{{Infobox Language
|name = Anglo-Cornish, Cornish Dialect, Cornu-English, Cornish English
|nativename =
|familycolor = Indo-European
|states = United Kingdom
|region = Cornwall
|speakers = unknown
|fam1 = Indo-European
|fam2 = Germanic
|fam3 = West Germanic
|fam4 = Anglo Frisian
|fam5 = Anglic
|fam6 = English
|fam7 =
|iso1 =
|iso2 =
|iso3 =
Cornish Dialect (also known as Cornish English, Cornu-English, or Anglo-Cornish) is a dialect of English spoken in Cornwall by Cornish people. Dialectal English spoken in Cornwall is significantly influenced by Cornish grammar, and often includes words derived from the Cornish language. The Cornish language is a Celtic language of the Brythonic branch alongside Welsh and Breton. In addition to the distinctive words and grammar, there are a variety of accents found across Cornwall from the North coast to that of the South coast and from East to West Cornwall, each town and locality is believed to have their own distinct accent. [1][2]

History Edit

The first speakers of an English Language to be found in Cornwall were invading Anglo-Saxon settlers primarily in Dumnonii and later the far northeast of Cornwall around between the Ottery and Tamar rivers, and in the lower Tamar valley, from around the 10th century and onwards. There are a number of relatively early placenames of English origin, especially in these areas.[3]

The further spread of the English language in Cornwall was retarded by the change to Norman French as the main language of administration after the Norman Conquest. In addition continued communication with Brittany, where a closely related, common Brythonic - Celtic language was spoken supported the tendency to retain the usage of the existing Cornish language.

However from around the 13th to 14th centuries, the revival of the use of English in the administrative field, and the development of a vernacular Middle English literary tradition[4], supported the expansion of the English language's domain within Cornwall. In the Tudor period, various events, including the imposition of an English language prayer book in 1549, and lack of a translation of the Bible into Cornish led to a process of language shift from Cornish to English.

The major difference in the history of Cornwall in this respect was that the language shift from Cornish to English occurred much later the language shift from British Celtic language in other areas. It is thought that in Devon and beyond, the Celtic language had ceased to be spoken before the Norman Conquest.[5] In the westernmost areas of Cornwall, the date of the language shift was as late as the 18th century. [6] For this reason, there are important differences between the Anglo-Cornish dialect and other West Country dialects.
File:Cornish Language Shift.svg

Cornish was the most widely spoken language west of the River Tamar until around the mid-1300s, when Middle English began to be adopted as a common language of the Cornish people.[7] As late as 1542 Andrew Boorde, an English traveller, physician and writer, wrote that in Cornwall were two languages, "Cornysshe" and "Englysshe", but that "there may be many men and women" in Cornwall who could not understand English".[8] With the Norman language holding primacy in much of the English aristocracy, Cornish was used as a lingua franca, particularly in the remote far west of Cornwall.[9] Many Cornish landed gentry chose mottos in the Cornish language for their coats of arms, highlighting its socially high status.[10] (The Carminow family used the motto "Cala rag whethlow", for example.)[11] However, in 1549 and following the English Reformation, King Edward VI of England commanded that the Book of Common Prayer, an Anglican liturgical text in the English language, should be introduced to all churches in his kingdom, meaning that Latin and Celtic customs and services should be discontinued.[12] The Prayer Book Rebellion was a militant revolt in Cornwall and parts of neighbouring Devon against the Act of Uniformity 1549, which outlawed all languages from church services apart from English,[13] and is specified as a testament to the affection and loyalty the Cornish people held for the Cornish language.[10] In the rebellion, separate risings occurred simultaneously in Bodmin in Cornwall, and Sampford Courtenay in Devon—which would both converge at Exeter, laying siege to the region's largest Protestant city.[14] However, the rebellion was suppressed thanks largely to the aid of foreign mercenaries in a series of battles in which "hundreds were killed",[15] effectively ending Cornish as the common language of the Cornish people.[8] The Anglicanism of the Reformation served as a vehicle for Anglicisation in Cornwall; Protestantism had a lasting cultural effect upon the Cornish by way of linking Cornwall more closely with England, while lessening political and linguistic ties with the Bretons of Brittany.[16]

The English Civil War, a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists, polarised the populations of England and Wales. However, Cornwall in the English Civil War was a staunchly Royalist enclave, an "important focus of support for the Royalist cause".[17] Cornish soldiers were used as scouts and spies during the war, for their language was not understood by English Parliamentarians.[17] The peace that followed the close of the war led to a further shift to the English language by the Cornish people, which encouraged an influx of English people to Cornwall. By the mid-17th century the use of the Cornish language had retreated far enough west to prompt concern and investigation by antiquarians, such as William Scawen.[16][17] As the Cornish language diminished the people of Cornwall underwent a process of English enculturation and assimilation,[18] becoming "absorbed into the mainstream of English life".[19]

International use Edit

Large scale 19th and 20th century emigrations of Cornish people meant that there were large populations of Anglo-Cornish speakers established in parts of North America, Australia, and South Africa. This Cornish diaspora has continued to use Anglo-Cornish, and certain phrases and terms have moved into common parlance in some of those countries.

There has been discussion over whether certain words found in North America have an origin in the Cornish language, mediated through Anglo-Cornish dialect.[20] Legends of the Fall, a novella by American author Jim Harrison, detailing the lives of a Cornish American family in the early 20th century, contains several Cornish language terms. These were also included in the Academy Award-winning film of the same name starring Anthony Hopkins as Col. William Ludlow and Brad Pitt as Tristan Ludlow. Some words in American English are almost identical to those in Anglo-Cornish:[21]

South AustralianAborigines, particularly the Nunga, are said to speak English with a Cornish accent because they were taught English by Cornish miners.[22][23] Most large towns in South Australia had newspapers at least partially in Cornish dialect; for instance, the Northern Star published in Kapunda in the 1860s carried material in dialect.[24][25][26] At least 23 Cornish words have made their way into Australian English; these include the mining terms fossick and nugget.[27]

Geography Edit

There is a difference between the form of Anglo-Cornish spoken in west Cornwall and that found in areas further east. In the eastern areas, the form of English that the formerly Cornish-speaking population learnt was that of the general southwestern dialect, picked up primarily through relatively local trade and other communications over a long period of time. Template:Citation needed In contrast, in western areas, the language was learned from English as used by the clergy and landed classes, who would have been educated at the English universities of Oxford and Cambridge.[28] English was learned relatively late across the western half of Cornwall (see map above) and this was a more Modern English form, the English language itself having undergone change.[29] Particularly in the west, the Cornish language substrate left characteristic markers in the Anglo-Cornish dialect.

Phonologically speaking, the lentition of f, s, th occurs in East Cornwall, as in the core West Country dialect area, but not in west Cornwall. The vowel in the second person pronoun, you (and many other occurances of the same vowel) is pronounced as in standard British English in the west of Cornwall, but east of the Bodmin district, a 'sharpening' of the vowel occurs, which is a feature also found in Devon. Plural nouns such as ha'pennies, pennies and ponies are pronounced in west Cornwall as if these words ended not in -eez but -uz. The pronounciation of the numeral five varies from foive in the west to fav in the east, approaching the Devon pronunciation. [30]

Variations in the lexicon also occur, for example: the dialect word for ant is, in East Cornwall, emmet which is a word of Old English etymology, whereas in West Cornwall the word muryan is used. This is a word from the Cornish language. There is also this pair; meaning the weakest pig of a litter; nestle-bird (sometimes nestle-drish) in East Cornwall, and (piggy-)whidden in West Cornwall. Whidden may derive from Cornish byghan (small), or gwynn (white). Further, there is pagetty-pow vs a four-legged emmet in west and mid Cornwall respectively. It may be noted that the Cornish[31] word for the numeral four is peswar. The west Cornwall dialect words are derived from the Late Cornish period, whereas the majority of revived Cornish that the reader is likely to see today is based on Middle Cornish spellings.

There are also grammatical variations between forms of Cornish dialect between east and west Cornwall, such the use of us for the standard English we and her for she in East Cornwall, a feature shared with western Devon dialect.[32] I be and its negative I bain't are more common close to the Devon border.[33]

== Lexicon and grammar ==
See also List of Cornish dialect words

Dialect words found in Cornwall include words also found in other West Country Dialects, as well as many specific to Anglo-Cornish. [34][35][36]

It is popularly asserted that the grammar of Cornish dialect is not written down, but that's not true. There is quite a lot about it which is written down, but it's in a lot of different places and there's no one person who knows where all of those places are.

Ken Phillipps gave some indications of the grammar of Cornish dialect in his 1993 book:[30]

  • reversals (e.g. Her aunt brought she up)
    * archaisms (e.g. give 'un to me - 'un is a descendant of Old English hine)
    * the retention of thou and ye (thee and ye (’ee)) - Why doesn't thee have a fringe?
    * double plurals - clothes-line postesTemplate:Clarify
    * irregular use of the definite article - He died right in the Christmas
    * use of the definite article with proper names - Did 'ee knaw th'old Canon Harris?
    * the omission of prepositions - went chapel
    * the extra ‘y’ suffix on the infinitive of verbs I ain't one to
    gardeny, but I do generally teal the garden every spring
    * ‘they’ as a demonstrative adjective - they books

The use of *'them' in this way is not a traditional Cornish dialect form, and derives from upcountry English dialects, although it is often heard in Cornwall today. [37]

  • frequent use of the word ‘up’ as an adverb - answering up
    * the use of ‘some’ as an adverb of degree - She's some good maid to work

Many of these are influenced by the substrate of the Cornish language. The dialect usage for months is, for example, " May month", rather than just "May" for the fifth month of the year. The Cornish language word for the month of May is "mis-Me". Grammatically speaking, mis is the noun (meaning English "month") and Me the adjective, and in the Cornish language, the adjective almost always follows the noun rather than precedes it.[38] When Cornish people learned English, using "May" as the adjective qualifying the noun "month", having learnt that adjectives precede nouns in English, they naturally said "May month".Template:Citation needed

Sociolinguistics Edit

From the late 19th to the early 21st century, the Anglo-Cornish dialect declined somewhat due to the spread of long-distance travel, mass education and the mass media, and increased migration into Cornwall of people from, principally, the south east of England (see also Upcountry (usage in Cornish dialect)). Universal elementary education had begun in England and Wales in the 1870s. Although the erosion of dialect is popularly blamed on the mass media, many academics assert the primacy of face-to-face linguistic contact in dialect levelling. It is further asserted by some that peer groups are the the primary mechanism. [39] It is unclear whether in the erosion of the Anglo-Cornish dialect, high levels of migration into Cornwall from outside in the twentieth century, or deliberate efforts to supress dialect forms in an educational context are the primary causative factor. Anglo-Cornish dialect speakers are more likely than Received Pronunciation speakers in Cornwall to experience social and economical disadvantages and poverty, including spiralling housing costs, in many, particularly coastal areas of Cornwall,[40] and have at times been actively discouraged from using the dialect, particularly in the schools. [41][42]

A. L. Rowse wrote in his autobiographical A Cornish Childhood, about his experiences of a Received Pronunciation prestige variety of English (here referred to as the "King's English"), being associated with well-educated people, and therefore Anglo-Cornish by implication a lack of education:

'It does arise directly from the consideration of the struggle to get away from speaking Cornish dialect and to speak correct English, a struggle which I began thus early and pursued constantly with no regret, for was it not the key which unlocked the door to all that lay beyond--Oxford, the world of letters, the community of all who speak the King’s English, from which I should otherwise have been infallibly barred? But the struggle made me very sensitive about language; I hated to be corrected; nothing is more humiliating: and it left me with a complex about Cornish dialect. The inhibition which I had imposed on myself left me, by the time I got to Oxford, incapable of speaking it; and for years, with the censor operating subconsciously...'[43]


Once it was noticed that many aspects of Cornish dialect were gradually passing out of use, various individuals and organisations (including the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies)[44] began to make efforts to preserve the dialect. This included collecting lists of dialect words, although grammatical features were not always well recorded. Nevertheless, Ken Phillipps's 1993 Glossary of the Cornish Dialect[30] is an accessible reference work which does include details of grammar and phonology. A more popular guide to Cornish dialect has been written by Les Merton, titled Oall Rite Me Ansum![45]

Another project to record examples of Cornish dialect[46] is being undertaken by Azook Community Interest Company. More information on their project should hopefully be uploaded to their website dreckly, although it has received coverage in the local news.[47]

It has been proposed, that a Committee of recognised academics in Universities be assembled to listen to the authorities on Cornish Dialect, these being people who have lived in Cornwall all their life (to date) and learned their dialect from the "oldtimers".

There have been a number of literary works published in Anglo-Cornish dialect from the 19th century onwards.

  • Walter Hawken Tregellas was the eldest son of John Tabois Tregellas (1792–1863), merchant at Truro, purser of Cornish mines, and author of many stories written in the local dialect of the county.[48][49][50] [51]
    * There is a range of dialect literature dating back to the 19th century referenced in Bernard Deacon's PhD thesis. [52]
    *'The Cledry Plays; drolls of old Cornwall for village acting and home reading' (Robert Morton Nance (Mordon), 1956). [53] In his own words from the preface: these plays were "aimed at carrying on the West-Penwith tradition of turning local folk tales into plays for Christmas acting. What they took over from these guise-dance drolls, as they were called, was their love of the local speech and their readiness to break here and there into rhyme or song". And of the music he says "the simple airs do not ask for accompaniment or for trained voices to do them justice. They are only a slight extension of the music that West-Penwith voices will put into the dialogue."
    * Cornish Dialect Stories: About Boy Willie (H. Lean, 1953) [54]
    * Pasties and Cream: a Proper Cornish Mixture (Molly Bartlett (Scryfer Ranyeth), 1970): a collection of Anglo-Cornish dialect stories that had won competitions organised by the Cornish Gorseth. [55]
    * Cornish Faist: a selection of prize winning dialect prose and verse from the Gorsedd of Cornwall Competitions. [56]
    * Various literary works by Alan M. Kent, Nick Darke and Craig Weatherhill

==See also==
* List of Cornish dialect words
* Regional accents of English speakers
* Gallo (Brittany)
* Lowland Scots

Other English dialects heavily influenced by Celtic languages
* Anglo-Manx
* Bungi creole
* Hiberno-English
* Highland English (and Scottish English)
* Welsh English

  1. Template:Cite web
  2. Template:Cite web
  3. Template:Citation/core
  4. Template:Citation/core
  5. Template:Citation/core
  6. Template:Cite journal
  7. Cornwall Council (23 June 2009), Overview Of Cornish History,,, retrieved 2009-07-03
  8. 8.0 8.1 Cornwall Council (10 June 2009), Timeline of Cornish History 1066-1700 AD,,, retrieved 2009-07-03
  9. Tanner, Marcus (2006), The Last of the Celts, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300115352; p. 225
  10. 10.0 10.1 Tanner, Marcus (2006), The Last of the Celts, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300115352; p. 226
  11. Pascoe, W. H. (1979) A Cornish Armory. Padstow: Lodenek Press; p. 27
  12. Cornwall Council (23 June 2009), Overview Of Cornish History,,, retrieved 2009-07-03
  13. Pittock, Murray (1999), Celtic Identity and the British Image, Manchester University Press, ISBN 9780719058264; p. 122
  14. Zagorín, Pérez (1982), Rebels and Rulers, 1500-1660: provincial rebellion; revolutionary civil wars, 1560-1660, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 9780521287128; p. 26
  15. Magnaghi, Russell M. (2008), Cornish in Michigan, MSU Press, ISBN 9780870137877; pp. 2-3
  16. 16.0 16.1 Tanner, Marcus (2006), The Last of the Celts, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300115352; p. 230
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Price, Glanville (2000), Languages in Britain and Ireland, Wiley-Blackwell, ISBN 9780631215813; p. 113
  18. Hechter, Michael (1999), Internal Colonialism: the Celtic fringe in British national development (2nd ed.), Transaction, ISBN 9780765804754; p. 64
  19. Stoyle, Mark (1 January 2001), The Cornish: a Neglected Nation?,, p. 1,, retrieved 2009-07-04
  20. Template:Cite journal
  22. Template:Cite journal
  23. Template:Citation/core
  24. Template:Citation/core
  25. Template:Cite web
  26. Stephen Adolphe Wurm; Peter Mühlhäusler & Darrell T. Tryon. Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1996
  27. Bruce Moore Speaking our Language: the story of Australian English, Oxford University Press, 2009
  28. These were the only universities in England (and not open to Nonconformists) until the 1820s when University College London was established.
  29. Template:Citation/core
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 Template:Citation/core
  31. i.e., the Cornish language itself, Kernewek
  32. Other personal pronouns are also affected.
  33. Template:Citation/core
  34. Template:Cite web
  35. Template:Cite web
  36. Template:Cite web
  37. Overheard conversation heard among a group of young people on a bus starting from Truro in the morning, containing the phrase *them seats (verifiable from First buses CCTV microphone surveillance)
  38. This aspect of the Cornish language appears to be unknown to many housing developers operating in Cornwall.
  39. Template:Cite web
  40. Template:Citation/core
  41. Template:Cite web
  42. Template:Citation/core
  43. Template:Citation/core
  44. Template:Cite web
  45. Template:Citation/core
  46. Template:Cite web
  47. Template:Cite web
  48. Dictionary of National Biography; ed. Leslie Stephen
  49. Template:Citation/core
  50. Template:Citation/core
  51. Template:Citation/core
  52. Template:Cite web
  53. Template:Citation/core
  54. Template:Citation/core
  55. Template:Citation/core
  56. Template:Citation/core

==Further reading==
* M. A. Courtney; T. Q. Couch: Glossary of Words in Use in Cornwall. West Cornwall, by M. A. Courtney; East Cornwall, by T. Q. Couch. London: published for the English Dialect Society, by Trübner & Co., 1880
*Pol Hodge: The Cornish Dialect and the Cornish Language. 19 p. Gwinear: Kesva an Taves Kernewek, 1997 ISBN 0907064582
*David J. North & Adam Sharpe: A Word-geography of Cornwall. Redruth: Institute of Cornish Studies, 1980 (includes word-maps of Cornish words)
*Martyn F. Wakelin: Language and History in Cornwall. Leicester University Press, 1975 ISBN 0718511247 (based on the author's thesis, University of Leeds, 1969)

==External links==
*Old Cornwall Society dialect webpage
*Cornish Memory archive, hosted by the Azook Community Interest Company


Template:English dialects by continent
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simple:Cornish dialect