Which version of Cornish is taught?

Which version of Cornish is it that the teachers are speaking in the Cornish audio course? I have been learning from Daniel Prohaska’s audio course which he says is of early modern Cornish. The Cornish here is spoken rather differently in a few ways. The vowels and rhythm are different, and it often sounds like it is spoken like English. I am happy to learn any sort of Cornish, it’s just that I would like to know which version it is that I am learning. Also you have my appreciation for spreading knowledge of the Cornish language.
Yours sincerely

I think it’s based on Medieval Cornish.

The best people for you to talk to about this would be MAGA, the Cornish Language partnership:

My understanding is that there is a certain amount of standardisation going on now - there’s been a standard written form since 2008 (which was badly needed) - but like any language, there’ll be different ways of saying things, and they won’t necessarily fit into neat ‘versions’. :sunny:

From numerous conversations with MAGA, I understand that there is fairly much only one commonly spoken form of Cornish. The various different types of Cornish are mostly about the orthography rather than the vocabulary / structures used, and the SSiC lessons have all been run by the custodians of the language to make sure that they are “correct”. In other words, the Cornish in SSiC should see you talking comfortably with other Cornish speakers without suddenly finding that you are speaking something different.

I’m also told that, unlike Welsh, there is only one dialect of Cornish. This is because a) Cornish people moved around the county a lot, moving from mine to mine, or working around all the farms etc, so mixing any “different” forms into one, anc of course, historically, the pool of speakers has become so small that if there were any regional variations, these have been lost.

The other advantage of learning SSiC Cornish is that, with ony a handful of fluent speakers, the majority of becoming-comfortable learners will be SSiC users (we have over 1000 learners registered), so even if they are not 100% SSiCers, they will be more than familiar with the language taught in SSiC.

I hope that helps you to relax that you are learnin mainstream Cornish, and not some esoteric offshoot that will get you into trouble! Relax and enjoy it!


Thank you for your replies. That’s a bit odd, it goes contrary to what I have previously learned. Quoting something I’ve just found online with a search engine, “The Cornish Language in North America” by Benjamin Brunch (possibly dated 2004),

“Traditional Cornish can be further subdivided into Old (c.800-c.1200), Middle (c.1200-c.1625), and Late Cornish (c.1625-c.1800), on the basis of various changes in phonology, morphology, and syntax (see George 1993: 410, which gives slightly different dates)”
By traditional he means the language before the revival.

In Dan Prohaska’s audio course he said that there were two main varieties of revived Cornish, one being based on the mainly religious literature of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, and the other on the later variety spoken in Penwith and The Lizard, of the 17th and 18th centuries. In his audio course he usually uses the Cornish word for “ye”, whereas in the SSiC one it is usually the word for “thou”. Daniel Prohaska’s said two ways of saying the word for “thou”, both being different to the one in SSiC. There are other differences in pronunciation between the two audio courses.
On the website www.kernewegva.com there is a PDF file named “Specification_Final_Version.pdf”, but also named “An Outline of the Standard Written Form of Cornish”, which has a cornish language partnership MAGA logo on the first page, which also credits Mr Dan Ryan-Prohaska, which lists pronunciations with revived middle Cornish on the left, and revived late Cornish on the right. I’ve just looked at the pronunciations of two words in that document and it looks like Daniel Prohaska’s one is revived late Cornish, with the SSIC one being revived middle Cornish, except it a more English accent.

This all makes it seem as though more than one sort of Cornish is being revived. Actually I think I’ve answered my own question thanks to that .PDF file.

Lestyn, how mainstream or esoteric something does not influence me much when it comes to reviving a part of the past, so that’ll be fine either way (the appeal of something popular is probably the main attraction of English in Cornwall). I’m just interested in learning how people used to speak in Cornwall. :slight_smile:

(I am very late in writing this)

Following Aran’s advice, I wrote to them on the “contact us” page. On the tenth of September, a chap wrote back to me and said that with SSiC they eschew labelling it as medieval or early modern Cornish, and that the grammar and vocabulary is amalgam.

Amalgam is an alloy of mercury and other metals, so the SSiC grammar and vocabulary is an alloy, and not purely from one time period. So what is the mercury of this language, and what are the other metals?
It used to be that in English, the words “thou” and “thee” were for a single person, and “ye” and “you” for multiple. It became polite to say “ye” and “you” when speaking to a single person, and now (mostly) only the word “you” remains. This happened in Cornish too.
I am using MAGA’s pronunciation guide in their “An Outline of the Standard Written Form of Cornish” .pdf, because I do not understand the language enough to know just by listening.

(You have my apology for any spelling mistakes)
SSiC has “Te a vyn.” “Te” is like “thou,” so it is like saying “thou will.” Its pronunciation matches Revived Middle Cornish (RMC), and not Revived Late Cornish (RLC).
For “house” it has “chi,” which is RMC.
How “me” is said matches RMC. I can’t tell by looking whether or not it matches RLC too.
It has “nyns” and not “nag”, which in the pdf is said to be RMC and not RLC.

Because of these things, it seems the mercury of this amalgam is revived middle Cornish. I don’t know any more, but perhaps words and grammar forms are taken from later Cornish writings that are not in the known existing middle Cornish writings, to make a more complete language, while keeping it mostly medieval (apart from the accent, which makes me think of Buckingham palace).

Great, glad to hear that they got back to you, and thanks for sharing this overview… :sunny:

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I wonder if there is any chance of getting to talk and listen to someone, like the singer Gwenno, who apparently has been brought up from birth to speak both Cornish and Welsh by her Cornish speaking Father and Welsh speaking mother. I imagine it is quite difficult to learn a language when you are not convinced by the accent or pronounciations that you are hearing - even if it is correct and authentic, once you have that suspicion you need to find someone to talk to you who can convince you it is authentic and natural. I imagine that a Welsh speaker from south East wales who has learned cornish from a young age or a similar breton speaker doing the same, will be as close as you might get to authentic. I know that Cornish is now living again, but I myself always have that niggling doubt about whether it has been revived authetically and I guess we will never really know and the various revisions and versions of Cornish show up the uncertainties…

@Toffidil I’ve wondered that too, but as you say, we can never really be sure, as the last native speakers died well before there was the technology to record what they sounded like. I would guess too that a southern Welsh or Breton accent would be the closest, but it’s hard to say. Even if Cornish had remained alive as a spoken language, I suppose the accent/pronunciations might still have changed over time anyway from what they were like in the late 1700s — the period of the last fluent Cornish speakers — up till now.

I guess what matters most to me is that Cornish has been revived and is now a living language again that people can learn and speak and use, whether or not it’s ever exactly the same as it was historically. I’m sure my own pronunciation of it (as an Australian!) is questionable at times, but I loved this line that was recently posted on Facebook in an ad for a new Cornish-English phrasebook: “An unsel leveryans kamm yn Kernewek yw taw!” / “The only incorrect pronunciation in Kernewek is silence!” :sun_with_face:



You are correct the revival of the language is the most important thing here and the accent is a bit of a distraction, but it is a very natural curiosity I think. Perhaps curiosity over the accent is just a niggling bit of romanticism. I was surprised by the Breton accents which I have listened to – you would never associate the accent of a Breton speaker with the accent of a Cornish person or someone from Wales, so the languages may be linked, but not really the accents. I am a little bit intrigued by accents though and I trawled through you tube trying to find clips of Cornish speakers and Breton speakers (not easy to find long passages in either language surprisingly – how lucky we are in Wales in have an endless supply of media materials to listen to). The most interesting thing were the opinions in the comments that people were posting – there were a lot of comments in relation to accents, but never from posters who indicated that they spoke other languages like Welsh or Irish.

A lot of people commenting that they thought the Cornish speakers sounded very English and the Breton speakers sounded very French etc. As you have said over time the accents would change anyway, in much the same way that American accents are influencing the English language quite profoundly at present – perhaps a bit of Aus coming into that mix as well… So I guess if Cornish had continued to be spoken, in an unbroken fashion to this day, it would be very strongly influenced by the English accents in the surrounding areas or from around the world, in much the same way as Breton and indeed Welsh are today. So I guess the key thing is to hope that the language achieves a healthy revival, hopefully driven from within it’s heartland and the accents will be what they’ll be and that will be authentic.


In my experience, it seems as though a large neighbour has a particular impact on vowel sounds, which may be part of this. I’ve known Basque speakers who weren’t sure they could tell the difference between spoken Welsh and spoken English (who were then disbelievingly horrified at the thought that it might not be obvious to us when they were speaking Spanish and when they were speaking Basque!..;-)).


Funny you mentioned vowel sounds - while trawling I saw some curious research about the voice of Sean Connery - apparently amongst other things, the voice most likely to raise the most funds for children in need. The analysis of his voice started by analysiing his vowel sounds and the mix he had acquired from his working class Edinburgh background and later stage training - comparing the vowel sounds in received pronounciation, which apparently has a lot more than the dialect he grew up with. Apparently he just has that fusion that seems to apeal to to most people. Is it a case that more standardised forms of the dominant langauges generally have more vowel sounds and rely less on other things like volume and pitch?

Ooh, that’s interesting. I’m not aware of any studies on range of vowel sounds vs standardisation - it strikes me that it would require a fairly tricky set of definitions - but I’d be very interested if you find any… :sunny:

Defining Britain’s most appealing voice: An accent profile of Sir Sean Connery

Also linied to this, there was some work done staging Shakespeare in reconstructed accents for performances at the globe. Some mention of how current American may actualy hold some aspects of English from that time and also how some of the rhyming in the original has now been lost by using RP

PS. I think in the Sean Connery text SSE refers to Scottish Standard English and not sign language, but may be wrong

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Talking of accents, even just listening to the different presenters each week on An Nowodhow (Cornish language news bulletin on BBC Radio Cornwall), I find it interesting how much variety there is in their accents. I would guess it partly depends on what accent they have naturally when speaking English! In the SSiC lessons so far, too, the two tutors — Pol and Julia — have noticeably different accents as well. But that doesn’t really make it any harder to understand, for me at least; it’s good to hear different voices speaking the language so one can get used to little variations in pronunciation, just like we have in English.

Interesting to hear about Sean Connery having Britain’s most appealing voice. Maybe it’s because it’s the accent people still associate with… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jdRfe6f9YE :wink:

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It probably is the James Bond connection - but is definately quite a unique voice - as have many others I guess that impersonators tend to enjoy, like Michael Cain etc

I wonder if anyone has ever attempted to strip out features of the strongest of Cornish accents, to identify any unique sounds such as vowel sounds, that are not present in RP for instance or other dialects of English. I know that the change in Scottish Gaelic has been analysed for certain features that are gradually dissapearing. I only wonder since it might give some clues to vowel sounds that resonate from a time.before English took over.

It did help that Edward Lhuyd, a Welshman and a linguist, went around Cornwall taking notes of the speech back when it was still spoken, and recording it in phonetic notation—a sort of early precursor to the International Phonetic Alphabet.

So I believe some of the revived pronunciation is based on the notes that he took, and some on the English accent of West Penwith, the area where Cornish survived longest, on the theory that the Cornish spoken there may have influenced the sound of the English there and that the typical English pronunciation heard there may give us clues to traditional Cornish pronunciation.

But actual sounds recordings we do not have, as you say, so we cannot be completely sure.

And so scholars disagree on some of the finer points of pronunciation, or things such as how many distinct vowel phonemes there are, or exactly what they sound like, or whether there were three length distinctions (short, half-long, long) or just two (short and long), and so on.


Hi madeupname_1,
Thanks for mentioning my course which is indeed based on what is usually referred to as Late Cornish, i.e. the Cornish written down in the 17th and 18th centuries. It differs in a few points from the reconstructed pronunciation of mediaeval Cornish (14th-16th). Both pronunciations are reconstructions, of course, and there will have been a broad transitional time period between where one pronunciation gradually developed into the newer form, or even where old and new pronunciations were used side by side. I will use the abbreviations MC for Middle Cornish or Mediaeval Cornish and LC for Late Cornish:

Some differences are:

-) ‹u› was pronounced [y] in MC (as in French ‹lune› “moon” or German ‹grün› “green”); in LC this had changed into the same sound used for ‹i›, that is like “ee” in English “green”;

-) The parallel case is the vowel written ‹eu›; in MC is was pronounced [œ] as in French ‹sœur› “sister” or German [ø] in ‹Größe› “size”. In LC this vowel came to be pronounced identically to what is spelt ‹e› in Standard Cornish.

-) a long ‹i›-sound which occurs at the end of a word is pronounced as “ee” in English “green” in MC, but in LC this has become a diphthong and pronounced a little like speakers of western traditional Cornish-English dialect speakers would pronounce the vowel in “try” or “eye”. This change doesn’t affect a huge number of words, but the words affected are quite common, such as ‹hi› “she”, ‹ni› “we”, ‹hwei› “you” and ‹i› they, as well as ‹chi› “house” and ‹ki› “dog”. In standard written Cornish these words may alternatively be written with ‹ei› rather than ‹i›.

-) Words spelt with ‹s› that correspond to Welsh and Breton ‹d› are more frequently pronounced with a j-sound, as in (“John” or “George”), for example: LC ‹kreji› “to believe” or LC ‹uji› “is” for MC ‹krysi› and ‹usi›.

-) Many instances of MC ‹y› become ‹e› in LC;

These are the main differences. It may sound a little different, but fluent Cornish speakers of both varieties can communicate without difficulty and the differences are no greater than between two dialects in another language, or say, between the the SSiW course versions based on Northern Welsh and Southern Welsh.



I object to labelling Cornish varieties that don’t strictly adhere to Maga’s Revived Middle Cornish as “esoteric”. The variety based on Late Cornish is recognised as an alternative pronunciation with some grammatical forms and constructions of its own as well as a few spelling variants officially sanctioned in the MAGA Standard Written Form agreement. For further questions in the matter I’m happy to provide more information.


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Did Iestyn say that? I’ve a passing interest in learning Cornish, so have been following these threads. What I took away from what he said was “there’s not a lot of difference between the various forms of Cornish, so what we teach isn’t going to be an esoteric form” rather than saying that anything different to Maga is esoteric. I’m not trying to paraphrase him or put words in his mouth -or indeed saying that it is true- just saying that that is the impression I had.

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Meur ras dhewgh, OwainLurch,

I may have been a little “direct” in my objection, and Iestyn did only mention it at the end in some jocular way, so I may have overreacted.