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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The things they do with our money

From Saturday's Indie...

Cornish language is alive and healthy

Sir: Tristram Penna calls Cornish a dead language (letter, 22 April). I have returned from a few days in Cornwall, and one of the people I met there is a fluent Cornish language speaker. Today, I have renewed my annual subscription to Agan Tavas (The Society for the Promotion of the Cornish Language). The society has recently been involved in the appointment of a Cornish language development manager. There were 29 applicants from all over the world.

I am doing a PhD on Henry Jenner, whose Handbook of the Cornish Language of 1904 started the revival of the language. It is now, in the 21st century, in a far more healthy state than it was at the end of the 18th century and the time of Dolly Pentraeth



Well, it's jolly nice that there's at least one fluent speaker of the language (I'm just intrigued to know who he/she talks to) and jolly nice too about the language development manager. Mr Everett omits to mention that this exotic career opportunity has been made possible by the munificence of the taxpayer. As Agan Tavas reported last year...

Government funding to support the Cornish language was confirmed today, to the tune of up to £80,000 a year for three years. This provides the match funding needed to support an application by Cornwall Council for EU Objective 1 funding, and demonstrates the Government's commitment to the principles of recognition and support, under Part II of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Announcing the handout, Local Government Minister Phil Woolas said:-

“Languages are part of our history, our culture, and our identity. It is right that we should nurture the Cornish language. The Cornish Language Strategy provides a realistic and reasonable vision for the development of the language over the next 25 years, commensurate with the capacity of the language movement to grow. I am pleased to endorse the strategy as providing the framework for implementation of the Charter, and to be able to confirm funding to support the application for EU Objective 1 funding.

"I believe that today's announcement demonstrates the Government's commitment to the resolute action to protect and promote the Cornish language that the Charter seeks. We look forward to working with the local authorities and the Cornish language organisations, through the Government Office for the South West and in line with our Charter commitments, to take the Strategy forward."

What you need to know about Cornish at this point is simply this:- round about 250 years ago, people living in a handful of villages in the 'toe' of Cornwall finally decided that there was no point in bringing up their children speaking Cornish rather than English. And so in due course the language died with its last native speakers. Like Manx Gaelic died, and Latin died, and Gothic died, and Etruscan died, and Hittite died, and... It happens, and it's sad.

So what we have here is the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages being invoked on behalf of a minority of zero. The beneficiaries are actually, as it happens, people who have the considerable good fortune to be native speakers of the language of globalization.

The case of Israel shows that it is possible to revive a dead language. It also shows how much this depends on special circumstances creating a high level of motivation in the prospective linguistic community. The situation in Cornwall is that a few hundred people have taken up Cornish as a hobby. Nothing in the least wrong with that, though it does seem a shame to put so much effort into learning a language that is not only dead but also scarcely has any literature to speak of. But why should this hobby be subsidized?

OK, of course the answer is obvious. Mr Woolas sees a good excuse to claw back some cash from the EU and channel it to the poorest county in England, and the Eurocrats, used to dishing out other people's money as if it grew on trees, are happy to play along with the charade. But where, in this bureaucratic labyrinth, is there anything remotely resembling accountability?

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