[Spellyans] Only in Cornish

nicholas williams njawilliams at gmail.com
Thu Nov 17 12:06:03 GMT 2011

In Cornish marnas, mas, menas 'only' must be preceded by a negative. When Cornish says nyns eus den vëth obma marnas me it is really saying 'there is nobody here but me'. Indeed it seems that
the variant mas of marnas, is probably the same word in origin as mès/bùs 'but'. 
The correct syntax can be seen in the following examples:

rag nyns ough mas dev lorel ‘for you are only two scoundrels’ OM 1504
rag nyns yv mas tarosvan ‘for it is only a mirage’ BM 2566
Ny wor mas ran pur thyson in beys y conuersasconn ‘Only some indeed in know his conduct in the world’ BM 4440-41
In mysk ol an Christonnyon nyng es orthes rag perel mars an emprowr, agan arluth ‘Among all the Christians only the emperor, our lord, can rival you for danger’ BK 1990-93
ny ve udn mabe dean sparys menas noy y wreag hay flehys ‘no human being was saved but only Noah, his wife and his children’ CW 2539-40.

If one uses saw rather than mas a negative is still required:

ny hynwys thy'm saw pedar 'he mentioned to me only Peter' RD 916
nyng es dean orthe ow seruya len ha gwyrryan sure pub pryes saw noye in oll an bysma 'Only Noah serves me truly and innocently always in all this world'  CW 2224-26.

This is similar to the French idiom, e.g. Il ne dort que quand il a sommeil 'He sleeps only when he is sleepy'. Or the Irish Ní thuigim ach beagán 'I understand only a little'.

In Cornish the only way to say 'only' is either to use the English word only (as commonly in TH) or to say yn udnyk. This latter is found only in Lhuyd, who spells it variously< en ydnik, en ydnek>. Yn udnyk may not be authentic Cornish but rather a calque on Welsh yn unig 'only'.

Marnas, mas does not mean 'only' by itself but must be preceded by a negative. This is why I was astonished to receive an email today from the Chief Executive of Maga which contained the sentence:

Kost an kevewi yw *marnas £2.50 pub person. 
There is no negative here and the sentence is therefore incorrect.
It should have read: Nyns yw kost an kevewi marnas £2.50 pub person. 


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