Dallethoryon Lan

Cornish for Absolute Beginners

The purpose of these notes is to help you become a fluent Cornish speaker, and the best way to do that is be fluent from the very beginning!

Nonsense?

Please read on …


Introduction

Being fluent is being able to use the language as a tool, to achieve real results in real situations with other people. At present these situations are sometimes a little contrived, simply because with so few Cornish speakers getting a 'critical mass' together in one place usually has to be arranged.

So you'll have to be prepared to get yourself to events and gatherings where Kernewegóryon (Cornish speakers) come together; to do a lot of listening; and to use the Cornish you know. Naturally this won't be very much to begin with, but you'll soon find that the words and phrases you hear and use will stick in your mind far better in real situations than they ever do in class exercises (important though these are!)

Don't be shy, and don't be afraid of making mistakes. Remember we were all beginners once (except for the handful of people who have grown up in Cornish-speaking households). It's in our own interest to help you become as fluent as possible as soon as possible. That way we'll have more people to talk Cornish to. Indeed how else can the language grow?


Spelling

The spelling used here is standard Kernéwek Kémmyn (as in the Gerlývrik etc.) but with s and z distinguished (both are written s in books at present) and with the odd word here and there brought up to date in the light of recent research. Most of these changes are quite small and will probably become official in the future.

I've also used accute accents to show where the stress falls, e.g. Kérnow 'Cornwall', Kernéwek 'Cornish', Kernewégor 'Cornish speaker', Kernewegóryon 'Cornish speakers'. These are not part of normal spelling since most words are stressed on the last-but-one syllable. But there are exceptions which can confuse beginners. You'll find more about stress and pronunciation in general on another page (in prep.) For now notice how (unlike English) the stress in Cornish moves down the word as extra syllables are added. In phrases I'll sometimes use the grave accent to mark secondary (less important) stress, like this : Fàtla génes? 'How are you?' (For now ÿ is having to stand in for 'y-grave').


Survival Kit

So let's suppose that you're in the company of other Cornish speakers. You need to be able to show that you're one of us, make all the necessary polite noises and give the impression that you understand what people are saying to you, even though to begin with you'll have to guess most of it.

What follows is a sort of minimal survival kit, mostly made up of simple set phrases, verbal knee-jerk reactions. Learn them parrot-fashion for now, the little grammar in them can be analysed later if you like, but for now just learn them.


The Passwords

To prove you're a Cornish speaker you'll need to know the passwords. Conversations usually start like this :

  • Dydh dá! 'Good day' — and you replyDydh dá! or Dydh dà dhýs 'Good day (to you)'
After that will come :
  • Fàtla génes? 'How are you?' — replyPur dhá, meur rás! 'Very well, thank you'
Other answers are possible, but this will be enough to get you by. Notice that it's Pur dhá with dha not da here. To which you could add :
  • Ha tý? 'And you?'

In the evening you would replace dydh 'day' with gorthugher :
  • Gorthùgher dá! 'Good evening!' etc.


A Graceful Exit?

Congratulations! You've just got youself included in a Cornish conversation. (It's years before some people get this far!) Now you can relax and let the other person do the talking. If there are several people all the better. All you need to do is listen and try to look intelligent. Remember, even when you're speaking English you don't always hear or understand everything that's being said. Lower down this page there are some phrases you can use to keep yourself involved, however before going any further I'd better show you how to 'bail out' when you've had enough, for instance if someone asks you a direct question you don't know how to answer. The important thing is don't speak English because that will 'blow your cover' and reduce the chances of people speaking Cornish to you in future.

When the time comes, glance at your watch and say :

  • Gav dhýmm — rez yw dhÿmm móz. 'Excuse me — I have to go.'
The goodbyes should then go something like this :
  • Duw génes, ythó! 'Goodbye, then!' — replyDuw génes! 'Goodbye!'
  •  
  • Dha wélez árta! 'See you again!' — replyDha wélez! 'See you!'

At night you might say :
  • Nos dá! 'Good night!' (pronounced nostá).

  • Dha wélez avórow! 'See you tomorrow!'


Being Polite

The easiest way to ask for something is just to point to it and say :

  • Mar plég … ? 'Please … ?'
There's no need to finish the sentence, often you wouldn't in English. Afterwards remember to say :
  • Meur rás! 'Thanks!'
If you want permission to do something, to take a chair for example, you can again leave the difficult bit unsaid. E.g. :
  • A àllav vý … ? 'May I … ?' — replyKè yn-rág! 'Go ahead!'
  •  
  • Meur rás! 'Thank you!'
There's no single word for 'no' in Cornish, but any reply beginning with NA … means 'don't!' If you're offered something and you don't want it, say :
  • Na výnnav! Meur rás. 'I don't want it, thanks'.
Or if you've already had enough of what's on offer :
  • Na móy! Mar plég! 'No more please!'

Should you happen to tread on someone's foot or bump into them, you should say :
  • Gav dhýmm! 'Forgive me!' — or

  • Dròg yw génev! 'I'm sorry!'
But perhaps not before they've told you to :
  • Kèmmer wíth! 'Take care!' — or

  • Bydh wár! 'Look out!'
(For slightly stronger language, see further on). All being well they'll reply :
  • Da lówr! 'OK!' — or

  • Ny vérn! 'It doesn't matter' — or perhaps

  • Na fórs! 'Never mind!'
Of course it could be you saying kèmmer wíth etc.


How to Agree … or not

Back in conversation, your aim should be to keep the other person talking. This will require you to agree with them from time to time. We've seen that Cornish has no 'one size fits all' word for 'no', and the same is true for 'yes'. The 'approved' grammatical way is to listen to what's being said, extract the verb and repeat it back. You won't be able to do this yet, but in any case this isn't always possible. You may not have heard exactly what was said for instance, and often there just won't be a handy verb to throw back. So we all have to 'cheat' by saying things like :

  • Súr! 'Sure!'

  • Pur wír! 'Very true!'

  • Heb már! 'Without doubt!'

  • Yn sùr sértan! 'Absolutely!'
On the other hand, from the speakers' tone and body language, you may feel that less than wholehearted agreement is called for. There are many ways of expressing doubt and hesitation, here are a few you can choose from :
  • Gwír? 'True?' — Yw hènna gwír? 'Is that true?'

  • Yn hwír? 'Oh really?'

  • Òsta súr? 'Are you sure?'

  • Martésen. 'Perhaps, Maybe.'

  • Dell hével. 'So it would appear.'

  • Nynz òv vy súr. 'I'm not sure.'

  • Pìw a wóer? 'Who knows?'

  • Ny wónn. 'I don't know' — Súr, ny wònn vý! 'Really, I don't know!'


Words of Approval and Encouragement

Whether in conversation or not, it's helpful to know how to praise someone's efforts or to cheer them on. With for example :

  • Márthuz! 'Wonderful!' — Màrthuz dá! 'Very good!' (pronounced màrthustá).

  • Brýntin! 'Excellent!'

  • Splánn! 'Splendid! Brilliant!'

  • Pur dhá! 'Very good!'

  • Gwrÿz yn tá! 'Well done!'

  • Fèst yn tá! 'Very well (done)!'


Words of Annoyance

No one can hope to be fluent without knowing what you say when someone knocks your drink over, when you trip over the cat, or simply when something surprises you. Cornish has many interesting expressions that can be used in such cases. The following are fairly harmless, nothing worse than a 'sod it!' in English :

  • Gást! 'Bitch!' A modern borrowing from Welsh, although it may offend some ladies.

  • Bràmm an gáth! 'Cat's fart!' Authentic Cornish curse, may offend cats.

  • ’Bàrth an Jówl! 'By the Devil!'  or just   ’Jówl! 'Devil!' May offend Satanists.

  • Abarth Dúw! 'By God!' (pronounced abarth-túw, abartúw).

  • Abàrth an Táz! 'By God! (the Father)' These may offend Christians etc.

  • Taw távez, ty wókki! 'Shut up, stupid!' This should offend anybody!

  • Tÿ gwállok! 'You big clumsy oaf!' I just like the sound of this.



What Next?

Now that you've got some words and phrases to work with, pay careful attention to the pronunciation. (I have a page on this in preparation and may be able to produce some sound files too).

If you're in a class, try to get into conversation with your teacher(s) or other more advanced students. They can get their own back by seeing what increasingly ridiculous statements they can get you to agree with. You'll have to guess 'true' or 'false' from their tone and make an appropriate reply (agreeing or doubting).

Now, if you met a friend you hadn't seen for a while, one of you might say :

  • Pur dhá yw génev dha wélez árta!
Can you figure that out, all the words are on this page?



Feedback Please!

This page is experimental. Please let me know if you find it useful (or not!) and point out any mistakes you see. I will be adding a comments page soon, but for now email me at :
kam@howlsedhes.co.uk.

See also :



Darbaryz gans / Prepared by Howlsedhes Services and Marconatrix Design, email: kam@howlsedhes.co.uk.

— Gwryz yn Kernow gans medhelwara rydh yn tien —


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