The Cornish language: polemics and plans

Two booklets have appeared recently on the subject of the Cornish language and here I provide a review and summary of them.

Rod Lyon’s Colloquial doesn’t mean Corrupt: Observations on contemporary revived Cornish is a searing indictment of the stilted and unconvincing spoken Cornish of many Cornish users. This is something Rod argues is the result of an excessive search for purism on the part of revivalists since the 1920s. For a lively, fluent and more idiomatic spoken Cornish he calls for a re-focusing of the language away from its conservative, medieval base and towards its later days.

Ken MacKinnon’s ‘Papers on Cornwall and the Cornish Language’ on the other hand focuses not on what revived Cornish should be, although Ken has his own views on that, but how revived Cornish of whatever kind might be planned. This collection of papers was mostly written in the short-lived period of optimism about the language’s prospects in the 2000s when the standard written form, official status and government funding appeared to herald a rosy future. It is perhaps more valuable now as a historical record of that period than as an achievable template for action.

In addition, his collection also includes papers on placenames, which Ken argues need to be appreciated in terms of their change over time and their meaning for us nowadays, rather than merely in terms of etymology and derivation. Both Ken’s papers and Rod’s book make convincing use of placenames, previously a sadly under-utilised source for language revivalists.