It is a tedious yet worthwhile read. This may not be an orthodox way to learn a language, but it is an experiment worth taking. Besides, I will continuously consult this book to learn Kernowek.

Synopsis

This is an overview of the Cornish language, mostly in its revived form. It starts with the simple words, pronouns, conjugations, and prepositions; and then continues into more nuanced, complicated grammar.

While there are exercises in this book, I decided to skip them and only to read through this book. I do this because I have come to realize that there are different ways of reading, especially since you never read the same book the same way multiple times. You are either reading for a general impression of the topic, or you are following along one of the themes in the book in its specificity. I chose to read this book for the first time for the general information, while I might do the exercises upon the second time reading.

Author

I could not find anything about Nicholas Williams himself, but there is more information about the publishing company behind this book and many others. Evertype specializes in publishing translations of well-known books, such as The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland, in endangered and extinct languages; as well as language guides like the one that is being reviewed.

Historical Context

There are instances where you will see loanwords from Middle English make an appearance. This would make sense, considering how it was during the era of Middle English that the English started encroaching upon the Cornish territory. It especially makes sense considering how the Kernowek word for English resembles Saxon.

Also, since prior to the modern times, Kernowek orthography was never standardized, so there are lots of spellings for the words throughout the ages. It is only in this time period that there has been discussion about choosing the right orthography. Of course, I have used my own orthography in order to understand the words better, but that is for another article.

As for the sample texts, they range from writings from the Kernowek translation of the Bible to Kernowek writings prior to becoming extinct.

There are also forewarnings throughout the book about Robert Morton Nance’s linguistic work in Kernowek, since he tried to reappropriate Welsh supposed cognates as Kernowek words. This is spite of the fact that there were already Middle English loanwords used in both Kernowek and Welsh.

Themes

Mutations are a feature among the first consonants of a noun. They vary based on whether they are masculine or feminine, and they apply mainly to singular feminine nouns and plural masculine nouns, specifically when there is a word modifying it. Either the nouns themselves are mutated based on a definite article, or the adjective itself is mutated.

There are also subtle sounds that are sounded, but not all the way. They function more as sonates. These include the ones with mm [bm] and nn [dn] and begin with yth [‘th] and ym [‘m].

There is a unique nuance involved in how a part of the sentence is emphatic. In the English language’s case, we usually just use tones in order to emphasize which parts are emphatic. In Kernowek, the position of the object depends on whether the sentence means “I am tired” or “It is I who is tired.” Not only that, but those sentences that consist of “It is I who is tired” are also direct speech. When someone wants to talk about the qualities or history of a person, they use indirect speech, such as using sentences like “He said that he was tired,” by using the word fatell which means “how” but is also used within the conjunctional context of “that;” and a leverys meaning “said.”

Learning how to convey a particular mood originally in English means completely reorienting how the words would be used in Kernowek. There is no specific word for “to become,” rather it makes use of the words “to be go,” “to be make,” and “to fall.” As for the use of “to” in any imperative statement, it does not involve finding a locative “to,” rather the use of the subjunctive words may(th) and the subjunctive form of a verb.

There are also very commonly used words throughout the samples. These include the prepositions, in which object pronouns are affixed to them.

Intertextuality

As for the prepositions being the most commonly used Kernowek words, this parallels with a Thoughtco article which showed that the top 100 most used words in the English language are prepositions. Of course, those are English words, but I can see how that would be the case of all languages, since prepositions bind sentences, fragments, and phrases together.

What I thought was interesting was how the book explained how certain words came about. In the case of the questioning words, they came from contraction of phrases; while the word for “against” comes from the contraction of the phrase “upon the head.” This is definitely a case of grammaticalization, which has been explained by Joan Bybee and the other linguists who contributed to the book Evolution of Grammar. Kernowek is definitely no exception.

Writing Style

It would have been better to read if there were more list styles of the various examples, though it probably would have meant more paper in a book that is 300+ pages.

Also, as for the pronunciations, while it does explain in the preface how each of the letters were pronounced, the book does not explain how to pronounce the word yw/ew which means “it is…” Apparently, it is pronounced between the [oo] and the [ee] sounds. This is, of course, probably the close-mid front rounded vowel (ø), which is found in Kernowek’s sister-language Breton. Of course, that sound is found all over Kernowek, like in the word meur meaning “great.” It would have been helpful to have such comparative study found in the book. If an lyver ma claimed to be complete, then it would have included a comprehensive pronunciation guide that was less text based and more straightforward, for example not just including the text but also lists and charts and–as mentioned before–comparisons with the other Celtic languages.

Real-World Application

There are a variety of standardizations of this language, which can be a little intimidating, though not by much. I’ve decided to use my own orthography in order to truly comprehend how the language may have been intended to be spoken. This may cause Cornish people to feel faint upon reading this, but I want to assure them that this is my own personal method of learning Kernowek, not a part of some radically cataclysmic treatise.

Another personal diversion is trying to avoid using pub, which literally means “all” but phonetically in English means entirely something else. I would not want to be misinterpreted, but Williams does explain that there are many phrases for “everybody,” “everyone,” and “all.” So, I would replace it with the alternative word keniver, which is also an aesthetic choice because I like how it sounds.

I am trying to speak Kernowek as it may have been intended to be sounded, which may involve study into Breton and Welsh. I may speak a more conservative version of Kernowek, though I want to speak a more authentic version of the language for the sake of the Hoskyns, Honeychurchs, Floyds, Barratts, and Urens in my ancestry.

Mør ras keniveronan

Recommend This To…

  • Any beginning Kernowek speaker. I specifically mean those kowselorow who have a little bit of a grasp on the language and will not feel overwhelmed by the details.

Relevance To Cornish Identity

This book has everything to do with the Cornish identity, since it provides as comprehensive as possible overview of Kernowek. Of course, there were moments when Williams needed to emphasize that there were words that may have been Welsh cognates, however they were not recorded in the Cornish language. As such, the book definitely encompasses the slow and steady encroachment of English imperialism, since the Cornish tongue had been in decline.

Now, it is entirely possible to bring back new speakers of Kernowek. It may not be easy, but this book is nonetheless necessary to that goal.

Sources

  • “Close-mid front rounded vowel.” Wikipedia.
  • Evertype.
  • “Meur.” Wiktionary.
  • Nordquist, Richard. “The 100 Most Commonly Used Words in English.” Thoughtco. 2019.
  • Williams, Nicholas. “Desky Kernowek: A Complete Guide To Cornish.” 4th Edition. Evertype. 2013.

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