Kernewek in Kernow
When I was back home the other week, I was surprised to see the Cornish language supporters out in force at several major Maytime festivals. Back in the day, you wouldn’t tend to see much Cornish language at a public parade. In fact, back in the day, you could easily come to Cornwall and miss all the Celtic language completely, except for the odd place-name translated on road signs.
Not so now! I go to a festival in London every year where all the Cornish ex-pats gather to celebrate St Piran’s Day, and at this festival of modern music and comedy (no folk element to it), it’s very normal for the presentation to be at least partly in Cornish. Last year, at the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival, an entire group of about 20 people came into one of the pubs and were talking exclusively in Cornish, albeit with varying levels of fluency. And most Cornish people nowadays are at least familiar with the essentials- Mitten Da, Nos da, pasti, Fatla Genes, Kernewek.
Putting Kernow back on the map!
So something’s happened between when I was at school and now. And in large part it’s down to the Cornish Language Partnership, who have been promoting and supporting the Cornish language since 2005, coordinating languages societies, local authorities and other cultural groups. It also offers a translation service and online audio dictionary for all those eager learners. They’ve put Cornish back on the map in a big way, and helped to standardise a language which, divided into many dialects, was actually officially dead.
The bad news is that the Cornish Language Partnership relies a lot on government funding, and the government has recently cut £150,000 of annual funding for the Cornish language. This is terrible news for supporters of Cornish (and worrying news for other minority languages), and a petition has been launched to reinstate the funding (with currently over 8,600 signatures).
Not taking it lightly, me lovers!
The good news is that Cornwall’s not backing down! A local (and well-loved) ice cream firm, Kelly’s, has recently launched an advert all in Cornish (with the odd cheeky nod to English thrown in here and there). In the Kelly’s ad, a young man extolls all the virtues of the Kelly’s ice cream entirely in Kernewek – quite ambitious considering Cornwall only boasts about 2000 fluent speakers – yet the simple message of this ad is completely conveyed. Have a look for yourselves:
We’re proud to do our bit to support the Cornish language – check out our Cornish programs
It’s not often you hear the Cornish language spoken in the streets of London. To be honest, it’s not often you hear it in the streets of Cornwall, although I promise it does happen, if you know where to look.
But this weekend was an exception, because Saturday was St Piran’s Day, the national day of Cornwall, and London was celebrating in style with its annual Shoreditch celebration, Kernow In The City.
So what’s it all about?
No, I’m joking, of course – in fact, I find St Piran’s Day is one of the more sober Cornish celebrations, as it’s really more about celebrating the culture of Cornwall. Back home, different towns have different traditions, but usually there’ll be music and singing, a parade of some sort, perhaps some dancing and dressing up, occasionally a pasty competition. In Westminster, the Cornish MPs hold a cultural reception which aims to teach more about Cornwall’s identity and culture.
The Shoreditch evening event, which I’ve been going to for a good 4 or 5 years, is also primarily a cultural celebration, with different Cornish talent every year and a heavy focus on music (this year featured the amazing Flats and Sharps as the grand finale, last year saw The Oggymen taking centre stage), as well as a variety of comedians (The Kernow King has been guest of honour in the past, and still usually makes a remote appearance via video).
But get a lot of pining ex-pat Cornish together and a few kegs of Betty Stogs beer and it will inevitably turn into a somewhat tipsy affair, with plenty of drunken dancing by the end of the evening. And that’s part of the reason I love Kernow In The City: every year I take along a few non-Cornish people, who tentatively agree to attend in the full expectation of being hounded out of the venue for being English, and although some of the in-jokes about miniature Cornish villages do go over their heads, and the bilingual compering leaves plenty to be understood, by the end of the evening they’re usually bellowing out the words to Trelawney (our national anthem) with great passion, and dancing with total strangers.
Nothing could do more to dispel the myth of the Cornish cold shoulder than the St Piran’s Day event: take a small interest in Cornish culture and you really will be welcomed with open arms. Learn a couple of words of Cornish and you’ll be the talk of the town. And if you’re going to learn anything, learn these three words: Kernow Bys Vyken (Cornwall For Ever), a toast to make you Cornish friends for life.