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What is the Cornish Language? (Languages of Britain)

Did you know there are many languages native to Britain, even existing before English and some still today? To learn more about this, we have to take a quick look back at the history.

According to Wikipedia, There are 14 indigenous languages used across the British Isles: 5 Celtic, 3 Germanic, 3 Romance, and 3 sign languages: 2 Banszl and 1 Francosign language.

A Brief History of Languages in the British Isles

The Celts were a group of tribes that shared a similar language, religious beliefs, traditions and culture. The culture began to develop as early as 1200BC.

Celtic groups could be broke down further into smaller groups – one of these was Celtic Britons. They the indigenous Celtic people who lived in Great Britain until the Middle Ages, at which point they diverged into the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons (among others).

They spoke the Common Brittonic language, which is the father of many languages now such as Welsh and Cornish. 

The Romans invaded the island in the first century AD and pushed a lot of Celtic Britons West and North. That’s why we have different nations here today and why the culture difference is so different when you travel to Wales or Scotland, etc. You can still see the remains of the wall between Scotland and England that the Romans used to try to stop the Celts who fled North from taking back their land.

The Celtic nations now are Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany (in France).

About 30 years after the Roman Empire fell, Anglo-Saxons from modern-day Germany and Denmark began invading and settling in the South East of the country.

The Cornish were often at war with the Anglo Saxons. This continued until 936, when King Athelstan of England declared the River Tamar the formal boundary between the two, effectively making Cornwall one of the last retreats of the Britons, thus encouraging the development of a distinct Cornish identity.

While the Anglo-saxons spread throughout the island and the old English language began to develop, The Britons were pushed further west but kept control of Wales and Cornwall until the 11th century AD when Cornwall was annexed into England, although much of the culture stayed. 

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Cornish were seen as a separate race or nation, with their own language, society and customs. There was even an unsuccessful Cornish Rebellion in 1497 after they refused to pay taxes to the King.

A lot of Welsh can be seen today in Wales with a lot of speakers still around, but Cornish almost disappeared. In 1700, there were only 5000 speakers left and none in 1800. 

In the 20th century, the language underwent a revival and now it’s coming back and being taught in some schools.

Cornish Phrases

Dydh Da – Hello

Fatla genowgh hwi? – How’s it going?

Meur ras – Thank you

Ow fenn-bloodh yw… – My birthday is…

Naw warn ugens – Twenty nine

mis Genver – January

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