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Cornish dialect facts for kids

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Cornish English
Native to United Kingdom
Region Cornwall
Native speakers unknown (as at 2011)  (date missing)
Language family

Anglo-Cornish (also known as Cornish English, Cornu-English, or Cornish dialect) is a dialect of English spoken in Cornwall by Cornish people. Dialectal English spoken in Cornwall is to some extent influenced by Cornish grammar, and often includes words derived from the Cornish language. The Cornish language is a Celtic language of the Brythonic branch, as are the Welsh and Breton languages. In addition to the distinctive words and grammar, there are a variety of accents found within Cornwall from the north coast to that of the south coast and from east to west Cornwall.


Cornish Language Shift
Transition from Cornish towards English within Cornwall

The first speakers of English resident in Cornwall were Anglo-Saxon settlers, primarily in the north east of Cornwall between the Ottery and Tamar rivers, and in the lower Tamar valley, from around the 10th century onwards. There are a number of relatively early place names of English origin, especially in those areas.

The further spread of the English language in Cornwall was slowed 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 Celtic language was spoken, tended to favour the continued use of the Cornish language.

But from around the 13th to 14th centuries the use of English for administration was revived, and a vernacular Middle English literary tradition developed. These were probable reasons for the increased use of the English language in Cornwall. In the Tudor period, various circumstances, including the imposition of an English language prayer book in 1549, and the lack of a Cornish translation of any part of the Bible, led to a language shift from Cornish to English.

International use

Large-scale 19th and 20th century emigrations of Cornish people meant that substantial populations of Anglo-Cornish speakers were established in parts of North America, Australia, and South Africa.

South Australian Aborigines, particularly the Nunga, are said to speak English with a Cornish accent because they were taught the English language by Cornish miners. 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. At least 23 Cornish words have made their way into Australian English; these include the mining terms fossick and nugget.


When Cornish people started to go to school in the late 19th century, teachers told them to speak 'proper' English not dialect. A lot of people thought that people who spoke the dialect were not as intelligent and educated as those who spoke 'proper' English, so people spoke the dialect less, and the dialect declined. In the 20th century, a lot of people moved into Cornwall from the south east part of England near London. These people did not speak the Cornish dialect and found it hard to understand Cornish people who spoke it. The Cornish people spoke the dialect less because they did not want people not to be able to understand them.


As fewer people spoke the Cornish dialect, other people, such as people in the Old Cornwall Society, wrote down the dialect, and made audio recordings, so the dialect wouldn't be lost.


People have written books, short stories, and poetry in Cornish Dialect.

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