By 1900, very few people could speak the Cornish language. Fishermen in the west of Cornwall still used the language to count their fish, and some older people knew Cornish words and phrases that they had learnt from their parents. However, most people in Cornwall had no knowledge of the language.
Henry Jenner – A Handbook of the Cornish Language (1904)Why should Cornishmen [and women] learn Cornish?...The question is a fair one, the answer simple. Because they are Cornishmen.
Henry Jenner was a Cornishman with a deep interest in the Cornish language. Because other people were becoming interested in Cornish, and also wanted to learn the language, Henry decided to write a textbook to help them. The book was published in 1904, with the full title A Handbook for the Cornish Language – chiefly in its latest stages with some account of its history and literature.
In the handbook, Henry wrote about the development of the Cornish language and how it was closely related to the Welsh and Breton languages. He also wrote about the plays and verses written in the language and why people had stopped speaking it. Henry included Cornish words and phrases that had been used when the language was last regularly spoken in the 1700s.
Cornish language saved
By writing the handbook, Henry had begun the revival of the Cornish language. People could now learn more about Cornish and how to speak it. Later, other people like Henry’s friend Robert Morton Nance also wrote Cornish textbooks and the first Cornish-English dictionary. However, it was Henry and his handbook that had helped to save the Cornish language.
Did you know?
The revival of the Cornish language happened at the same time that the old people who had learned Cornish from their parents were dying. That means that the Cornish language never died – there was always someone alive who knew some Cornish.
Henry Jenner – A Handbook of the Cornish Language (1904)There has never been a time when there has been no person in Cornwall without a knowledge of the Cornish language.
Henry included some Cornish insults in the Handbook, including pedn mousak!, which means stinking head! and cronak an hagar deu!, which means ugly black toad!