[Spellyans] "Alice's Ventures in Wunderland" (Alice in Cornu-English) published by Evertype

Michael Everson everson at evertype.com
Sat Apr 18 19:51:09 BST 2015

Evertype would like to announce the publication of an edition of Alan M. Kent's translation of “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” into Cornu-English, “Alice’s Ventures in Wunderland”. The book uses John Tenniel's classic illustrations. A page with links to Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk is available at http://www.evertype.com/books/alice-en-con.html . Bookstores can order copies at a discount from the publisher.


Cornu-English is that form of English spoken by the majority of native residents in Cornwall. It has also spread overseas to be spoken in areas of the world where Cornish migrants lived and worked—in such diverse locations as Australia, the United States of America, New Zealand, Mexico and South Africa. It may be said to be one of three major linguistic groups operating within Cornwall, a Celtic territory in the west of the island of the Britain. The three are Cornish, English and Cornu-English. 

Historically, the first of these groups was the Cornish language, which emerged initially as the south-western dialect of the British Brythonic language, but which by the year 500 had emerged into a separate language. Cornish continued to be spoken for many centuries, and in its past five centuries of operation has been spoken alongside Cornu-English. The precise moment of transition is difficult for socio-linguists to pin down, but may be seen as a general process of incursion from east to west, and from ports and harbours into the interior. Therefore Cornish survived longest in the far west and on the southern peninsula known as The Lizard. 

The movement of English into Cornwall may be associated with three distinctive phases. The first phase was perhaps the period from the tenth century onwards, when the first Anglo-Saxon speakers settled in East Cornwall. Another invasion came in the form of the Norman Conquest, but since many of the invaders of Cornwall were, in fact, Breton speakers (making this, in fact, a ‘Breton return’), during this phase, Cornish persisted. Norman French became the language of law and administration and English temporarily declined. In the Middle Ages however, English began to be used more commonly for administrative purposes, and then by the Tudor period, a more full-scale accommodation of Cornwall into England began to take hold, which led to more extreme language shifts. This trend continued into the modern period, and while Cornish was regarded as antiquated and ill-fitting the industrial age, English was both the language of its more powerful neighbour and the language of trade and empire. In the twentieth century, an English-based mass media has dominated, with Cornu-English largely ignored. 

Cornu-English has its origins in these earlier periods of language transition, when a considerable amount of the population of Cornwall were bilingual and so integrated both Cornish and English into their daily speech. Although opinion varies; there is a good deal of Cornish-language vocabulary and forms which have entered Cornu-English. We should not be surprised by this. Indeed, connections and overlaps continue to be found; especially when further Cornish-language manuscripts continued to be discovered (for example, the text of Bewnans Ke [The Life of St Kea] was found in 2000). The corpus of Cornu-English has therefore absorbed both Cornish and English concepts as it has evolved. 

It is not surprising therefore, that given the key industries of mining, fishing and farming that many core concepts from these areas can be found in the vocabulary of Cornu-English. Likewise, it is clear to any reader of an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland presented in Cornu-English to observe that many of these concepts will not be considered in the translation, simply because Carroll’s text does not deal with these industries. For a taste of these, the interested reader should look at W. G. Orhard’s A Glossary of Mining Terms (1991), Robert Morton Nance’s A Glossary of Cornish Sea Words (1963) and Ken Phillips’ Westcountry Words and Ways (1976). The list of Cornu-English vocabulary and phrases collected by the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, and held on their website is also an extremely valuable resource. 

Cornu-English, even when spoken or written fluently by native speakers is often referred to simply as ‘Dialect’ or ‘Cornish Dialect’ presumably because they understand that it is dialect of English. These phrases also capture the idea that it is distinct from English—which is also, of course, spoken in Cornwall. There are often class connotations associated with Cornu-English, English and Cornish. Cornu-English is generally supposed to be spoken by working-class groups, while English is largely spoken by those who have neglected their native tongue and try to fit an imposed and standardized language. Cornish was originally a language spoken predominantly by the working classes, but has come to assume a position where it is learnt as a second language, usually by those in the middle classes. Some speakers are able to comfortably move between all three groups—adjusting language choice to their immediate community. Such speakers are able to flip between Cornu-English, English, and Cornish within a single sentence. 

By the mainstream media in Britain, Cornu-English is often unfortunately lumped in with other English dialects from the south-west of Britain. These can be as wide-ranging as Bristolian, Somerset or Plymouthian. Often they are pre­sented comically by broadcasters as a kind of “Mummerset”: a language group located outside of the south-east, and identified as “yokels”. Cornu-English is, however, distinc­tively different, and it is a brave individual who places Cornu-English alongside these other forms. For one thing Cornu-English has this sub-strata of Cornish within it, which other dialects in south-western Britain do not have. For another, Cornu-English does not always follow the usual rules regarding pronunciation and delivery the way that imitators of the speech come to imagine. Some key indicators of this may be found in the following observations.

Very often those who overhear Cornu-English think that they are listening to someone American, rather than someone from Cornwall. An indication of this comes in the way in which the English word butter is sounded. In Cornu-English the intervocalic t sound is softened so the word is pronounced as budder. There are numerous other examples but this is a good place to start. In fact, the similarity to American English may also have a historical connection. Obviously, many of the early miners and ranchers in the west of America, in particular, came from Cornwall. It was likely therefore, that elements of their home language would be incorporated into the emergent language of America. 

Cornu-English makes much of the auxiliary verb to do. In Cornu-English, a fundamental rule (almost without excep­tion) is that verbs are always prefaced by the word do, reduced to d’. In this sense, all verbs have to do before they are grammatically correct. This rule reminds me of a construction that I recently overheard in Cornwall which proves this point exactly. Here a man was checking on the condition of an elderly relative and said, “She d’do better than er did do, dun’t er?’ Here, even the word do is prefaced by d’. There are countless examples of this construction in the Alice that follows. 

Exaggeration in Cornu-English is also important. If something is “very” in English, then in Cornu-English it would be brave an. Brave an is a catch-all phrase in fact, which can usually be inserted before any construction to demonstrate its force. It could be used of say. the weather: brave an stormy last night or of someone’s general well-bring: brave an good then, wad’n a? Allied to this phrase is the word proper. This is almost universally known as being part of Cornu-English expression, thanks to the many products available now with this term in their name. Generally, it is used in the phrase Proper job! which means when something is well done or appropriate. But ‘Proper’ can also be used to reinforce something: Proper pleased with ut, I was.

Another important construction in Cornu-English is the removal of initial h. In the example of andsome Arry with the auburn air we see a fine example this. In this translation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this best seen in the naming of classic characters such as the Mad Atter and the March Are. 

One of the leading scholars of Cornu-English in the twentieth century was the Roche-born K. C. Phillipps (1929-95). Phillipps was among the first observers of Cornu-English to conclude that it has a very clear grammatical structure (to which, I trust, I have been faithful in this translation) here, as well as a forceful and humorous phrase­ology which makes comparison and metaphor amusing and striking. While I have been able to display some of this in the translation, this was not always possible, due to the content of Carroll’s text. I hope, however, a few glimmers of this do shine through. Among the core features that Phillipps identifies are: reversals, archaisms, the retention of thou and ye, double plurals, the irregular use of the definite article, use of the definite article with proper names, the omission of prepositions, the extra -y suffix on the infinitive of verbs, the use of they as a demonstrative adjective, and the frequent use of the word up as an adverb. Many of these are used in the present book. 

Within Cornu-English, it is necessary to point out that although the broad vocabulary and grammar remain the same there are some variations in accent. These can be graded from east to west, and from north to south. In general, the accent in the west of Cornwall (in West Penwith, in particular) has remained quite distinctive, with some observers believing this is because of the later persistence of Cornish there. This edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonder­land is translated with a nod towards the Cornu-English accent of mid Cornwall; in particular that found in the working-class china-clay mining villages to the north of St Austell. This accent and locale remain interesting because for many years there were perceived as not being as picturesque as others parts of Cornwall, and so received less immigration and loss of Cornu-English speakers. 

There is a long literary continuum of writing within Cornu-English. Not long after 1549 (when the Act of Uniformity was enacted in Cornwall—making church services in Cornish and Latin illegal), writers began to simulate the sound and pronunciation of Cornu-English on the page. Among the first of these were Andrew Boorde (c. 1500–c. 1560) and his famous poem “Ich Cham a Cornysche Man” (c. 1547). Numerous other writers—among them, Henry Quick, John Tabois Tregellas, William Robert Hicks, William Bentinick Forfar Mark Guy Pearse, William Bottrell, Robert Hunt, Thomas Quiller Couch and Robert Morton Nance—kept this tradition of writing going. Although there was perhaps a lull in the middle of the twentieth century—when Cornu-English seemed to resonate with the voice of a defeated and Anglicized Cornwall—the response to Cornu-English has now shifted markedly. Of late, writing in Cornu-English has returned again with a renewed vigour—a genre in which Cornish people have re-used and re-worked Cornish-English to viscerally reassert their identity in an increasingly devolved Britain. K. C. Phillipps helped to lead this charge, assisted by writers such as Jack Clemo, Charles Causley, D. M. Thomas, Nick Darke, Simon Parker and myself. This Alice’s Ventures in Wunderland in Cornu-English therefore is timely. Hopefully it will demonstrate the power and beauty of Cornu-English for successive generations. 

Alan M. Kent
Lanbrebois / Probus
St Piran’s Day 2015

Michael Everson * http://www.evertype.com/

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