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

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.