[Spellyans] vocabulary

Daniel Prohaska daniel at ryan-prohaska.com
Wed Jun 23 07:41:39 BST 2010

Ceri wheg, 

There are several points in your yesterday’s post I would like to address. I’ve inserted my responses below: 



From: Ceri Young
Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 9:59 PM


“Although I have no qualifications to chip in, I agree with Craig here (and having itched to comment earlier I'm very glad to read his response). When I hear a comment like Nicholas' "My preference is for the language of the texts rather than for some reCelticised fantasy" I can't help being reminded that to some, the whole Cornish Revival is just one elaborate fantasy of reCelticisation; of salvaging lost Celticity from the desolation of a tragic, sustained, ethnocidal assault.” 


Whatever dramatic motivation one may want to find for the Revival, on the whole I agree that as much Cornish vocabulary as possible should be “salvaged” from the texts, various records, place names etc. In the spirit of Tota Cornicitas I’m also in favour of thus using this vocabulary in the revived language. I have my preferences and they are very similar to Nicholas’. My priority are surely the textual attestations, but I’m probably more lenient in accepting older Cornish material as well as well established Revived Cornish vocabulary. I also agree with you that the entire Revival is an attempt at re-Celticisation and some may take this a little further than others. The speaker/learner/revivalist community is far from united in their acceptance of “ultra-Celtic vocabulary”.


“It also then strikes me that it's perfectly natural to regard nurturing those late Anglicisms is somewhat contrary to the general ethos of such a fantasy of reCelticisation.” 


It is a complete misconception that the Anglicisms in Cornish are only late. Yes, Late Cornish did have Anglicisms, but the bulk of English (& Noman French) loan words we have in the texts, is from Middle Cornish. Even the Old Cornish Vocabulary has Anglicisms. Cornish was a language in close contact with English. Many of these Anglicisms were probably spontaneous loans as well as fully assimilated and frequently used words of the every day vocabulary. I think loans are absolutely acceptable, especially if they occur in two or more separate texts and cannot be regarded as some author’s/scribe’s personal usage.  


“Surely, just because a word is borrowed, doesn't make it a formal part of the language. Welsh speakers will routinely throw English loanwords like the adj. 'grêt' (great) (although they'll be using it as an interjection) into their speech and even write it into informal texts, but that doesn't mean 'grêt' is a Welsh word to be found in or even inserted into a Welsh dictionary as a translation of 'great'.”


I agree. I would call this part of the code switching that occurs widely in bilingual societies.


“Even if I totally understand the need for the strictest academic rectitude in the revival, I can also see why some might harbour an instinct to purge such late Anglicisms from their own useage of Revived Cornish. It may not be remotely impartial or academic, but I can quite understand an uneasy attitude towards Anglicisms in Celtic languages in general, stemming from a sense of nationhood being established and complete from a given point that precludes influence from a resented imperial oppressor. (Perhaps as an Englishman, Nicholas simply doesn't see or feel this.)” 


I find bringing Nicholas’ ethnic background in and his implied lack of sensitivity on account of his ethnicity completely uncalled for. Nicholas has always shown the greatest sensitivity when (rarely) mentioning the political and sociological relationship between England and the Celtic countries. After all, he has been living in a Celtic country for the better part of his life, speaks Celtic languages and is in many ways more “Celtic” than many “Celts”. I think his acceptance of English loans has much more to do with the fact that he reads the traditional Cornish texts and sees what is actually in them: a whole bunch of English loan words that were clearly used in every day Cornish and were firmly part of the vocabulary, among the spontaneous loans as mentioned before. 


“As a Welshman, I see the Welsh nation as one of Romano-British origins (and would have assumed the Cornish might be justified in thinking similarly) and so, as Ken George is accused of here, I can understand a bias towards Celtic & Latin words, and some unease towards Anglicisms.”


Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the bias, too, after all most of the Romance/Latin loans from Romano-British times are well assimilated and impossible to distinguish, without prior knowledge of etymology, in shape and form from native vocabulary and hence their appeal. 


“Beyond that, if those Anglicisms entered into Cornish via borrowing and were legitimised by Cornish language users taking them into their linguistic currency, what would be so wrong with Revived Cornish speakers borrowing from Cornish's sister languages (along academic lines of their own) - and legitimising any reCelticisation of their language which they see fit? I guess that simply can't happen until the language is flying naturally of its own accord, and finally out of the hands of academics.

Best wishes,



This is what has been excessively done by the Cornish Language Board and sometimes by bending over backwards, trying to replace well established loans by “reCelticised” loans or inventions. I have nothing against that where there is clearly a lack in the attested Cornish vocabulary, or where modern concepts are concerned, but I find it an exaggeration where there are well attested traditional Cornish words, even if they may be loans. 

Ehes da re’gas bo, 





From: Craig Weatherhill <craig at agantavas.org>
To: spellyans at kernowek.net

I'm concerned over one or two views that have been expressed re. vocabulary.  On one hand I'm hearing support for tota Cornicitas, and on the other, I'm hearing that a word only attested in OCV and not in the MC/Tudor texts shouldn't be used (stevel being an example that immediately springs to mind; use rom instead is the advice).  I don't agree with this.  Here's an example to illustrate why I think this way.

Dyek (SWF: diek), 'lazy' occurs on OCV as 'dioc', and not in MC at all.  Until the 80s, when Dick Gendall was the first to look at Late Cornish in depth, it was being assumed that the word didn't survive into MC.  In fact, it must have survived into Late Cornish because it turns up in dialect as 'jack'.  So, if the word made it to Late Cornish and dialect, it follows that it must have existed in MC.  We just don't have a text that features it and, let's face it, we only have a fraction of the texts that must once have existed.  Attestation in MC texts supports the use of a word; absence from what survives of the MC texts is not a reason for rejection.  It only tells us that the word isn't found in those few texts; not that it didn't exist.

For me, tota Cornicitas is essential.

I'm afraid that some words being put forward will never find use with me.  I don't see the point of 'valy' for "valley", when so many Cornish words for different types of valley already exist. Nor am I minded to reject lyw/liw (or however we're spelling it) in favour of 'color'.  I want to write Cornish.  I already know English.


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