Do languages have a life after death? The answer from Stuart Dunmore is a resounding yes. Stuart has an article forthcoming with the rather forbidding title of ‘A Cornish revival? The nascent iconization of a post-obsolescent language’.
The Cornish language as a traditional, vernacular means of communication died somewhere around 1800, possibly living out its last days at sea on board fishing boats, or hidden away in out of the way farms or cottages deep inland in West Penwith or the Lizard peninsula. Not long after its demise however, efforts were being made to revive it, eventually producing the revived Cornish of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, one based on the written Cornish of the late medieval period.
Stuart’s argument in his article is that the importance of this lies not in the language as a means of communication but as a symbol for something else. The ‘something else’ in this instance is the Cornish identity. Apparently dead languages can still fulfil a role in shoring up feelings of difference and identity. In this respect the precise nature of the revived language is less important than its presence as a reference point for those who wish to claim and proclaim their Cornish identity.
A fuller summary of Stuart’s article can be found here.