Welcum - Ma an Kernuack devethez officiall.

Translation: Cornish is now an official language

The Cornish language, widely thought to survive only in the dusty books of scholars, has been given a new lease of life after qualifications in the subject gained government recognition.

Examinations run by the Cornish Language Board and accredited by Cornwall's local education authority have been officially approved on the advice of the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority, which oversees qualifications.

The decision will prompt celebrations among Cornish nationalists campaigning for greater recognition of Cornish identity, prompted by a resurgence in Celtic language and music together with a sense of injustice at poor investment in the county by the English across the Tamar.

But the step has exposed old rifts between scholars and speakers over which version of the language is most authentic. Polite but pointed accusations are flying between those who believe late or modern Cornish, dating from 1504, is the purest form, and exponents of a different version based on medieval texts.

The medievalists insist that their language reflects the vocabulary and grammar of Cornish in its 15th-century golden age, while purists mutter dark allegations of the use of computers by their rivals to standardise spellings and forms.

The Cornish Language Board examinations fall into the medieval camp. The secretary of the board, Wella Brown, said: "Cornish died at the end of the 18th century, so you have to decide whether to revive the corpse of a man in his prime or of somebody in the latter stages of life. The bulk of the revivalists decide the best option is to take the language at its peak in the golden age of the 1400s and revive that."

The 300 or more people studying this version of Cornish in classes around the county each year will speak a "tidied up" language surprisingly similar to their forebears five centuries earlier, Mr Brown contends.

The purists, represented by the Cornish Language Council, have no truck with standardised forms. They stress the three distinct periods of early, medieval and late or "modern" Cornish. Evidence exists of a fisherman speaking the language as late as the 1890s, the council says, and argues that sufficient record remains of the spelling, vocabulary and sound of modern Cornish to reconstruct it with great accuracy.

Richard Gendall, honorary research fellow at the Institute of Cornish Studies and a member of the council, insisted its version represented true historical Cornish. The language board, he claimed, was beginning to lose ground. "They have lost credibility with the universities, it is only a matter of time before they are rumbled."

As the two camps, and some five other bodies claiming to represent true Cornish, continue their scholarly squabbles, the fact remains that committed Cornish speakers remain relatively rare. Last year, fewer than 60 candidates sat the board exams, and 13 were from outside Cornwall, including the Czech Republic, Wales, Germany and the United States.

Jan Gendall, folklorist and member of the language council, admits: "The numbers of people who could sit down and chat in Cornish on any subject from space travel to knights in shining armour are very few. The number who would shout for help in Cornish if they were drowning are even fewer."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower