Cornish and South Welsh

There was also the distinctive dialect in English of South Pembrokeshire which I’ve read something about in an interesting book called " Below the Landsker".

I think there’s a fair amount of discussion on what modern Cornish “should” sound like – and then there’s the discrepancy between what people think it should sound like and how they actually speak it. (For example, whether to distinguish between open and close O sounds.)

I think the traditional English of West Penwith is taken by some as a model under the theory that since that is the region where Cornish was spoken as a daily language for longest, the local English may have been influenced most by Cornish, and that this may be our best bet for an authentic Cornish accent. But as for whether the local English was in fact influenced phonetically by Cornish I imagine we have no way of knowing.

In my limited experience, at least the R is usually anglicised (an approximant rather than a trill).


Here’s Eddie Izzard trying to speak Old English to a Frisian farmer, although I have to say his Old English accent sounds pretty dodgy to me:

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Well I’d say that was fairly conclusive… although I’m not quite sure of what just yet! lol :laughing:

Just for the record, I do remember the Breton onion sellers coming round on their bikes in Cwmtwrch in the 1950’s. My old man always used to ask them in and probably bore the pants off them over some poisonous alcoholic concoction. He always claimed he spoke Welsh to them, but we kids were always excluded from those discussions, possibly because he didn’t approve of us learning Welsh. But he was among other things a teacher of French, so I guess that may well have been their lingua franca…


I was thinking about this thread the other day, with reference to Romani, and I think it’s a little bit about expectations rather than mutual comprehensibility as such.
Romani is a European language of Indian origin: there are plenty of Romani words that are still recognizably Indian, but there are also loads that come from Greek, Romanian, and Slavonic languages - even in the Romani that used to be spoken in Wales. So, for example, if you count to ten in Romani to a Hindi speaker, they’ll recognize 1-6 and 10, but look really puzzled at 7, 8, and 9, which are Greek. You really can’t speak continuous Romani to a speaker of any other Indian language and expect to get particularly far, but there are odd words and short sentences you can pick and choose that are comprehensible from Wales, through Persia and Afghanistan to India.
So there’s a book I have about English Romani in the nineteenth century, when it was starting to turn into a mix of Romani and English, like British Romani Gypsies might use today (think Wenglish on steroids). In it, one of their main informants, Sylvester Boswell, is asked about European Romanies, and he basically just goes on about how different they are, including not understanding each other at all. But then, at another point, he tells how he met a Bengali speaker in Britain and they understood each other perfectly! (Which I don’t really believe.)
What I think is that if you meet another Romani (Welsh) speaker you expect to be able to understand each other, speaking the same language; and if there are big enough differences of dialect to make it difficult, the main thing you’re aware of are the difficulties. But you know that no-one else speaks anything remotely like Romani (Welsh) - all the other languages you come across in your normal life are completely unlike it. And then you come across someone speaking Bengali (Breton), and find that you can sort of muddle through a bit (nose! hair! milk! one, two, three! Wow!) and it’s astonishing - we got on like a house on fire!
So I suspect that if your dad spoke Welsh and French and English, and the onion sellers Breton and French and (presumably) some small smattering of English and / or Welsh, they’d have muddled through somehow, quite possibly with a certain amount of Welsh in the mix, and been honestly impressed with how well they communicated.


Mind, my friend was only a kid when he spoke to onion sellers in Whitland, so he likely knew mostly Welsh and, if he had started school, English but little else! My bets are on the Bretons picking up Welsh quickly as they wanted sales!

They wouldn’t have been mutually intelligible, Dyfrig, in the way that Cornish and Breton of that period certainly were.

Knowing one would certainly help with understanding the other to a small degree. Cornish and Welsh at the time would have had (and still have) a high vocabulary share: about 70% even today. They also shared a counting system (the twenty-count that we still use for stating the time) as well as more or less identical mutations.

But Cornish was undergoing consonant shifts at a remarkably fast rate that was making it ever more different from any dialect of Welsh.

And yet, even today, some expressions are mutually intelligible. Any Welsh speaker or learner would quickly know the meaning of this one, for instance:
Nadelek lowen ha blydhen nowydh dha.
(dh = Welsh dd).
Also, neologisms in revived Cornish are often borrowed from Welsh.
e.g. pel droes from pel droed.
So in some ways, revived Cornish has certain features which make it closer to Welsh (north or south) than 16th-Century Cornish was.


I got a question about a cornish song by Gwenno. I coudn’t decide which thread to put it in so I hope it’s not out of place here.
It’s the song “Eus Keus” (Is there cheese) You can see it on youtube
Does Kernow have a historical connecion with it or is it just Gwenno who’s crackers about cheese?


“Eus keus” does have a historical connection — it’s a rhyme recorded by a Cornish scholar, William Borlase, in about the 1750s. I’m not aware of where it came from in the first place, though someone else might know more than I do. I did read an interview with Gwenno somewhere where she said she was delighted to find there was this rhyme about one of her favourite foods, so she went for it! :grinning:

The full passage, which is all in the song, is “Eus keus? Eus po nag eus? Mars eus keus, dro keus. Ha po nag eus keus, dro pyth eus!” (“Is there cheese? Is there or isn’t there? If there is cheese, bring cheese. And if there isn’t cheese, bring what there is!”)

As far as I can make out, in between the chorus, she’s calling the Kernewek names of various towns in Cornwall, presumably summoning them to bring their cheese (if there is any). I’m a lot less sure what her costume and the stone circle and the owl-headed people in the video are meant to signify — they don’t represent any official ceremonies of the Cornish Gorsedh, as far as I’m aware. But you never know. :wink:


Thank you!


Love this! Reminds me a bit of an odd sort of contradictory joking reply to someone offering you tea that exists in Irish. Don’t have it all by heart but it starts something like: “Té ma tá, 's muna bhfuil bhearfainnn…” “Tea if it’s in it and if it isn’t then I would bring it…” I’ll try to find the whole thing… this isn’t exactly right! Also I just found a short piece on youtube where Gwenno is introducing this very song - with audience participation :slight_smile: