalan to make announcements over the public address system and they also flew a Catalan flag in the stadium” (Shobe: 2008: p 341). It was this influence by an educated group, seeking to use the indigenous language in a move akin to Gramsci’s ‘passive revolution’ theory, which began the reawakening of Catalan identity.

When Franco’s regime ended with the dictator’s death in 1975, Catalonia became one of seventeen autonomous communities in Spain, with its own parliament, and an executive known as the Generalitat. The Catalan parliament has 135 seats, with elections at least once every four years. It is responsible for matters such as culture, transport, and commerce. The region has its own police force, the Mossos d’Esquada and has laid down legislation to ensure that the Catalan language is spoken in all schools. Additionally to this, it has eighteen universities or higher education institutions. With all this existing autonomy, why does Catalonia want more?

The answer to this is manifold – firstly, there is “popular support among the region’s positionally advantaged, native middle-strata, in pursuit of a ‘Catalanizing’ agenda” (Miley: 2013: p 9). This ‘Catalanizing’ has been a long established process, crucially rooted in academia. Garcia-Ramon and Nogue-Font (1994) speak of the role of the Catalan Geographical Society in constructing a nationalist identity of the region, and resistance against the rule of Franco. They also identify how the popular Catalan pastime of hiking developed an awakening of patriotism. Hiking group meetings became fertile ground for Catalan intellectuals to spread nationalistic feelings through lectures regularly delivered as part of group activities. Such overt involvement in Catalan nationalism by the territory’s leading minds meant that “Although the Catalan language was long persecuted by the state…(it) remained widely spoken among the middle classes, including the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie” (Keating: 2001: p 166). As Paasi (2001) has suggested, this was absolutely crucial, – those at the higher echelons of Catalan authority were keeping the language alive, and they were continuing to spread nationalist feelings.

The first step on the road to where the territory presently finds itself was taken on 11th September 1977 – the National Day of Catalonia when: “A demonstration… drew a supposed one million Catalans onto the streets of Barcelona to assert their Catalan identity and demand a statute of autonomy” (Crameri: 2011: p 58). Over the years this growing demand for greater autonomy has been reflected in the elections for the Catalan Parliament. The moderate CiU group have, historically been the most popular party in the Generalitat, but recent elections have seen their popularity plunge from a high water mark of 73 seats in 1984 (Bukowski: 2001: p 159) to its present tally of 50 (Guardian Newspaper Website: 2014). During the same period, the fiercely pro-independence ERC party have risen from holding just five seats to an all-time high of 21 in 2012.

The economy has provided a further factor in independence demands. With the crisis in the Eurozone in 2009, Catalans became aware of an ever-growing deficit fiscal. Historically, Catalonia was responsible for around 20% of the total Spanish GDP, and 30% of total Spanish exports (Bukowski: 2001: p 162). It has always been leading virtually all of the nation’s economic indicators. In order to maximise its financial and political impact within Europe, Catalonia joined up with three other financially powerful regions of the continent – Baden Wurttemberg, Lombardy and Rhone-Alpes – in a bid to develop business relations and attract further investment (cited in Loughlin: 2000 p 30). This served to widen Catalonia’s potential ‘agglomeration of locations’ and put in place reciprocal freight agreements which mirrored Losch’s (1978) theory and strengthened their ‘economics of location’. Additionally, this could aid the region’s ability in breaking what Lefebvre (1991) would see as Spain’s colonization of Catalonia’s spatial grids of power.

As the gap between the amount paid in taxes by the Catalans and what they received in return from the Spanish state in terms of services and investment grew ever wider, concerns grew about the unfairness of Catalonia’s relationship with the Spanish government. Therefore it was not long before “a growing civil movement for independence with a strong presence of young Catalans” began emerging (Crameri: 2011: p 52). This movement presented a powerful argument, claiming that if all taxation collecting responsibilities in the territory was the responsibility of the Catalan parliament, it would result in major improvements to the local budget and welfare situation. There is also an increasing school of thought that an independent Catalonia could thrive, despite the impact of a likely boycott of Catalan goods by Spain and what part of Spain’s debt the new country would have to pay (Nagel: 2015: p398). Consequently, the moderates of Mas’ CiU called for a referendum on Catalonia’s self-determination. To many, this didn’t go far enough, as “most of the opinion polls published since 2010 show(ed) that between 40% and 50% of the population would support independence as an alternative to the status quo” (Serrano: 2013: p 525). Fuelled by the lack of recognition from Madrid that Catalonia was being unfairly treated, the opposition to the national government grew. On 11th September 2012, over a million Catalans marched through Barcelona “under the slogan ‘Catalunya, nou estat d’Europa’ (Catalonia, new state of Europe)” (Marti: 2013: p 509). A year later, groups without any political affiliations organised a human chain of Catalans to be set up from the border with France in the north, to the region of Valencia in the south. Turnout for the subsequent Catalan Parliamentary elections was a record high – 67.8% – and the results set in trend a motion for a non-binding vote on independence in 2014. The outcome was, given the events of the previous three years, no surprise – 80% of the two million people who voted (out of a total eligible of 5.4 million) were in favour of secession. In September 2015, what could turn out to be a landmark Regional Election was held in Catalonia, with the outcome an absolute majority for Catalan nationalist parties. Another record high voter turnout (77.4%) emphasized just what an important issue independence is at the present time. The JxSi movement (Together For Yes) stated: “The responsibility we have now is to fulfil this democratic mandate” (Nationalia: 2015).

The die had been cast, and in November 2015, the Catalan parliament voted in favour of beginning the process to breakaway from Spain, with a stated aim to declare independence as early as 2017. Here we see clearly what Gramsci (1971) meant when he stated the importance of a (regional) political party performing in a way that could set a wider agenda in terms of challenging the hegemony of the state. Spain’s response had all the hallmarks of Hechter’s Internal Colonialism. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy threatened to impose direct rule on Catalonia and refer the matter to the Constitutional Court, which has “persistently ruled against any moves towards independence” (Herald Scotland: 2015/Nagel: 2015: p 393). Rajoy is in a seemingly impossible position influenced by the forthcoming General Election on 20th December 2015. He will be more than aware that “If the rest of Spain goes down the pan and an independent Catalunya thrives, there are…serious implications” (Guardian Newspaper Website: 2014).


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