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Transcribed from the 1904 David Nutt edition by David Price, email




“Never credit me but I will spowt some Cornish at him.
_Peden bras_, _vidne whee bis cregas_.”

_The Northern Lass_, by RICH BROME, 1632.


At the Ballantyne Press


H. L. J.

_Kerra ow Holon_! _Beniges re vo_
_Gans bennath Dew an dêdh a ’th ros dhemmo_,
_Dhô whelas gerryow gwan pan dhetha vî_,
_Tavas dha dassow_, _ha dhô ’th drovya dî_.
_En cov an dêdh splan-na es pel passyes_;
_En cov idn dêdh lowenek_, _gwin ’gan bês_,
_War Garrak Loys en Côs_, _es en dan skês_
_Askelly Myhal El_, _o ’gan gwithes_;
_En cov lîas dêdh wheg en Kernow da_,
_Ha nŷ mar younk_—_na whekkah vel êr-ma_
_Dhemmo a dhîg genev an gwella tra_,
_Pan dhetha vî en kerh_, _en ol bro-na_;
_Dheso mî re levar dha davas teg_,
_Flogh ow empinyon vî_, _dhô ’m kerra Gwrêg_.


_Scrîfes en agan Chŷ nŷ_,
_Dawthegves dêdh Mîs Gorefan_
_En Bledhan agan Arledh_, 1904.


This book is principally intended for those persons of Cornish
nationality who wish to acquire some knowledge of their ancient tongue,
and to read, write, and perhaps even to speak it. Its aim is to
represent in an intelligible form the Cornish of the later period, and
since it is addressed to the general Cornish public rather than to the
skilled philologist, much has been left unsaid that might have been of
interest to the latter, old-fashioned phonological and grammatical terms
have been used, a uniform system of spelling has been adopted, little
notice has been taken of casual variations, and the arguments upon which
the choice of forms has been based have not often been given.

The spelling has been adapted for the occasion. All writers of Cornish
used to spell according to their own taste and fancy, and would sometimes
represent the same word in different ways even in the same page, though
certain general principles were observed in each period. There was a
special uncertainty about the vowels, which will be easily appreciated by
those who are familiar with Cornish English. Modern writers of all
languages prefer consistent spelling, and to modern learners, whose
object is linguistic rather than philological, a fairly regular system of
orthography is almost a necessity. The present system is not the
phonetic ideal of “one sound to each symbol, and one symbol for each
sound,” but it aims at being fairly consistent with itself, not too
difficult to understand, not too much encumbered with diacritical signs,
and not too startlingly different from the spellings of earlier times,
especially from that of Lhuyd, whose system was constructed from living
Cornish speakers. The writer has arrived at his conclusions by a
comparison of the various existing spellings with one another, with the
traditional fragments collected and recorded by himself in 1875, with the
modern pronunciation of Cornish names, with the changes which English has
undergone in the mouths of the less educated of Cornishmen, and to some
extent with Breton. The author suggests that this form of spelling
should be generally adopted by Cornish students of their old speech. The
system cannot in the nature of things be strictly accurate, but it is
near enough for practical purposes. Possibly there is much room for
controversy, especially as to such details as the distribution of long
and short vowels, the representation of the Middle Cornish _u_, _ue_,
_eu_ sometimes by _î_, sometimes by _ê_, and sometimes by _eu_ or _ew_,
or of the Middle Cornish _y_ by _i_, _e_, or _y_, or occasionally by an
obscure _ă_, _ŏ_, or _ŭ_, and it is quite likely that others might arrive
at different conclusions from the same evidence, though those conclusions
might not be any the nearer to the sounds which the Cornishmen of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries really did make. As for grammatical
forms, it will be seen that the writer is of opinion that the difference
between Middle and Modern Cornish was more apparent than real, and that
except in the very latest period of all, when the language survived only
in the mouths of the least educated persons, the so-called “corruptions”
were to a great extent due to differences of spelling, to a want of
appreciation of almost inaudible final consonants, and to an
intensification of phonetic tendencies existing in germ at a much earlier
period. Thus it is that inflections which in the late Cornish often seem
to have been almost, if not quite, inaudible, have been written in full,
for that is the author’s notion, founded on what Middle Cornishmen
actually did write, of what Modern Cornishmen were trying to express.
For most things he has precedents, though he has allowed himself a
certain amount of conjecture at times, and in most cases of difficulty he
has trusted, as he would advise his readers to do, to Breton rather than
to Welsh, for the living Breton of to-day is the nearest thing to Cornish
that exists.

Why should Cornishmen learn Cornish? There is no money in it, it serves
no practical purpose, and the literature is scanty and of no great
originality or value. The question is a fair one, the answer is simple.
Because they are Cornishmen. At the present day Cornwall, but for a few
survivals of Duchy jurisdictions, is legally and practically a county of
England, with a County Council, a County Police, and a Lord-Lieutenant
all complete, as if it were no better than a mere Essex or Herts. {0a}
But every Cornishman knows well enough, proud as he may be of belonging
to the British Empire, that he is no more an Englishman than a Caithness
man is, that he has as much right to a separate local patriotism to his
little Motherland, which rightly understood is no bar, but rather an
advantage to the greater British patriotism, {0b} as has a Scotsman, an
Irishman, a Welshman, or even a Colonial; and that he is as much a Celt
and as little of an “Anglo-Saxon” as any Gael, Cymro, Manxman, or Breton.
Language is less than ever a final test of race. Most Cornishmen
habitually speak English, and few, very few, could hold five minutes’
conversation in the old Celtic speech. Yet the memory of it lingers on,
and no one can talk about the country itself, and mention the places in
it, without using a wealth of true Cornish words. But a similar thing
may be said of a very large proportion of Welshmen, Highlanders,
Irishmen, Manxmen, and Bretons.

_Omnia Græce_,
_Quum sit turpe magis nostris nescire Latine_.

The reason why a Cornishman should learn Cornish, the outward and audible
sign of his separate nationality, is sentimental, and not in the least
practical, and if everything sentimental were banished from it, the world
would not be as pleasant a place as it is.

Whether anything will come of the Cornish part of the Celtic movement
remains to be seen, but it is not without good omen that this book is
published at the “Sign of the Phoenix.”

A few words of comprehensive apology for the shortcomings of this
handbook. When the writer was asked by the Secretary of the
Celtic-Cornish Society to undertake a Cornish grammar, which was the
origin of this book, it was more than twenty years since he had dropped
his Cornish studies in favour of other and more immediately necessary
matters. Much of what he once knew had been forgotten, and had to be
learnt over again, and the new grammar was wanted quickly. There must
needs be, therefore, inaccuracies and inconsistencies, especially with
regard to the spelling, which had to be constructed, and he is conscious
also that there are at least two living men, if no more, who could have
made a far better book. Of either of these two, Dr. Whitley Stokes and
Prof. Joseph Loth, Doyen of the Faculty of Letters in Rennes University,
who probably know more about Cornish between them than any one else ever
did, the writer may well say, as John Boson of Newlyn said of Keigwin two
centuries ago, “_Markressa an dean deskez fear-na gwellaz hemma_, _ev a
venja kavaz fraga e owna en skreefa-composter_, _etc._” {0c} For,
indeed, even in that same _skreefa-composter_ is there much scope for
argument, and Boson’s “et cetera” stands for a good deal besides.

It is not given to a grammar-writer to strive after originality. If he
did so, he would probably not be the better grammarian. The writer
therefore has no hesitation in acknowledging to the full his many
obligations to previous workers on the subject. To Lhuyd and Pryce, to
Gwavas, Tonkin, Boson, and Borlase he owes much (and also,
parenthetically, he thanks Mr. John Enys of Enys for lending him the
Borlase MS.). But it is to the workers of the second half of the
nineteenth century, living or departed, that he owes most, and especially
to Dr. Edwin Norris, Dr. Whitley Stokes, Prof. Loth, Canon Robert
Williams, and Dr. Jago. Of the works of these writers he has made ample
use, though he has not necessarily agreed with them in every detail.

The well-known work of Edwin Norris has been of the greatest value in
every way, and the copious examples given in his “Sketch of Cornish
Grammar” have frequently saved the writer the trouble of searching for
examples himself. Dr. Whitley Stokes’s editions of two dramas and a poem
have been of the greatest assistance, the notes to the _St.

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