Learning Cornish

A stone monument built into a short wall with an inscription to commemorate Dolly Pentreath (died 1777) who was the last person to just speak cornish

Monument to Dolly Pentreath

Copyright Pauline E and reused under CC BY-SA 2.0

Cornish is most closely related to Breton and Welsh, and as such makes an interesting language for those with a knowledge of Celtic languages to learn.  The modern revival dates from the publication of Henry Jenner’s ‘Handbook of the Cornish Language’ in 1904 and currently figures for the number of speakers vary between 300 fluent speakers to several thousand with a reasonable knowledge of the language.  We await the analysis of the 2021 census in which people were encouraged to write Cornish as one of the languages they speak and use with interest!

Since the Covid pandemic began we have seen a huge uptake in the numbers of people learning Cornish thanks to the provision of online, rather than face-to-face, classes.  It has been possible for people both further afield in the British Isles, as well as others from Europe, the United States and Australia to join in classes and recently when planning the Adult Education provision for the forthcoming academic year, the language teachers had to plan for both in-person classes as well as keeping an online presence to cover the demand!  

There are three main spelling systems in Cornish: the Standard Written Form (SWF) which is used for all public services using the language and is the spelling system used in schools which teach the language, Kernewek Kemmyn (KK) and Unified.  Although there are not huge differences in the spoken Cornish, I would recommend that beginners pick one spelling system and stick with it for the first couple of years, after this point it should be relatively easy to cope with reading in the other systems.  There is also some material in Late Cornish which is marginally more different to read and uses some different vocabulary from the other systems.  Double check which system a website uses to avoid confusion.   

As an initial introduction to both the sound of Cornish, sentence formation and speaking practice I would recommend any beginner starts by following the excellent Say Something in Cornish course. Based on Say Something in Welsh, this provides an excellent foundation and gets you speaking a range of useful vocabulary and structures very quickly.  Once you have got a few of these lessons under your belt, you can then begin to look for written courses which suit your style of learning.  A good place to begin looking for information about learning Cornish are the websites of the various Cornish language organisations:

Kesva an Taves Kernewek – The Cornish Language Board - provides reliable information on all aspects of the revival of the language, organises teaching, conducts examinations and publishes educational materials such as course books, grammars, dictionaries and other reference works as well as scholarly editions of the classical texts which can be purchased from the Kowethas website (see below).  The Kesva website contains a lot of learning resources written in SWF, links to their distance learning course (with all of the course materials in both SWF and KK), and the specification for their language exams and past papers.

Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek – The Cornish Language Fellowship - is a registered charity which promotes the Cornish language through a wide range of publications and events including the Pennseythen Gernewek, (Cornish Language weekend) the largest annual gathering of Cornish speakers.  Their website also contains an online shop where you can purchase most Cornish language publications in all spelling systems (but they are labelled on the website).  

Go Cornish (Golden Tree) contains some resources in SWF and is a good place to find information on language classes (both in-person and online).  It also contains links to their Memrise Cornish app which covers the syllabus of the Kesva Grade 1 course.  

Agan Tavas – Our tongue - exists to promote the use and study of the Cornish language and of any traditional forms of Cornish speech and spelling which have developed naturally in Cornwall.  They use and teach the Unified form of Cornish and their website includes an online shop for resources in this spelling form and details of in-person lessons.  

Cussel an Tavas Kernôwek - The Cornish Language Council - is an association of friends, founded in 1987 to further the learning, teaching and use of Kernôwek Bew- 'living Cornish', otherwise known as Revived Modern or Late Cornish, a spoken and written form based on later sources. 

The Cornish Language Office (Cornwall Council) - The Cornish Language Lead, Mark Trevethan, is responsible for increasing the use of Cornish in the work of the Council, giving advice to organisations who want to use Cornish and for coordinating projects in the community.  The office coordinates the information on all online and in-person lessons.  

The following websites contain further resources in Cornish:

https://www.kernewekbew.com/ is a repository of audio and visual material in Cornish including conversations, short films and songs.  

An Nowodhow is the weekly news summary in Cornish on BBC Radio Cornwall.  The scripts and transcripts can be accessed online, as well as recordings.   

Radyo an Gernewegva is a weekly programme produced entirely in Cornish with music and discussion of topical issues. It’s sister monthly tv programme can also be accessed online.  


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