Reflections on my Cornish Journey

In less than one week is St. Piran’s Day, the national day of Cornwall and the date which I aimed to get good in Cornish by. In an interesting twist of fate, March 5th is also the Jewish holiday of Purim this year.

While on that topic, it should be noted that Yiddish and Cornish have one nagging characteristic in common…well, two. Make that three. Well-(1) publicized revivals, (2) a wealth of literature from throughout history, as well as (3) the fact that, historically, there have been multiple spelling systems for the language.

I say “historically” because YIVO (an organization which, back in pre-war Lithuania, raised Yiddish to the status of a scholarly language, rather than the language of “women and the uneducated”) now has a spelling system that is consistently used among many students and teachers of the Yiddish Language nowadays, but obviously there was a time before that system came into being.

My Cornish book tells me that I should either speak about the spelling systems of the Cornish Language with caution or, better yet, not speak about it at all.

Rather than throwing around a lot of terms that you’re probably going to forget when you’re done procrastinating by reading this blog, I’ll say this: there are different spelling systems of the language, based on snapshots from the life of Cornish as taken from the corpus of Cornish Language texts throughout the ages.

If you browse Cornish Wikipedia long enough, you’ll notice that the authors who edit the articles can’t agree on a spelling system. Notes saying that “this article was written in Modern Cornish” (or one of the other systems) are not uncommon.

Here’s the thing, though: the spoken language is the same, regardless of what spelling is used for it. This does allow for a significant amount of headaches (figuratively).

So, where is my project now?

Right now I am in serious danger of not meeting my goal. And that might be okay, as long as I can reflect on where I went wrong rather than blaming the fact that my book got lost in the mail. There’s always St. Piran’s Day 2016, as well as five more days.

My goal is to feel that I am conversational in spoken Cornish and can get a good, or at least okay, grasp of reading the salad of written Cornishes that exist.

So, obstacles:

  • Celtic Languages are well-known for having prepositions that have pronoun-endings. In Irish, we have “liom” meaning “with me”, but “le” means just “with”. The Cornish equivalent would be “genev” (with me) and “gans” (with).

 

And there are more prepositions as well. This system is actually quite similar to what is found in Hebrew. Just because I’ve done it multiple times doesn’t make it easier.

 

  • There are some pronunciation quagmires. One phrase that I heard on some introductory podcasts…so often that if you say this phrase to me, I might be tempted to scream…is…

“Yth esof vy ow tesky Kernewek” (I am Learning Cornish)

Pronounced more accurately as “there of ee a tesk ee kernuwek”…don’t ask me why that “s” is pronounced as a rolled “r”. I honestly don’t know and, at some point when you become experienced at learning languages, you stop asking “why?” completely.

Luckily there is plenty of spoken material with Cornish Language Podcasts and the like, as well as the fact that my book (which is written in German) gives very helpful pronunciation guides. I would say that it was probably slightly easier than Faroese’s to learn…

  • Mutation. Ugh. The insane cruelty that is to be found in the Celtic Languages. If you look up the word “to learn” in the English-Cornish dictionary, you’ll get “desky”. Now look at that sentence above. What do you see? If you see a changed consonant, you’re right.

 

What Irish does is add a letter to a consonant for it to mutate. This is logical, but it gives you no idea of how it would be pronounced.

 

Is maith liom (I like. Literally, “it is good with me”. Pronounced “Is ma liom”)

 

Vs.

 

Oiche mhaith! (Good night! “ee heh wah”)

 

The pronunciation of “m” goes to “v”.

 

Cornish (as well as Welsh and Breton) does something else: mutates them phonetically. In other words:

 

The “vy” in the sentence ““Yth esof vy ow tesky Kernewek” is actually “my” (I) without mutation. But when it mutates, you can see how it is pronounced logically!  And “desky” changes to “tesky” as well.

 

The mutation zoo of the Celtic Languages is for another post. Or for a discussion in the comments. End of this discussion.

 

  • There are quite a lot of English words to be found in the revived Cornish (very unsurprising!). The English language itself is referred to as “Sowsnek” (“Saxon”) and England is Pow Sows (“Saxon Country”). But what is also interesting to note is that some aspects of Celtic grammar found their way into “Saxon”, including the verb “to do” existing in phrases like “I did not know that”.

 

  • Because of the revival, learners can be very comforted by the fact that the majority of people who speak this language do so as a second language (as is actually the case with…English…). Being in the company of fellow learners, even virtually, is a good thing.

 

  • Radyo an Gernewegva (the Cornish Radio Service) offers weekly podcasts in Cornish. You can find virtually every Christmas song you can name covered in a Cornish version, as well as well-known pop-classics, including yes, the Beatles, as well as the fact that the most recent one as of the time of writing included…a Cornish cover of scenes from Monty Python’s Life of Brian (!!!) (You can find it on Episode #212 at around 22:00)

 

The unpredictability of the program as well as the fact that there have been more than a few earworms from independent musicians is…well…intriguing. I like it. It is an experiment of human creativity.

 

  • A lot of vocabulary is oddly similar to what can be found in the Romance Languages. With Breton, this makes sense (with French influence), but with the other Celtic Languages, Cornish included, it is due to the fact that the Celtic Languages and the Romance Languages are actually…adjacent sub-families, believe it or not!

 

  • Welsh, Breton and Cornish are from the Brythonic branch of the Celtic Languages, which means that they share many features (even though they are not mutually intelligible!). Speakers of these languages often get asked if they can understand a Gaelic Language or if they are similar.

 

The Gaelic Languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx) make up the other branch of the Celtic Languages. So while there are similarities (like the preposition system mentioned above), don’t count on too many between the two branches.

 

  • Enough with talk. More music. Enjoy!

 

http://www.anradyo.com/promoting-cornish-musicians/

kernow

The St. Piran’s Day Challenge: Quest and Plan!

I have come to a conclusion: for me, it is actually a lot harder to forget something than to learn it. I can choose to learn a language, but choosing to forget a language actually takes more time. It isn’t like deleting files from a computer.

Anyhow, back in December or so I announced my desire to try to learn Cornish, a Celtic Language from Cornwall that passed into extinction and then back into life. Two other languages I can think of (in Europe) shared this fate: Manx Gaelic (of the Isle of Man) and Livonian (of the Baltic States). Some may also say that Modern Hebrew can be included in this category as well.

Why? That’s for another post.

Enough with the “why’s”, now with the “what” and the “how”

What I intend to do: get good enough in Cornish so that I can (1) have a conversation and (2) write a blogpost in the language. I have a deadline, and that deadline is March 5th, which is St. Piran’s Day, the National Day of Cornwall.

kernow

How I intend to do it:

  • Acquaint myself with the language well enough so that I can write a blogpost about what makes the Cornish Language special.

 

  • Use Spaced Repetition (programs to ensure that I can memorize words and grammatical concepts).

 

  • Listen to Cornish Radio whenever using the computer leisurely.

 

  • Hope that my phrasebook arrives (it got lost in the mail, I ordered it back in December, now I got it again and I expect it to arrive this week), and then use it to memorize key phrases.

 

  • Speaking exercises before bedtime.

 

In the meantime, I have an assignment for you: if you have questions about Cornwall or the Cornish Language, go ahead and ask them! Don’t want to confuse you too much, now, would I?

Next time: See item no. (1)!

 

Cornish: Corny People? Cornland?

corny people edited

Up until half a year ago, I had no idea that there was such a thing as a Cornish Language, although after that point I found out that it was one of several languages in Europe (Livonian and Manx Gaelic also come to mind) that had passed to the point of extinction and had been revived).

No doubt my adventures on Crowdin, that have come to a temporary halt as a result of examinations and final papers, had spurred me into curiosity, which tends to attack me and bring me in odd directions in the most unpredictable of ways.

Chances are that you might not know what Cornish is, either, so allow me to explain.

About 1,000 years ago, if you were to look at a map of Britain (the Island that has England, Scotland and Wales on it, minus the minor Islands claimed by these countries), you’ll notice that Wales is not conquered by the English, and there is a comparatively small area below (a little peninsula that stretches out in the southwest of England) that wasn’t under English control either.

That is Cornwall, bordering Devon to the east, and it is one of the six Celtic Nations (the others being the Isle of Man, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Brittany [in France, below Cornwall]).

Cornwall (Kernow, as it is referred to in Cornish), had its own language that was in the same Celtic sub-family as Welsh and Breton (the language of Brittany).

One time before almost anyone alive on this planet now was even born, the last native Cornish speaker died, although in more modern times, the language was revived from texts (some have drawn a comparison to Modern Hebrew, which has had a lot of mythology surrounding it already).

And now the question comes, “how many people speak it?”

Perfectly, as in native? A few hundred, although there are many thousands more with a proficient command of a language, hell-bent on being warriors for the Cornish Language, like so many other movements for endangered languages.

I am reminded of this point of a Welsh proverb that says that a nation without a language is like a language without a soul, exactly the sort of mentality required for a linguistic revival of any sort.

So, here it comes. Cornish is my next language project, likely to replace Estonian on my list.

And here is another thing: there is a very specific reason that I am undertaking this Cornish Language project, and I cannot reveal it to you yet. But rest assured that it will be quite exciting indeed, if it materializes!

I’ll write more on the specifics of the Cornish Language in another post.

In the meanwhile, here is how some of my other projects are going:

  • I have mastered Greenlandic grammar. Two gargantuan tasks stand from fluency: (1) a mastery of every single suffix (the only comprehensive lists that exist are in Danish, and are resting in my DropBox account) and (2) a mastery of all essential vocabulary.

 

  • I’m still tied up with Icelandic and Faroese grammar and I’m self-conscious about both. Lord Forbid I actually have to look at tables and recite things out loud! Suffice it to say that I have a “carrot” for learning Icelandic that I will have to reveal at a later date, so I’ll use that as ample motivation…vocabulary with both is close enough to the other Germanic Languages that I’m not too intimidated by it.

 

  • On the other hand, Finnish and Northern Sami…well, if I don’t regularly maintain these then I’m going to forget both of them. There is a very real danger of this happening if I am poorly disciplined.

 

  • Portuguese has gotten a lot worse, Spanish a lot better, and Dutch a LOT I put it all up to living in New York City.

 

  • Swedish is in danger of slipping.

 

  • I really should be writing a paper that involves reading texts in German Gothic script. The good thing? That I’m almost done with it…

 

  • At least I don’t have to worry about my Hebrew exam anymore. Reflections on that course later, now that it is complete.

 

In the meantime, take the time to close the computer and get excited about something!

My Translation Adventure with Northern Sami ‘n Friends

IMG_0267 (2)

A week from tomorrow is my birthday. In looking for potential gifts and wish-list constructions, one click led to another and I found myself discovering something about Minecraft (a well-known video game with quite simplistic but cute graphics that I can’t really grasp the point of) being translated into many languages.

Since my travels have hardened my discipline, I’m usually not one for game-playing, but I was so intrigued that I had to take a look.

Turned out, the list of languages included the standard ones that most Americans can name off the top of their head, but then spun into complete unpredictability with Manx Gaelic and Cornish being featured (!!!!)

Both languages, for those unaware, had passed into extinction and have been revived. In the UN’s Atlas of Endangered Languages, these two are noted with the red pin (indicating “critically endangered”) with a letter “R” on it, indicating that it had been brought, pardon my expression, back from the bring.

It is interesting to note that the game is likely being used to further the revival attempts at both languages, even though neither translation is truly complete (Cornish is at 65% or so as of the time of writing, with Manx slightly over 70%).

Now here’s the most interesting part: Minecraft outsourced its translations to the public. What that means: you can create an account on CrowdIn, and start translating to whatever degree you want to, no matter who you are. Of course, those who know the language better will vote on your translations accordingly, acting as quality control.

Taking a look at its offerings, I noted that there was a Northern Sami translation and that it was not making signs of great progress (as of last week it was about 1%).

Keeping in mind the adage from the language encourager community that languages need to be experienced rather than learned, I snatched the chance, created the account, and then began translating.

My only experiences with the game dealt with watching some of my college friends play it (and try to hopelessly explain the game to me), but luckily this was no barrier in me getting to work.

A few days later, and the progress for the translation is now at around 14% or so, and when I’m in more of a working mood I’m likely to continue it.

Some of my thoughts / frustrations:

  1. There are lots of languages recognized by CrowdIn, possibly the longest list I’ve seen on anywhere that isn’t Reddit. Very interestingly, while they had offerings like Ewe and other languages whose name I only recall seeing once, Greenlandic / Kalaallisut was nowhere on the list.

 

Mixed blessing?

 

  1. A Material Notebook proved helpful. I had grammar tables and the like in my notebook that was right by my side. I had also copied the contents of a screenshot from Wikipedia that showed Kubuntu being translated into Northern Sami, and I had never thought that I would ever to put it to use like this when I first wrote it.

 

As it turns out, I consult multiple dictionaries for the translation, Giella Tekno (which is Norwegian/Finnish to Northern Sami and back to both), as well as two English-Northern Sami Dictionary lists, and another Norwegian/Swedish /Sami Languages dictionary. But clicking between the tabs proved difficult and really wore out my hand, after which I needed to take a walk.

 

  1. There was an original stage of self-consciousness, but I quickly got over it. I thought, “what if a Native speaker comes in and demolishes all of my translations?”, then I figured, “well, you know what, Jared? If you don’t get this done, who on earth is going to do it? Are you going to put your skills to use or are you just going to close the window and forget than anything ever happened?. Jared. Samiland needs you. You might not know it perfectly, but good enough is okay. And you can trust that others will modify your work accordingly…”

 

Further adding to the degree of self-consciousness was the fact that the language, as small as it is, is fractured (for those who don’t know, there are about 15,000 native speakers of this language at least, and definitely many others who learn it as a second language).

 

The word for “I” can be spelled either “mon” or “mun”, and I opted for the first one. Now among the books and websites that I was using, some of them did end up using alternate spellings and I might have not been perfectly consistent. But yet again, Minecraft does note that the “translations may not be 100% correct”.

 

Speaking of which, Facebook is also working on its Northern Sami Translation and it is showing almost no signs of activity, last I checked (which was last week or so).

 

  1. “My dictionaries aren’t showing up any word for X. Should I use the English word instead?”

 

  1. “My dictionaries offer multiple words, one that is more purist Sami and the other that is very clearly ‘Dárogiella’ (the “land language” which is either Norwegian or Swedish, depending on where in Samiland you are). Which one do I use?”

 

I am reminded of the same struggles in some other languages, specifically in Hebrew and in Greenlandic, where there are purist words and European loanwords (all over Europe in Hebrew’s case, Danish in the case of Greenlandic). Yiddish also comes to mind, with its blend of Germanic, Slavic and “Loshn-Koydesh” elements, all of which carry different connotations to a trained ear.

 

The situations are very comparable between the lot of them.

 

  1. “This language has lots of words for reindeer and lots of words for snow, but for some odd reason I can’t find any equivalent for word X (usually something related to technology)…odd…”

 

  1. CrowdIn gathers a list of your “preferred languages” as a result of your profile registration. This proved to be very useful, as I could reference the Finnish and Estonian translations, as well as those in the Scandinavian and West Germanic Languages (among many others) and note what routes I could take. (I usually checked my results with Google Search or Giella Tekno…you’d be surprised how much material there is online even for the smallest of languages…)

 

  1. Despite the fact that it was working, it didn’t really feel like work. I kept in mind Robert Benchley’s adage that “anyone can do any amount of work, as long as it is the work he’s not supposed to be doing at the moment” (note to world: I did not miss any assignments on account of this project).

 

  1. This exercise dramatically improved my vocabulary in all of the “preferred languages”, especially in Norwegian, Finnish and, of course, Northern Sami itself. A speaking exercise afterwards noted that I almost never was grasping for words or pausing as a result of this immersion.

 

I help translate things, and my languages get better…

 

And who knows? Maybe I’ll end up playing the game one day…

 

What a deal!