EU vote raises hope for 'endangered' Kernewek
SUPPORTERS of Cornwall's ancient tongue have welcomed a vote in the European Parliament which calls on member governments to do more to promote and preserve regional languages.
The debate and subsequent vote in Strasbourg followed a report by the United Nations' cultural body Unesco, which described the Cornish language as "endangered".
There are now more fluent speakers than at any time since Cornish – or Kernewek – ceased to be spoken as a first language during the 18th century. Campaigners, teachers, scholars and those concerned with the preservation of Cornwall's distinctive culture argue that the idiom is a key element of the region's future economic and social success.
Language champion Sir Graham Watson, who represents Cornwall in the European Parliament, said: "Protecting our regional culture and diversity is vital – and protecting our ancient language is just as important as protecting our regional food, drink and geography."
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Sir Graham said he was keen to support Unesco's recommendations, adding that he would like to see more people take up another language, and particularly Kernewek.
"As a linguist by training, I understand the importance of languages," he said. "Even with the spread of English as a language of communication, it is still dwarfed as a mother tongue by Mandarin and still less widely used than Spanish.
"Languages less widely used than these three often need active support. Language shapes thought and linguistic diversity provides diverse forms of intelligence.
"Artefacts such as sculpture or scripture can be saved when a culture becomes extinct – a language cannot.
"It lives and dies with the people who speak it. We must do all we can to preserve our languages."
Since 2002, Kernewek has been recognised by the British Government under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Central funding enabled the opening of a Cornish language office in 2005 and this is based at County Hall in Truro.
North Cornwall Liberal Democrat MP Dan Rogerson said he was delighted the European Parliament had voted to "recognise the importance of protecting cultural heritage".
"Sir Graham Watson's support has been unwavering," said Mr Rogerson. "It is my belief that the Cornish language is intrinsically worth supporting and encouraging – but it also brings benefits to the region in terms of cultural tourism and raising the status of Cornwall."
Armed with the result of the European Parliament vote, language campaigners now plan to lobby MPs for greater financial backing to fund initiatives aimed at promoting Kernewek in schools.
Ray Chubb, chairman of Agan Tavas (Our Language), which works to encourage the growth of Cornish as a spoken language, said: "It is clear that a large number of people in Cornwall think Cornish should be taught in Cornwall's schools."
Mr Chubb said he would like Cornwall Council to follow the example of the Scottish Parliament in actively supporting the teaching of its ancient tongue.
"The devolved Scottish Parliament appears to have grasped the nettle as far as Gaelic is concerned," he said.
"The Standards in Scotland's Schools Act contains a clause which requires education authorities to report annually on the ways in which Gaelic education will be provided.
"This seems to point the way forward for us in Cornwall. It would not be unreasonable for the Government to require every primary and secondary school in Cornwall to state in their prospectus what their policy is towards the Cornish language."
The European Parliament report will now be passed to the Council of Ministers and the European Commission for their approval and could form part of future legislation.