Will the Simpsons revive Cornish?

Toasté   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 15:10 GMT
I just happened to stumble on this story... so what do you think?

TENCREEK HOLIDAY PARK, England (Reuters) - Lisa Simpson, the spiky-haired U.S. cartoon character, may just be the spark that revives an ancient language and fuels a tiny political movement at the tip of Britain's southwest coast.

The sister of bad-boy Bart and daughter of bumbling Homer will appear in a special episode of "The Simpsons" shouting out support for the independence of Cornwall in the nearly dead language of ancient Cornish as an alternative broadcast to British Queen Elizabeth's traditional Christmas address.

Matthew Clarke, Lisa Simpson's translator and a member of the Cornish Language Fellowship, told Reuters that news of the Christmas special has ignited more than the usual mocking interest in a language which some say was the lingua franca of such British legends as King Arthur and Boadicea.

"Before you got a lot of people writing on the Cornish language as a bit of a joke," he said.

Clarke said the way much of the media viewed Cornish changed almost overnight when the press discovered it would feature in a cartoon series that is famed for lampooning American life and gained international currency poking fun at other stereotypes in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, and elsewhere.

Clarke said the number of people using the Web site he runs, www.cornish-language.org, doubled after news got out on The Simpsons' Christmas special.

"To have that connection with Cornish, everyone who spoke to me treated it in a serious way which has never happened before."

That was a big boost for a language which predates English in the British Isles, almost died out in the 19th century, and today has only some 200 fluent speakers.

Cornish, related to Welsh and Breton -- spoken in parts of France's Brittany -- is part of a larger language family that includes Irish and Scots Gaelic.

It has little official status, is barely taught in Cornish schools and is struggling to make its voice heard above the dominant sound of English. Cornwall has no political autonomy, unlike Wales and Scotland.

All today's Cornish speakers have learned it since the melodic-sounding language began a revival last century, and around 3,000 people claim some knowledge of it -- less than half a percent of Cornwall's population.

That compares to the roughly 20 percent of Welsh who speak their native tongue, a mandatory subject in Welsh schools and a language with the same official status in Wales as English.

"There are 6,000 languages in the world. In 100 years' time it is thought 75 percent of them may die out," said Ken George, a member of the Cornish Language Board, who is fighting to prevent it going the way of Latin and other dead tongues.

"In Europe one sees straight away that people tend to be multi-lingual. In parts of England it's regarded as a curiosity," George told Reuters at a Cornish language weekend camp outside the seaside Cornish town of Looe.


The long decline of Cornish and other Celtic languages began over 1,500 years ago, when Germanic tribes invaded Britain at the end of the Roman occupation, pushing back the native tribes and bringing with them languages that eventually became English.

The legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table probably would have spoken Cornish. Celtic Queen Boadicea spoke an early version of the language that would eventually become Cornish, Welsh and Breton.

The last reputed monoglot Cornish speaker, Dolly Pentreath, died in 1777, though others claimed a strong native command of the language up to the end of the 19th century.

Modern speakers of Kernewek, as Cornish is also called, are under no illusions about the state of the language.

"There's the ordinary people who live in Cornwall, and then there's the Cornish language people," said Chris Wilson, 40, a speaker who lives in Japan.

"They're quite separated and they think it's strange to be a Cornish language speaker. It's very much a minority."

But it is fighting back. The New Testament of the Bible has just been published in Cornish, the world's first Cornish-language cartoon will premiere in November and there are hopes for greater official recognition and teaching in schools.


Many Cornish language supporters have a bigger goal -- devolved political power from London and a separate assembly for Cornwall, like Wales and Scotland have been granted.

"We should have at least as much independence as Scotland does," said Loveday Jenkin, a councillor for the Mebyon Kernow ("Sons of Cornwall") political party.

Pawl Dunbar, who runs a Cornish language and culture bookshop, said that letting people know Cornwall even has -- or used to have -- its own language is the first battle in the fight for a wider political movement.

"We are denied our language, culture and history in school," said Dunbar. "The so-called United Kingdom is well past its sell-by date."
Damian   Wednesday, October 27, 2004, 17:41 GMT

This is so interesting...thanks for raising this thread. I cannot comment further right now because of time pressures but I will log into the site and get as much info as I can. I have mentioned before that a growing number of Cornish people are trying to revive the ancient language, which is similar to Welsh I believe. The only words I know which these two languages share are: "eglos" = church
"traeth"= beach
"pen" = head

I've never been down to Cornwall but I will some day. I believe you see the Cornish flag proudly fluttering in the breeze all over the county, immediately after you cross the Saltash Bridge into Cornwall from Devon. You go from one culture into another almost.

Cornwall has some bizarre place names, some which are linked to the strong Methodist tradition down there from former times:
Come to Good (really..a name of a village!
Indian Queens (no idea how it got that name)
Meeting Place (religious context)
Playing Place (perhaps something different!)
Mousehole (pronounced "muzzle")

The highest point in Cornwall is on Bodmin Moor and is called Brown Willy at 420m altitude. The mind boggles as to what brown willy means.
Pat the expat   Friday, October 29, 2004, 13:51 GMT
Why not? The Simpsons seem to have revived everything else they've satirized.
Paulski   Monday, November 01, 2004, 12:31 GMT
There's also a place name called 'Westward Ho!' (including the exclamation mark - bizarre)

Another language which has also died out in the British Isles is Manx, from the Isle of Man (in the sea between Wales/Ireland/Scotland). I believe the last speaker died in 1974.

If anyone goes to England, try to visit Cornwall - it's my favourite part of England - beautiful in summer.

Can you believe that, less than 100 years ago, Welsh school children were flogged for speaking their native language. we English have a lot to answer for!
Matthew Clarke   Monday, November 08, 2004, 20:23 GMT
I am the person who is responsible for the Simpsons furore. I run a website called Warlinenn (online) www.cornish-language.org. The Simpsons producers used this to contact me. Read more there.

By the way... Westward Ho is in Devon.

Playing Place is an English translation of the Cornish placename 'Plen an Gwari'

About 80 percent of Cornish and Welsh vocab is more or less the same.

Cornish's 'daughter' language is Breton.

These three languages are all 'British' or 'Brythonic' languages... as was Gaulish.

Placenames in England that are British:

Dover (Cornish DOWR = water)
Andover (Cornish ONN DOWR = Ash water)
Penge (Cornish PENN KOES = End of the wood)
Kings Lynn (Cornish LYNN = lake)
Liss (Cornish LYS = Court)
Pimperne (Cornish PYMP PRENN = five trees)
Lytchett (Cornish LOES KOES = grey wood)
Chideock (Cornish KOESEK = wooded)
Malvern (Cornish MOEL VERN = Bare hill)

etc etc
Damian   Monday, November 08, 2004, 22:41 GMT

Your post was brill...thanks. I take on board what you say.

ASAMOI: The Welsh word for lake is also "Llyn"...Just take a look at a map of Wales, especially the Snowdonia area, with all its lakes...or as the Welsh say "llyniau", which is the Welsh plueral form of "llyn".

I will shoot you down on just one minor but VERY important detail:

I agree, the cute seaside village IS in Devon, but you forgot the ! in Westward Ho! I believe the locals would slay you if you ever omitted it.....which you did! ;-)

The Malvern Hills are amazing.

Paulski is correct....over 100 years ago attempts were made (by the English!) to stamp out the Welsh language by forbidding kids to speak it and thus a generation would grow up without using it. It never happened, such is the Celtic will and determination to cling onto their heritage in the face of a "super power"! ;-)

We have our spats, but we are all as one, really, when push comes to shove.
Damian   Monday, November 08, 2004, 22:43 GMT
plueral = plural I'm knackered after a very busy day
terry minister   Tuesday, November 09, 2004, 13:41 GMT
you are graet
Jack Doolan   Thursday, November 11, 2004, 06:04 GMT
Are there terms in Cornish or Welsh for "restriction enzyme", "gudgeon pin", "turbocharger", "aerosol" and countless other technological developments of the past 250 years? How do I enquire about a fault in the electric motor of a refrigerator where perhaps the commutator has burnt out, using Welsh or Cornish? These ancient languages don't have the words, they often don't even have the concepts to form the words.

How do I read the works of Jane Austen if I only read or speak Erse? Has anyone bothered to translate "The Brothers Karamazov" or "The Decameron" into Gaelic from their original Russian and Italian? What of Stephen King's recent novels or those of Nevil Shute from fifty years ago? Are there Welsh versions of "Pulp Fiction", "L.A. Confidential" or "Jean de Florette" just to mention a few none-too-recent films?

Far off here in Australia we have heard how Welsh children were punished for speaking their native language in schools. Were beatings with the cane the exception or the rule? All very sad, but the past is a foreign country and they do things differently there, and no amount of hand wringing is going to change it. The English were doing it for a good and practical reason. It was not entirely cultural imperialism. How would Euan Phillips and Olwen Jones get work outside Wales if they only spoke Welsh?

These breakaway movements in the "United" Kingdom by the old Celtic homelands amuse me. The areas of land are pocket handkerchiefs (OK, tablecloths) by Australian, US and Canadian standards and to define these little patches of territory as separate countries seems idiotic. Don't doze off in the tour coach or you'll miss Cornwall.

Add to that the fact that most of the ancestry of the English is not Saxon or Norman but Celtic. Those who trumpet their Celtic identity should be careful that no Sassenachs or Norse are in their background and should remember that the ancestry of those English they address has much in common with their own.
Denis   Thursday, November 11, 2004, 08:37 GMT
Jack Doolan:

1. Any language is a treasure because it represents a different way of thinking wich is beyond price.

2. Only Celtic people have the right to choose what language to speak in their homelands.

3. It is the cultural imperialism

We've had more than enough of that hypocritical logic and deceitful frendliness here in Ukraine (I'm not surprised if you don't know where it is).

And it seems you're a real bar steward, Jack.
Damian   Thursday, November 11, 2004, 16:38 GMT

What you say is all fine and dandy. Of course modern technological terms have no real equivalents in the ancient Celtic language, as far as I know anyway. I remember reading somewhere that in Welsh, at least, they sort of concoct new Welsh words for all these things by a means of "Welshifying" (?) the English words, many of which have origins in other languages anyway in the first place. "Television" is a good example. I believe the Welsh adopted the word "telefiswn" for use in their language! "The "fiswn" bit is pronounced something similar to the English "vision" I believe.

What IS important, purely and simply, is that none of the Celtic languages should be allowed to die out! That's all I'm going on about. I may have ranted a bit in this forum about "English imperialism" but I didn't mean it in any seriously malevolent way! All enmities of the past are just that now...history. This Kingdom is United and that's that! As I said before, we have our spats and jibes between the Home Countries, but when all is said and done, we are one whole.
Toasté   Thursday, November 11, 2004, 18:53 GMT
Jack... "we" in Australia, Canada and the U.S. have our own sordid stories of beating the culture out of minorities, indigenous cultures and immigrants. And sadly some of these shameful practices are still ongoing today.

People have a right (and maybe even a duty) to preserve their ancestral culture and the world will be better off if they succeed.

We shouldn't ridicule other languages for what they lack... we should praise them for what they have preserved.

(Oh my god, that sounds so 'politically correct', but it's true!)
Jack Doolan   Friday, November 12, 2004, 03:31 GMT

I have a pretty fair idea where the Ukraine is. I have an idea that Ukranians have been persecuted by Russians and Germans, possibly by Poles in earlier times. But the Ukraine is not under discussion.

Beating the culture out of minorities is not a good idea. But there is a practical side to it. "It was not ENTIRELY cultural imperialism." That means that there was some, maybe mostly cultural imperialism. But "How would Euan Phillips and Olwen Jones get work outside Wales if they only spoke Welsh?" How can they understand the Journal of Biological Chemistry if they only speak Welsh? Or "Comptes Rendues" or any of the thousands of other scientific and scholarly journals that are published in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and a few other languages. Being monolingual in a minority language spoken by a few hundred thousand, or even a few million people in a small country is a recipe for cultural backwardness. Trying to correct the situation is not sordid, but the methods chosen might have been wrong.

If you speak Welsh and English, or Welsh and French then that is admirable. If you set about seeing that your children only speak Welsh or Cornish then you are a knave and a fool. Those Cornish people who refused to speak English in the late 19th century are romantically admirable but they remind me of the character who refused to leave the Mt. St. Helens area before the eruption because he "knew the mountain".

The reality is that most of the English population is very largely of Celtic stock. I'd be surprised if the population of Wales and Cornwall was purely of Celtic stock. Just how different were the Celts and the Saxons or the Vikings 1500 years ago or longer? It is possible to see a relation between some Cornish words and some English words. It's not as close as English and German but it's there. "Pol", a common Cornish prefix means "pool", I believe. That's not the only one, but its the one that springs to mind.
Damian   Friday, November 12, 2004, 08:36 GMT
<<Those Cornish people who refused to speak English in the late 19th century are romantically admirable>>

I don't think that is strictly correct historically, Jack. The last native Cornish language speaker was reputed to have been an old lady who died sometime at the end of the 18th century. Or are we confusing Cornish people who could understand English with those who could not? I believe the lady I mentioned had no knowledge of English at all.
Denis   Friday, November 12, 2004, 09:38 GMT

Your words are quite reasonable. I completely agree that
being monolingual in Welsh is not a good idea from the practical viewpoint.
It seems I was too harsh. I apologise.
As for technological terms, I beleive it doesn't matter much
that a language might have no equivalents for them nowadays.
If the language is alive and not suppressed the speakers
will invent or adopt all the words they need early or late.
If not then the language dies naturally (the natives don't care).
I doubt that it's very important that, as you say, most of the English
population is very largely of Celtic stock and vise versa.
I don't believe in those "stock" things. I rather don't care.
For me it's the language and the culture as the way of thinking and the
"world perception" that do matter.

I guess you know the joke that Dublin really means Blackpool :)
By the way "lin" in Dublin, Berlin and Mlin (Mill in Ukrainian) means the same - water
All the Indo-European are related after all.
It's interesting to trace the relations sometimes.

As a non native speaker I can't identify Celtic influences in English for sure
but some of them I suppose I can see.
e.g. both "TH" and the dark "L" sounds are uncommon in germanic languages.
Is that a Celtic influence?