VCH Explore

Explore England's Past

The Cornish Language

Cornish is a distinct Brittonic language - close to Welsh and Breton. As Carew noted in 1603 Cornish was more like English 'more easie to bee pronounced, and not so unpleasing in sound, with throat letters, as the Welsh'. The development of the Cornish language is divided into three phases - Old, Middle and Late Cornish. Middle Cornish was the language of medieval Cornwall, with late Cornish in use after 1600.

In the later Middle Ages (c.1300-1540), the Cornish language became restricted to the western half of Cornwall beyond Bodmin. It was here that literature emerged in what was arguably the language's finest period. Biblical plays were written  to be performed in open air to spread the teachings of the church to a Cornish speaking population. In 1538 the Lord's Prayer and Creed were translated into English. However use of the language was declining and by the end of the 16th century it looked to be in terminal decline.

Content generated during research for the paperback book 'Cornwall and the Coast: mousehole and Newlyn' (ISBN 13 : 978-1-86077-489-8) for the England's Past for Everyone series