Cornish in Relation to Welsh and Breton

As there seems to be people here studying Cornish along with Welsh and/or Breton (or with previous experience of these), I was curious to know how this works out. Is studying two Brythonic languages sometimes confusing or is it easy to keep them apart?

This question was partly prompted by my slight problem of ‘sensing’ that the ‘dhym’ of “res yw dhym” has echoes of the Welsh negative ‘dim’ (as in: Dw i ddim …etc ). Although I think ‘dhym’ means ‘to me’ like Irish ‘dom’, I have to pronounce it with a slightly duller sound to lose the sense of a negative phrase. (This is just an example from my own experience)


Perhaps if you attempt to learn them all at one or speak them all, it might become a problem. But since my aim is to read Cornish and Breton, I stopped worrying about it:) But they really are quite similar, Cornish and Breton, and Welsh too, in terms of lexis, and it’s quite pleasant to understand things like “yaouank ma merc’h” in Breton songs without needing a dictionary or without having ever studied it.
Breton is beautiful, though it looks a bit intimidating after Welsh, with all the apostrophes and the hyphens, but then, perhaps, every Celtic language looks intimidating after Welsh.


Personally, I’m always a bit wary of taking on sister languages - I’ve been putting off revisiting Italian for years because I don’t want to get my Spanish messed up beyond repair!

I suspect that if you’re intent on pushing through to real competence in both languages, it would all work itself out - but as a casual user I’m sure you’d get higher levels of interference than usual.

It’d be very interesting to hear from someone doing two or more Brythonic languages at the same time - in an ‘I’m glad it’s them suffering, not me’ kind of way…:wink:


Well, strange for me, as far as concerns my memory (and stubborn head) isues but now I’m slowly reviving my Italian and doing some (little though) Spanish and find it helpful so far in both directions to do them both at the same time. Sometimes only speach is what is different but th ewords are written the same way. However, yes, I know, the harder the things are gonna be, the more likely it will come to mixing both languages …

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I’m planning to do it (and slowly working towards my goal). Also because Breton is very endangered, maybe the most vulnerable of all the Celtic languages, and I, maybe stupidly, believe that even new non-native speakers such as me increase the chances of a language to survive.
Breton is taught in Moscow State University, and we have some textbooks of Breton in Russian, written by the fantastic Anna Muradova, a teacher of Breton and the author of numerous books on the language and the customs of Bretagne, both in Russian and in Breton. I admire her very much, because she’s also a professor of folklore. There aren’t too many people who share my love for both languages and mythology/folklore, so when I meet them I like them instantly and think: “we be of one blood, ye and I”:slight_smile:


Nothing stupid about that - it’s absolutely unquestionable. :sunny:

Cornish is in a far, far tougher situation - there’s no real comparison. In fact, despite the huge political pressures against Breton in the last 50 years, my own perception (from spending time in the countries and communities and talking to activists) is that it is still in a considerably stronger position than Gaidhlig in Scotland - and, in fact, if you take the misleading education statistics out of it, than Gaeilge in Ireland as well.


I thought that Breton-speaking population was mostly middle-aged or elderly - but it might be that my information is dated. I would be really glad to hear that the situation is much better than I thought.

Well… that depends on what you thought…:wink: Breton is stronger among older speakers - but they also have bilingual schools - and community usage, although (as is the case in Wales as well) they’re not very visible to non-Breton speakers. Breton is definitely in a much weaker situation than Welsh, no question about it - but a very, very long way ahead of Cornish, which friends tell me only has about 400 or so really confident speakers…


Oh, you’re right, of course, compared with Cornish it must be in a much better position, It’s just that, you know, I think that Cornish and Manx still have a slightly different status, because they almost died out completely and were reconstructed and are trying to be reinstated now - unlike Breton, Irish, Welsh and Scottish that, luckily, survived and their usage has never really been interrupted. So, to me, even a small number of living Cornish and Manx speakers is a miracle and a demonstration of how much enthusiasm and love can do. While the lessening use of Irish and Breton is worrying.

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I read a very interesting review on Breton, by an Irish academic. I’ll try to rediscover it, but it was very depressing read. There is still a massive stigma associated with Breton speakers. For years they were cariactured as ignorant, heavy drinking, uneducated peasants. There has been big moves to change that recently, but the older generation didn’t want their children subjected to the same sorts of ridicule and deliberately allowed the language to decline. Many of the early language activists refused to pass on the language. Now its in a revival phase and the French attitudes have changed, but the Standatd Breton taught in schools isn’t readily understood by the older speakers - many of whom cant read or write in Breton. The older generation is now dying out quicker than the rate of new learners.
It sounds like so many parallels with Welsh, but Welsh has always had a stronger support network and wealth of literature - I think in Wales there are some people who deserve a lot of credit - Aran and Ssiw included, for stabilising the decline. Tthirty years ago many were saying that the Language would now be dead.


Thank you, I didn’t know that. Very sad indeed. I was just listening today to this wonderful song, “Karantez vro” in Breton, full of love for its land and language, and now I have a new understanding of just how much strength one needed to have in the past to stand up to all those terrible attitudes.

It’s, basically, a woman’s lament about the man whom she loved but who didn’t love Brittany and who wanted only money. He has honors and wealth now, and she - a despised and humble life, but, still, she wouldn’t exchange her country, language and her freedom for any treasure. There are many folk songs that feature this choice between one’s love for the country and for a person, but they are often rather political and belligerent. This one is just sad.


It’s the permanent juggle of language activism - you have to combine brutal realism with enthusiasm for every single bit of positive news you can get hold of.

Welsh remains in real, present danger - we see it every day, the increasing amount of English in the playground, the continuing changes in population - we’ve got a huge amount to do if we’re genuinely going to build a successfully bilingual country.

At the same time, you can’t keep going if you only look at the threats - so the value of every single learner, and the enthusiasm they bring, is enormous.

Breton is in a worse situation than us - but having said that, I’ve been in really lively Breton-speaking community events, watched children playing in the language, found pubs and shops where Breton is spoken - none of which I’ve managed to do in Ireland.

We’ve all got a lot to do. And it’s our dearest dream that we’ll be able to contribute to that work… :sunny:


The little town where I live has a road sign pointing to our twin town in Brittany and many communities in Wales have forged very close links to similar sized communities in Brittany. I think clever people have always understood the importance of our Language family members - shared experiences and the greater things that we can do together. It is also a good excuse for a few meet-ups and festivals.

There has been a long war raged against all of the Celtic languages for centuries. A quiet war to undermine their credibility and the credibility of the people who speak them. No doubt this will continue into the future, unless they become so weakened that they might suddenly become treasured again. Perhaps as part of the cultural “pantomime” that the French outside of Brittany now place their newly found love for Breton in.



A question to @Courtenay or anyone who has had a chance to listen to different speakers of Cornish: is “r” pronounced as the English “r”, by all speakers? I was expecting to find the Welsh hard “r” here, but both Paul and Julia pronounce something that is close to the English “r”.

Hi @seren,

Not sure what the Welsh hard “r” sounds like — unless it’s simply a rolled “r”? — but as far as I’ve heard, it varies among Cornish speakers, probably due to their native accent. I can only quote the page on pronunciation in the online Cornish dictionary:

In an attempt to side-step the problem of divergent reconstructions, the phoneme /r/ has always been transcribed [r]. This does not imply that it is meant to be pronounced as a trill as in Spanish in all positions. Most Cornish speakers use retroflex [ɹ] as in English, flapped [ɾ] or an allophonic distribution of the two.

I sometimes roll the “r” slightly when I’m speaking Cornish, particularly if it’s a double rr (to make a difference, for example, between “kar” (to love) and “karr” (a car)), but I don’t make a consistent point of it. Coming from Australia, I have a naturally non-rhotic accent, so it’s enough for me to make sure to pronounce all the “r’s” audibly in the first place, even at the ends of words!! :wink:

Yes, of course I meant the rolled r. Thank you. The problem is, to me, as a native Russian speaker, it is a confusing definition, because it’s the English “r” that sounds rolled to me, to the back of the mouth, and Russian, Welsh, Italian and Spanish sounds are “just how it should sound”.:slight_smile:
Thank you again for the vocab for SSICornish, it’s helping me enormously.


Incidentally, talking of hard/rolled/trilled r’s as we were before, I’m now doing a Cornish correspondence course (Kernewek Dre Lyther), and the speaker for the audio components — I don’t know who it is — does very much roll all his r’s. I’m getting quite used to imitating it now and it does sound like a more authentic “Celtic” kind of accent, at least to me. But as I can confirm from having been at a Cornish Language Weekend a couple of months back, lots of Cornish speakers seem to have quite different accents/pronunciations (probably depending on what their native accent is) and we could still all understand each other pretty well!


I know that reading isn’t really an SSi thing, but does anyone happen to know if there is any surviving authentic Cornish writing available? i.e. dating from when it was still a living language.

I had a feeling that there was.

Considering the number of people who spoke the language, and the fact it was a non-state language, there is an enormous amount of written Cornish. Religious plays in the … Er… “Plen an gwary”? … Open air theatres in Cornwall for religious festivals (common right through to the Tudor period) were pushed by the Cornish speaking monastaries, and plays which went on over several days are recorded as scripts. But there is plenty of Other Stuff recorded as well. Of interest to Wales, Edward Lhuyd, the Welshman who first coined the word “Celtic” as referring to a language group in the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century and was the first person to treat etymology as a science (well, he was one of Isaac Newtons very few friends!) travelled to Cornwall and made a study of it. So, the answer to your question is “yes”. :blush:


How far back would you like to go? :slight_smile:$002fj$002fzcph.2013.60.issue-1$002fzcph.2013.009$002fzcph.2013.009.pdf/zcph.2013.009.pdf?t:ac=j$002fzcph.2013.60.issue-1$002fzcph.2013.009$002fzcph.2013.009.xml

The document referred to in the link makes a reference to @owainlurch 's Edward Lhuyd, who seemed to be a person of authority in these matters, as Owain said

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