Curriculum Kernewek

Cornwall Agreed Syllabus 2011

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+ Guide to the Bible in the Cornish Language

Cornish was once widely spoken across south-west Britain and like Breton, Welsh, Manx, Irish Gaelic and Scots Gaelic, it is considered a Celtic language. Surviving scripts of religious plays written and performed at Glasney College, Penryn, during the sixteenth century show how the Cornish language was important in sharing stories from the Bible with communities.

Growth in the use of the English language was coupled with the declining use of Cornish and the events surrounding the Prayer Book Rising of 1549 arguably advanced this decline. When Edward VI sent commissioners to Cornwall to enforce the use of the English language Book of Common Prayer the Cornish sent a letter to the King, declaring that "We, the Cornyshe men, whereof certain of us understande no Englyshe, utterly refuse thys newe Service." An estimated 5,000 Cornish were killed in the resulting battles, depleting the population of Cornish speakers in Cornwall considerably. Whilst the Bible was translated into Welsh at around this time, translations in Cornish were not produced. It has been argued that this was, in part, responsible for the rapid decline of the language. Within fifty years, Cornish was mostly only spoken in the west, with most people speaking English as well.

Many of the early surviving Cornish language texts are religious in content but the earliest surviving Bible extract translation was written by William Rowe, a farmer from Sancreed, at the end of the 17th century. The efforts of a group of bilingual scholars keen to preserve the language led to the production of other texts including translations of Genesis Chapter 1.

Although Cornish almost entirely ceased to be spoken in communities across Cornwall, interest in the language remained and the work of people like Henry Jenner, Robert Morton Nance, Richard Gendall, Ken George and Professor Nicholas Williams resulted in four variants of the language with different spelling styles. The first attempts to translate the bible into Cornish used these different variants, Nicholas Williams translated the New Testament using Unified Cornish Revived in 2002 and the Cornish Bible Project produced another translation in Common Cornish in 2004, this was run under the auspices of the Cornish Language Board, and the Bishop of Truro's Ecumenical Advisory Group for Services in Cornish.

In 2000, Cornish was recognised as a minority language by the Council of Europe and funding was provided for the development of a standard spelling system. Nicholas Williams has since translated the Old Testament into Cornish, enabling the publication of the first complete translation of the Bible into Cornish, An Beybel Sans. The Cornish Bible Project continues its own translation of the Old Testament.

Religious texts available in Cornish include:

+ the Bible - New Testament first published in 2002 and Old Testament published in 2011.

+ The Lord's Prayer - early translations survive from the C17th and C18th.

+ Pascon Agan Arluth - The Passion Poem, has 259 eight-line verses and is thought to have been composed around 1375.

+ The Ordinalia - consists of three plays and contains 9000 lines of verse religious. It probably reached its present form by 1400 when it would have been performed in a Plain an Gwarry (playing place), an open air theatre.

+ Beunans Meriasek - is a play of the life of St Meriasek, or Meriadoc, the patron Saint of Camborne. It is thought to have been written at Glasney College, Penryn and performed in a nearby Plain an Gwarry. The surviving copy is dated 1504.

+ Beunans Ke - is the only recently discovered play of the life of St Kea. It is thought to have been written at Glasney College, Penryn in around 1500 and performed in a nearby Plain an Gwarry.

+ Gwreans an Bys - The Creation of the World is a miracle play which would have been performed in a Plain an Gwarry. The surviving copy dates from 1611.

+ The Tregear Homilies - are a series of Catholic sermons translated from English to Cornish by John Tregear in 1555-1557.