Cornish language

Native toUnited Kingdom
EthnicityCornish people
Extinct18th century
Revival20th century. L2 users: 557 (2011)[1]
Standard forms
Standard Written Form
Latin alphabet
Official status
Regulated byCornish Language Partnership
Language codes
ISO 639-3Variously:
cor – Modern Cornish
cnx – Middle Cornish
oco – Old Cornish
oco Old Cornish
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Cornish (Kernowek) is a revived language that became extinct as a first language in the late 18th century.[3][4] It is a member of the Brittonic Southwestern branch of the Celtic languages of the Indo-European language family, that was native to Cornwall in south-west England. A revival began in the early 20th century. Some have expressed the opinion that the language is an important part of Cornish identity, culture and heritage.[5][6] Cornish is currently a recognised minority language under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.[7] It has a growing number of second language speakers.[8] A few parents are inspired to create new first language speakers, by teaching their children the language from birth.[9][10][11][12]

Along with Welsh and Breton, Cornish is descended directly from the Common Brittonic language spoken throughout much of Britain before the English language came to dominate. It was the main language of Cornwall for centuries until it was pushed westwards by English, maintaining close links with its sister language Breton, with which it was mutually intelligible until well into the Middle Ages. Cornish continued to function as a common community language in parts of Cornwall until the late 18th century and continued to be spoken in the home by some families into the 19th and possibly 20th centuries, overlapping the beginning of revival efforts.[13]

A process to revive the language was begun in the early 20th century, with a number of orthographical systems still in use, although an attempt was made to impose a Standard Written Form in 2008. In 2010, UNESCO announced that its former classification of the language as "extinct" was "no longer accurate".[14] Since the revival of the language, some Cornish textbooks and works of literature have been published, and an increasing number of people are studying the language.[8] Recent developments include Cornish music,[15] independent films[16] and children's books. A small number of people in Cornwall have been brought up to be bilingual native speakers,[17][18] and the language is taught in schools.[19] The first Cornish language crèche opened in 2010.[20]


Cornish is one of the Brittonic languages, which constitute a branch of the Insular Celtic section of the Celtic language family. Brittonic also includes Welsh, Breton and the Cumbric language; the last is extinct. Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Manx are part of the separate Goidelic branch of Insular Celtic.

Joseph Loth viewed Cornish and Breton as being two dialects of the same language, claiming that "Middle Cornish is without doubt closer to Breton as a whole than the modern Breton dialect of Quiberon [Kiberen] is to that of Saint-Pol-de-Léon [Kastell-Paol]."[21]