Cornish Language Spelling

Warring factions in the Cornish language evival are unable to agree on how to spell "Cornish" - depending on your fancy, Kernewek, Kernowek, Kernuak or Curnoack .

Whereas spoken Cornish hardly varies, different spellings of the language do exist. To revive the Cornish language which after all had died out as a living language, some basis for pronunciation and spelling had to be used. It was believed that Middle and Late Cornish were different, so the revival had two choices: either to use a medieval spelling and pronunciation or a Late Cornish spelling and a Late Cornish pronunciation. Given that Late Cornish was more "modern" than the Middle Cornish, some thought that Late Cornish should be the basis for the revival. However Middle Cornish was chosen on the grounds that the literature that existed was from that period. Jenner and Nance, realised that the differences between Middle and Late Cornish were largely matters of spelling.

Unified Cornish attempted to regularise the spelling of the texts, basing itself on the fifteenth century (Ordinalia and Pascon agan Arluth). Nicholas Williams revision of Unified (Unified Cornish Revised or UCR) attempts to do the same using a slightly later form of the language. The Tregear manuscript (ca 1555) was not known when Nance devised Unified Cornish. Tregear is by far the longest text we have today.

Modern Cornish, rather confusingly is not the most modern spelling. It is the least used form and differs greatly in appearance from the other forms, being based upon traditional English spelling rather than a native Cornish one. It is promoted by the"Cornish Language Council"

A Guardian report in July 2005 sifts the evidence

Ray Chubb, secretary of Agan Tavas (Our Language) which supports Unified Cornish and an updated version of it called Unified Cornish Revised, accused the supporters of Modern Cornish of "mucking around with historical sources" and claimed that Common Cornish speakers had the arrogant attitude that their system was perfect.

George Ansell, a supporter of Common Cornish, said that version was easiest to teach. "If people can't agree, it will become a Darwinian situation - the survival of the fittest."

Mr Ansell, who chairs a language strategy group set up by Cornwall county council, said the debate often became overly personal. "People have invested a lot of time and effort in the various forms and do not like to see their work challenged."

It is nigh on impossible to judge which group is best placed to survive, as nobody agrees on how many people use each version.


Cornish Language The Cornish Language information