Friday, February 10, 2012

The Early Cornish Language

Cornish was spoken throughout Cornwall, The Isles of Scilly and to some extent in West Devon and Exeter until, following the battle of Hingston Down in 936, the Saxon king Athelstan drove the Cornish out of Exeter and declared the east bank of the river Tamar to be the border of his kingdom - a border which is of course still current today. Despite keeping his kingdom of Wessex separate from Cornwall, Athelstan still interfered with the Celtic monastic system. As the monasteries tended to be the originators and repositories of manuscripts it may be that this is responsible for the lack of extant texts from this early period of Cornish. It is not until around the time of the Norman conquest that a small number of documents start to appear, including the Bodmin Manumissions of the ninth/tenth century, giving the Cornish names of freed slaves, a Cornish-Latin vocabulary list called the Vocabulum Cornicum, and a short piece of advice about marriage dating from about 1200, which was found on the back of a charter dated 1340.

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