I discovered this quote today "Norden, writing of the Cornish people and language,
about the year 1580, says : "The Cornish people for the
most part are descended of the Britishe stocke, though
muche entermixed since with the Saxon and Norman
bloude; but untill of late yeares retayned the Britishe
speache corrupted as theirs is of Wales ; for the South
Wales man understandeth not perfectlye the North Wales
man, and the North Wales man little of the Cornishe, the
South muche. " (From https://archive.org/stream/ancientlanguaged00jago/ancientlanguaged00jago_djvu.txt ). I’m not entirely sure what “corrupted as theirs is of Wales” means? However it is of interest to me as it seems to add some support to my suspicion that South Welsh and Cornish were more closely related once. An Irish comparison might be the dialects of Donegal, Connacht and Munster (with Cornish being somewhat further removed from S Welsh than Munster is from Connacht Irish but with a geographical similarity in the separation by estuaries of the Severn and Shannon respectively). Wondered if anyone had any thoughts on this?
I discovered this quote today "Norden, writing of the Cornish people and language,
It seems to make geographical sense… I’ve heard (fairly unreliably, I suspect) of Welsh speakers in the south of Wales being able to understand Breton onion sellers… but my guess would be that’s more about core vocab in common, rather than about southern dialects in particular…
I knew a man (elderly in the 1980s) who told me he remembered Breton onion sellers coming through his village and being able to talk with them. So there probably is at least some truth. I know he was a south Walian, but I forget exactly where he was from.
Well I suppose if there is even some likelihood that Breton Onion sellers were understood in South Wales then there is a much greater likelihood that Cornish (being closer to Welsh than Breton is and having many loan-words from English) and South Welsh were mutually understood in the last years in which native Cornish was still a community language.
I think it depends a bit on how one reads ‘were understood’. Certainly, modern Breton speakers and modern Welsh speakers (whether from the north or the south) are not mutually intelligible - but do still have a lot of everyday vocab in common - bread, wine, rain, meat, some numbers, stuff like that. My guess would be that the Breton onion sellers used enough shared words for the story about understanding to start - but that it would have been a ‘point and name’ kind of communication…
I think the story has very much been very much embellished over time.
It’s a great, heart-warming, quirky story about how different yet how similar ordinary people can be, but if you think about it, people from Carmarthen can’t agree on the word for ‘onion’ with people from Caernarfon, and the huge difference between the Breton and the Valleys accent makes even similar written words sound very different.
Yes I think the Breton - Welsh comprehension is stretching it a bit. However my original post was really about how South Welsh and Cornish were noted as having been mutually comprehensible (to some extent) in the 16th century. This writer also mentioned that this was not so for the North Welsh and Cornish so he was not just making a very general statement about Welsh (in general) being similar to Cornish. From my fairly limited knowledge… I’d guess that native speakers, with some exposure to the speakers from the other side of the Severn, might recognize that something like Mi a vynn and dw i’n moen are connected? Perhaps I’ll be able to attempt a more informed opinion about this at some future date!
My guess would be that this was an over-extrapolation based on a similar small handful of shared words, perhaps coupled with something like ‘hearing about some northerners who spoke too fast’…
It’ll be fun to check as soon as we finish building the time machine…
I know a colony was, I suppose, accidentally set up in what is now Brittany, when the Legions left Britain with Macsen Wledig, at least, I believe that is what happened. So, whatever the local Gauls spoke, the incomers from Prydain, whether legionaries or Brits who wanted to stay in the Empire, will have spoken a Latin/Prydainig mixture. I understand there is a lot of Latin in Breton. A very good friend of mine, about 5 years my senior, said he remembered onion sellers in Whitland being understood, presumably just after WW2, but whether they spoke Breton or leaned some Cymraeg, who knows? Cornwall spoke British when we all did and was later getting conquered by anyone else, but, given the differences between North and South Wales, I’ll bet Cornish was pretty unique. This week on Great British Menu, a chap from Cornwall did say soup,is cowl! (Which he pronounced as we say ‘cawl’)!
I seem to remember reading somewhere that there is a theory that North Welsh was influenced by the speech of Yr Hen Ogledd via refugees from the Rhedeg, Elmet etc. This might also explain some of the differences between North and South Welsh. Anyway, as Aran says, that’s one for the time machine too… In the meantime back to the practicalities of the next Challenge!
Aneirin, in Y Gododdin, as I remember, mentions someone (or more) coming from Gwynedd to fight at Catraeth. It seems clear that west-east interactions were common, so I’d be surprised if what you say was not true!
Cornish, Breton and Cymraeg from the south of Wales would be expected to have more in common for obvious reasons of proximity!
Aran, when you finish building the time machine, could you please set it to today’s date and come and pick us all up from here so we don’t have to wait for it?
Henddraig, your message was a weird bit of synchronicity as I had seconds before read a message from a DNA group I belong to saying that some ancient Y-DNA (L-1066 if anyone is into this sort of research) had recently been extracted from ancient human remains (c. 1500 bce) found in the area of Scotland later inhabited by the Votadini… i.e. the tribal group from which the Gododdin emerged. Sorry this is way off topic but perhaps an interesting reminder that the people we are talking about were the actual ancestors of many people still alive. I do find it very interesting that the language of the Gododdin may be still alive - just not quite in the location we most associate it with!
I keep telling my neighbours that the Picts were just the original British and Pictish was a dialect of old Prydeinig! Let’s face it, there was this big island and the Roman Emperor decided to send in his Legions to prove he was worthy of his title by defeating the folk who shoved “the great Julius” back into the channel! Generations later, Hadrian has Legions freezing and unhappy and he, or a spin doctor declared, “we have conquered Britannia, everything north of here is Caledonia!” And they built a wall - suggesting a tactic to one D. Trump, no doubt! But any differences between the locals would have been due to mating with invading or settling or trading Vikings, Danes, lots from Ireland and various Germanic tribes, Gauls etc…
That is my theory!
ps the language of Y Gododdin is not that different from modern Welsh! I mean, it can be understood, I’d say, more easily than Chaucer’s English
Not to add in any serious way to the discussion, but just to get my etymology geek on for a moment - the vynn of my a vynn isn’t cognate with moyn, but rather with mynnu (to insist/demand), while moyn is I believe a contraction of ymofyn (i.e. gofyn with the reflexive ym- prefix).
(Sorry, I don’t mean this in a “correcting” kind of way in the slightest - I just love talking about this stuff ;-))
Don’t apologize… I love these explanations and shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions on mynn/moyn. That’s why I stuck in the bit about more informed opinion. Maybe you can recommend a good source for this sort of analysis of Welsh (and Cornish)?
I was browsing through an old Welsh grammar last night which had some comparison of Celtic languages in it (e.g. relating Welsh ‘bore’ to Irish imbárach which I would never have thought were connected - specially as the latter is now spelled amárach and, supposedly, had something to do with tethering cows for milking).
I find it so much easier to remember words if they make sense to me - and ‘sense’ so often means knowing things like ‘moyn’ being related to ‘gofyn’. It’s part of realizing that Welsh is not directly translatable in a simple way to English… or even Cornish to Welsh! Diolch
Very very basic comprehension between breton onion sellers and southern welshies may not be so impossible when we remember that until the 1800s…the fishermen of East Anglia and Lincolnshire could converse basics with fishermen from N Holland and NW Germany (low german very close to part of basic english)
I have a question I cant find online.
How much is modern Cornish anglised accent wise?..are they any remnants which are closer to the original Brythonic/Old Cornish Celtic sound?
A lot of Cornish in the East sound similar to Devon folk (fy nheulu yw cernyweg) - are the Cornish fully anglicised? Or is devon still got hints of “welshness” brythonic sounds about it?
n.b. …However something that hits me going to Devon and Wessex (dorset etc)…how much the accent and dialect is being lost among younguns
I’ve often wondered the same about the West Country accent in English. Is it largely a remnant of Old English, like the traces of ‘Yola’ has left in the accent of SE Ireland (which is somewhat similar to a West Country accent). To go back to those who commented on Cornish when it was still spoken I know that at least one writer said that it sounded ‘Welsh’. As they would have been familiar with the general West Country accent why would they have said it sounded Welsh unless there was something distinctive about it that distinguished it from the accent of East Cornish (and Devon) English speakers?
On Gower, in the area where I lived, there was a lot of coming and going across to Devon, certainly once the limestone quarrying and kilns started on Gower. Families ended up with branches either side and the accent on our side did, among the older residents (older when I was younger!) carry traces of West Country English, but both sides of the Bristol Channel spoke English throughout. In Cornwall, over centuries there were trading influences from Phoenicians, Spain, Corinth, Rome…as well as Ireland. So, surely, the later ‘isolation’ of Prydeinig when the Saxons took Devon…well, I am no expert, but if you start from a different sound…??