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A Discovery of Cornish Lives and Language, Past and Present

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“The ancient Cornish language lies like a buried city under our feet – we pass to and fro above it, but heed it not in the hustle of our everyday life.”   John Bellow, 1861

‘On the Cornish language’ – a paper for the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society.

 

Extract

Not a word of conversation was exchanged between them save for occasional apologetic half utterances as more relatives pushed politely into the restricted space available. Even the children’s usual excited addiction to playing games or chatting with friends on their phones had been brought to a solemn halt. The silence was partly due to the deep sense of loss that everyone felt now that the final member of the ‘old generation’ had passed. It was also due to the shallow-breathed expectation that hung in the chamber.

Was the mournful silence maintained for this unnaturally long period of time because of the reverence for the old man – or was it this room itself that caused people to lower their heads and observe a heightened sense of politeness? The office certainly inspired its visitors to observe due reverence and it definitely wasn’t a space fit for parties, weddings, celebrations or even relaxation. It was a business-like place for meetings, interviews and revelations of last wills and testaments.

And that is how it was; an opportunity for the entire Pengilley clan to gather together in awe of this wooden casket with its wear-and-tear displayed in every facet of its structure. There were scratches along one side of the top where heavy items must have been piled on top of it and there was evidence of rust on the brackets and hinges that held it together. It was even possible to make out pencil marks along the top saying ‘attic’. This had been written on the box in more recent times as instructions to a removal company.

Adventurous children of each generation had played in the loft, making up stories of how the casket contained treasure from a far-distant land and had been recovered by Jack in his earlier days whilst he was serving as a heroic merchant seaman. They had all joked that he was actually a terrifying pirate who had plundered the riches of Caribbean islands and had forced captives to their death by making them walk the plank. However, the truth was that no-one in the family knew what was inside the mysterious box.


 
 Author | Matthew Clarke (Matthi ab Dewi)

Author | Matthew Clarke (Matthi ab Dewi)

Matthew Clarke (Matthi ab Dewi) is a Cornish speaker and journalist living in West Cornwall.

He is surrounded by Cornwall's ancient culture and has thus dedicated his life to the language through the written word and song.

Matthew is also a broadcaster who has read the news in English and Cornish on local radio in Cornwall since 1998. He now runs a weekly programme in Kernewek called Radyo an Gernewegva. His work has also included PR for the language.

One big success came in 2004 when he helped The Simpsons producers include some Cornish into a Christmas special edition for Channel 4. His musical contribution to Cornwall’s culture resulted in his band, ‘Krena’, winning the Pan Celtic Song Contest in Tralee in 2005.

Another triumph was the global coverage of a story he generated in 2006. It was about his other band, ‘Skwardya’, singing Beatles songs in Kernewek. Articles can still be found online relating back to this news item.