Love it or hate it? Attitudes towards the revived Cornish language

A research article by Siarl Ferdinand published online last year provides some intriguing results of a survey into attitudes towards the revived Cornish language. The good news for the revivalists is that there was a broadly positive view of Cornish, with a majority of respondents declaring it was either ‘interesting’ or not being bothered either way. Meanwhile, a sizeable minority – around one in four – of non-learners expressed an interest in learning some Cornish.

The bad news is that a considerable minority – between a third and a half of the respondents – thought that supporting Cornish is a waste of resources. This group does not want it to be supported by the authorities or to appear on street signs (other than in placenames).

Welcome sign in traditional Cornish and revived medieval Cornish

The survey also found that only one in five of the Cornish ‘speakers’ who completed the survey defined themselves as ‘fluent’. As many as 60% of the learners admitted that they couldn’t even hold a simple conversation in Cornish. With approximately 50 fluent speakers in Cornwall, there’s a fairly long way to go to achieve the Cornish Language Strategy’s rather ambitious aim of making Cornish a ‘community language’.

Interestingly, though perhaps not unexpectedly, the research also discovered quite a stark contrast in attitudes between those non-learners who identified as Cornish and those who did not. The latter group was much more hostile to official support for the language or its introduction into schools and expressed far less desire to learn it. Given the current high level of population growth and in-migration being encouraged by local and central government, the attitudes of in-migrants is set to be the key for the future of the Cornish language.

For an extended critical review of this article see here.

3 thoughts on “Love it or hate it? Attitudes towards the revived Cornish language

  1. A fascinating review and I read your longer piece as well. The last sentence of the latter says “if political action is not taken to reverse the ongoing demographic transformation then there seems little prospect that Cornish will ever become a properly functioning living community language. Instead, it will remain a lifestyle choice. If the native Cornish are reduced to a small minority in their own homeland then the Cornish language will just be a quaint bit of heritage in a living museum, of as much practical significance as the decision whether to put jam or cream first on a scone.” You also talk about the hostility of many to Cornish even on street signs (I do wonder if it was a good idea to combine all the ways in which Cornish could be used though in the original methodology).

    I wonder if Cornish could be promoted in schools, not with the aim, for most, of actually becoming fluent, but with the aim of being able to hold a simple conversation, and with a specific link into history and geography projects. I remember at 6th form doing a project on sunken valleys in Cornwall in geography and it really is almost the only thing that has stayed with me. If curricula could be developed (ie activity packs) for different age groups, in schools and in less formal settings like scouts and beavers, that could be a way to teach at least place names and a few other words. It does not need to come across as nationalistic, but rather a connection to local (as well as being global – also vital – but global means nothing if we don’t appreciate the local is within the global) landscape and cultures.

    Incidentally I speak as someone who has no knowledge of Cornish though growing up in Cornwall. I love the place names and would like to know much more. I would have appreciated modules /projects at school such as those I describe. I did organise Cornish dancing – via expert dancers – for the local primary school a few years ago and children danced at the local fete for us. It was wonderful!

    There is honestly so much that could be done!

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  2. Is suggesting there is any widespread deep hostility to the promotion of Cornish potentially become self-fulfilling? Those who are predisposed that way could jump on the bandwagon ignorant of the very limited amount of public money currently directed in that area.
    He has somewhat exposed Cornwall Council on education, as he notes that only one primary school was actually teaching Cornish as a regular subject (other than as an extracurricular activity or ‘taster’ sessions).

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  3. Taking this division of attitudes as a premise for argument, there are two possible conclusions. One is that we should keep quiet, craw into a corner, and pretend we’re not here. This will feed the off-the-peg bullshit bingo of anti-minority bigotry. The other is that we should redouble our efforts, apply all our intelligence and energy, and make Cornish part of the wallpaper, so much so that the bigots make themselves look embarrassingly stupid.

    You’ve probably guessed which conclusion I favour.

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