Try-Hard Translations

Here’s something I’m sure others here will have seen (and I know our Cymraeg-speaking friends have probably seen it far more often) — just wanting to have a bit of a groan here, if no-one minds.

I was in Kernow this past week for the annual Cornish Language Weekend and couldn’t help noticing that Kernewek (Cornish) seems to be becoming more and more visible, however gradually. Quite a number of pubs and shops have at least a line of Kernewek (and often more) somewhere in their signage. There’s no money or other great commercial gain to be made out of featuring the language, so I can only conclude business owners are doing this because they genuinely care about Kernewek to some extent and believe that promoting it, even just a little, is a good idea, which is wonderful to see. Even if they do sometimes get it, well, a bit wrong.

For example, I ate one evening last week at a fish and chip shop in Lanivet called the Welcome Stranger (do they realise that’s a name with an Australian connection? :grinning:), where there was a sign on the door declaring “Welcome to the Welcome Stranger — Dynnergh dhe’n Dynnergh Stranjer.

Er, um, nice try, but where do I begin (and I can pick this up even as a relatively new speaker)…

  • “Dynnergh dhe " as “welcome to " is a bad calque on English. The conventional way of saying it in Kernewek is " a’gas dynnergh” — " welcomes you.” (Actually, since the verb technically means “to give greetings to”, “dynnergh dhe’n [Welcome Stranger]” literally means “greetings to the Welcome Stranger”, which is not what they’re wanting to say.)

  • “Dynnergh” (“dynnerghi” in dictionary form) is the verb meaning “to welcome”, but it doesn’t double as an adjective like “welcome” does in English. If you want to describe someone or something as “welcome”, you’d use “wolkomm” (a well-established borrowing from English).

  • “Stranger” in Kernewek is “estren”, not “stranjer”. You can’t translate English into Kernewek just by spelling an English word phonetically to make it “look” Cornish!! :astonished:

  • And on top of all that, even if the adjective and the noun in “Dynnergh Stranjer” were right — which neither is — they’re the wrong way around. In Kernewek, adjectives (with a handful of exceptions) come AFTER nouns!!

In short, what the sign should have said is: “An Estren Wolkomm a’gas dynnergh.” There is actually a Cornish Language Office that could have told them that if they’d written in to ask “How can I write ‘Welcome to the Welcome Stranger’ in Cornish?”, instead of making it all up themselves. But to be fair, at least they cared enough to try — bad Kernewek is better than no Kernewek at all — and the fish and chips were pretty good. :yum:

Right, now that’s off my chest… does anyone else have a similar experience to share?


I think part of the problem is ‘in which version of Cornish?’… Astranj (not a typo it does have the ‘A’ at the start) appears in my copy of Nance’s Gerlyver Noweth Kernewek as an adjective meaning ‘strange’ and has C.W. after it - meaning it appears in the “Creation of the World”. Nicolas Williams also gives Stranger = Stranjer in the English-Cornish dictionary section at the back of his book 'Desky Kernowek" and he is usually a stickler for not giving anything that does not have a definite provenance. I’m a bit iffy on loan words into Celtic from English in general myself (unless they were borrowed a considerable time ago) but it does seem that Stranjer might be an early borrowing in Cornish (as might ‘Estren’ itself). In my own opinion I would get rid of some of the obvious borrowings like ‘redya’, ‘understondya’ (Williams again) etc. I just don’t see the point in keeping words that are not part of the original language when it is quite clear from Breton and Welsh that there are solid alternatives that Cornish must had once had a version of. If Cornish had been spoken continually (like Welsh/Breton) then keeping such words would be a different matter but when so much has been reconstructed why hang on to obvious loan words that (to my mind) stick out like a sore thumb in a sentence… I’m afraid I feel the same about ‘Wolkomm’ - provenance or not :slight_smile: However I’d still give any version in Cornish my full approval at this stage and buy the soggiest chips there for the pleasure of walking under their sign :slight_smile:


Good points, Dyvrig. Ken George’s An Gerlyver Meur (the most comprehensive Cornish dictionary in any spelling system to date) has “astranj” but not “stranjer”, and as far as I know he includes just about every word used in the traditional texts, even if he doesn’t recommend all of them for use in revived Cornish. He always steers very heavily towards using Kernewek words rather than loan words where possible, since his system is mainly based on Middle Cornish. I’m not sure, but I think Nicolas Williams leans towards Late Cornish, which had a lot more English loan words (mainly because fewer and fewer people were speaking the language fluently by then and more English words were slipping into common use as the original words were forgotten).

On the other hand, George very definitely includes “redya” for “read” and notes that it was “borrowed in Old Cornish”, so that one has a very long pedigree — I don’t know if we know what the original equivalent term was, unless there’s an obvious one in Welsh and Breton. (We do have another verb “lenna”, meaning to read aloud.) On the other hand, “understondya” is a late borrowing and most Kernewek speakers I know would say “konvedhes”. As you say, it depends on one’s own preferences. I would also rather avoid obvious borrowings where there’s a perfectly serviceable Kernewek equivalent, but on the other hand it can be useful to have a few alternative words on hand. I’ve seen at least one Christmas carol translated by Ken George where he drops his usual aversion to loan words and uses “joy” (attested in some of the Middle Cornish texts) where “lowena” wouldn’t fit the rhythm! :smile:

I’m not sure about the provenance of “wolkomm” (I haven’t got to the point of studying the old texts yet!), but I think one reason it may have been borrowed is that, again according to George, using “dynnerghi” for “to welcome” is “a modern extension; in the texts is means ‘to send greetings from someone absent to someone present’.” So maybe that’s why Cornish speakers in the late period used “wolkomm”, because there wasn’t an exact equivalent in Cornish originally. Again, I don’t think “dynnergh” was ever used as an adjective either. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be, of course, in revived Cornish, but I don’t know if it’s accepted as standard at all. But yes, I too am always impressed enough to see any business using Kernewek (or trying to) that I’ll happily support them even if they’re not perfect at it (how many of us are, anyway?). As I said, at least the fish and chips were good. :wink:

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A lot there to think about! A first thought strikes me though that all reading was done out loud until fairly recently in history (at least that’s a popular theory) so there would not anciently have been a distinction. Perhaps lenna is the equivalent of the similar Breton word (leun?) and the ‘llen’ of darllen in Welsh?

On ‘wolcom’/‘wolkomm’ I can’t see how people would not always have said something to guests arriving in the door. I don’t know how old ‘lowena dhis’ is - or if that would serve that purpose but it seems to me that there must have been something… As in Irish something got adopted and gradually the original seemed out of date or just too long-winded perhaps.

I’ll have to get An Gerlyver Meur some day. I presume Ken George is sticking to his guns and there’s no chance of an SWF version coming out? :slight_smile: Now that I’ve decided to tackle the old KDL course (in Kernewek spelling) I may as well get the Kenewek version as any other…

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That’s a thought — I don’t know. But all Cornish speakers, as far as I’m aware, definitely use “redya” and I doubt anyone would see fit to change it now.

Yes, I wonder about that too. I don’t know if anyone has come to any conclusions, or we’d probably have at least some sort of consensus by now. We do use “Dynnergh dhis” / “dynnergh dhywgh” — since “dynnerghi” means to give greetings (though originally not from those present), that seems fair enough. That literally means “greetings to you”, which makes sense.

Where the “Dynnergh Stranjer” sign went wrong is that that’s not quite the same as the way we usually use “Welcome to…” in English — meaning “you are welcomed to [this place]”. Trying to do a literal translation from English and using “Dynnergh dhe Gernow” for “Welcome to Cornwall” doesn’t work, because we’re not meaning “Greetings to Cornwall”! :grin: Hence “Kernow a’gas dynnergh” — “Cornwall welcomes you” — instead.

Well, there’s really not very much difference overall between Kernewek Kemmyn (Ken’s system) and SWF. The main differences are that “oe” in Kemmyn becomes “o” or “oo” in SWF, some double letters are dropped and a few vowels are changed (so “gwydhenn” (tree) becomes “gwedhen”, for example). If you can read one, you can read the other. But SWF hasn’t been totally fixed and there are still more revisions being planned, I gather. Actually, there have been so many changes in spelling systems over the last few decades that it’s getting to the point where no-one is quite sure what the “correct” version is now — and hardly anyone minds nowadays so long as they can tell what you mean. As one of the examiners said to us at the Cornish Language Weekend last month when we were doing revision: “If you make a mistake in the exam and use Kemmyn instead of SWF or vice versa, don’t worry — we won’t know because we can’t spell either!” :grinning:

Anyway, chons da rag KDL :slight_smile: I started the old course a couple of years ago and liked it, but it is really hard unless you enjoy getting a lot of difficult grammar thrown at you all at once with very little explanation!! The new course (in Kemmyn or SWF) takes you into it a lot more gently and is better geared towards the current language exams, if you’re interested in taking them (I’m doing first grade this year).

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Oh dear… I was just looking at the homepage of Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek (the Cornish Language Fellowship), which is written in both Cornish and English, and Google kindly offered “Translate this page?” Now I know very well Google Translate doesn’t do Kernewek (yet) but I’ve seen it occasionally mistake Cornish for Welsh, which it seems to have done in this case. So just for fun, I said yes.

I’m now reading through the rather surreal results and I can’t stop laughing. :laughing: Here, for everyone’s edification, are some highlights from Google’s attempt to translate Kernewek — first the actual English translation from the website (I won’t include the original Kernewek in this case) and then what Google reckons it should be…

Cornwall and its language have been inextricably linked throughout history and its presence can still be seen all around in place names, family names and in dialect.

Kernow is all about Kelmys and all the players, the wandering of the game, the whole thing is a little tiller, a tall knitting song.

Following the successful growth of the Kowethas, in 1985 the two bodies formally separated but continue to work in the closest harmony for the benefit of the Cornish Language. In 2010 An Kylgh Kernewek came under the umbrella of the Kowethas.

Wosa Tevyans sewen the Kowethas, the devout god in 1985, and was buried in Kessenyans in the pure and well-known area of ​​Yeth Kernewek. 2010 The Kylgh Kernewek who made the Kowethas hand-in handbag.

The Kowethas is non-party political.

Ny’n jevydh the Kowethas your party politely.

Publishing is an important aspect of the work of the society.

Dyllo is a part of the Kowethas’s gossip ober shirt.

We need volunteers to help with the KaYK stalls at events across Cornwall and in Kowsva, our shop at Heartlands. Contact us please, if you can help.

Here we got a guy and the vowogyon of the KaYK stallow gorge vodogyon of Kernow’s hwarvosow dars all in Kowsva, agan gwerthji. Wrew kestava like a pillow, like kyllowgh hwi agan weres.

(I’ve been a member myself for a few years, but I must say I’ve just learned a few things about the Kowethas that I didn’t know before… :wink: )

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I saw them once in the back room of a pub in Kentish Town.

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The mind boggles. But obviously next time I’m in Kernow, I’ll have to listen out for the tall knitting song. :rofl:

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I didn’t know one was supposed to sing while knitting. Makes it a lot harder.:musical_note:

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“Chy an gwedhen” = “house of the tree” (or we could possibly translate it as “the treehouse”). There shouldn’t really be a hyphen between “chy” and “an”, if that’s what it’s meant to be, but otherwise that’s correct Kernewek, as far as I can see. (I think the spelling is Unified Cornish.)

I was thinking it was The Tree House. But I though it should have been mutated to “an wedhen”, because gwedhen is feminine.

But I have also encountered different dictionaries giving different genders for the same noun, eg: tikki Duw.

Oh yes, you’re right there — I missed that one! :flushed: Gwedhen is definitely feminine, because singulars from a collective noun (formed by adding “en”, or “enn” in some spellings) always are. That said, I’ve heard even some of the old texts get their mutations and other grammar rules wrong from time to time, especially in the Late Cornish period when there were fewer and fewer fluent speakers.

I’d heard that words ending “en” (or “enn”) were always feminine, but I had not realised they were singulars from collective nouns. Is there any difference with the way collective nouns and singulars formed this way act, or is it as if gwedh was the plural of gwedhen, even though it’s not?

There are particular rules for collective nouns and their singulars and how they act, but I’m not always sure of all the details myself (I’m still only Grade 2 level) — you’d be best off asking a teacher, I think :slight_smile:

Another mistake.

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Oops, yes. The same kind of mistake as the Cornish baking company that decided to brand itself as “Da Bara”… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

(Actually, South Australia’s biennial Cornish cultural festival also has the same problem — it’s called “Kernewek Lowender”. People have pointed it out to them, but apparently they can’t be bothered fixing it.)