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Cornish language

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Native to United Kingdom
Region Cornwall
Native speakers2,000 fluent[1]  (date missing)
Language family
Writing systemLatin
Recognised minority language in United Kingdom
Language codes
ISO 639-1kw
ISO 639-2cor
ISO 639-3cor

Cornish is a very old language from the county of Cornwall in the southwest of England, UK. Cornish is a Celtic language and is very similar to Breton and Welsh because they used to be the same language but have become different.


A long time ago Cornish was the only language spoken in Cornwall, but more and more people began to speak English instead of Cornish. In 1550, when the prayer book was written in English instead of Latin, the Cornish people got angry and there was a rebellion. Because many Cornish speakers died and because they would now hear the Bible in English the language was used less and less.

By 1800 there were only a few people who could speak Cornish, and no-one spoke it to each other any more. Some people say that a woman called Dolly Pentreath was the last person who could speak Cornish. This is not quite true, but she was one of the last people to use it instead of English.

Methods of spreading

Some people learned about Cornish by travelling around talking to people who could still speak it and by reading old plays and books. Some people wanted to learn the language and speak it, so in 1904 a learned man called Henry Jenner wrote a book to help people. After this some people began to learn the language and speak it again.

Modern day

No one knows how many Cornish speakers there are now. People think there are probably about 3000 to 5000 people who speak Cornish. Some young people have grown up speaking it. Many other people in Cornwall know a few sentences or words in Cornish. In a hundred years the Cornish language has grown from almost no speakers to many thousands which is very exciting for many people.

There are now many new books, films and songs in Cornish. The Bible has now been translated into Cornish. There is an event called the open Gorseth where there is a story and poetry competition. Sometimes Cornish is used in churches.

There used to be a problem with Cornish, in that there were three different dictionaries with different spellings and people did not agree about how to write the words, or how to say them. This was confusing for people when they have not been speaking long, so in 2008 people who used the different types of Cornish came together and agreed on a new standard form of Cornish to be used everywhere.


The beginning of Origo Mundi (Origin of the World) a play written in Cornish in the late 14th century

Here are some words in Cornish:

  • Kernowek: Cornish
  • Kernow: Cornwall
  • Den: Man
  • Benyn: Woman
  • Duw genes!: Goodbye!
  • Dedh da!: Good day!
  • Onen hag oll: One and all