Cornwall Languages

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The main language of Cornwall is English, however the traditional language of Cornish (Kernewek) is much older. Records can also be found in Latin.

Although for most purposes Cornwall, and the Cornish, are treated as part of England, many Cornish do not perceive themselves as being English, but rather as a separate Celtic people in the UK like the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish. There is a long-running small-but-significant Cornish nationalist movement.

Cornish language[edit | edit source]

The Cornish language is one of the Brythonic Celtic languages and is closely related to Welsh and Breton, and more distantly to Scottish, Irish and Manx Gaelic. Cornish shares roughly 80% of its basic vocabulary with Breton, and 75% with Welsh. The language continued to function as a community language in parts of Cornwall until the late 18th century, and there has been a revival of the language since Henry Jenner's "Handbook of the Cornish Language" was published in 1904.

In the 20th century a conscious effort was made to revive Cornish as a language for everyday use in speech and writing

A study in 2000 suggested that there were around 300 people who spoke Cornish fluently. Cornish however has no legal status. Nevertheless, the language is taught in about twelve primary schools, and occasionally used in religious and civic ceremonies. Two of the current Cornish Members of Parliament in the UK Parliament, Andrew George, MP for St Ives, and Dan Rogerson, MP for North Cornwall, took their Parliamentary oaths in both English and Cornish.

In 2002 Cornish was officially recognised as a minority language and in 2005 it received limited Government funding. A Standard Written Form was agreed in 2008 replacing the Unified Cornish, Unified Cornish Revised, Common Cornish and Modern Cornish variations.

Cornish surnames[edit | edit source]

"By Tre, Pol and Pen shall ye know all Cornishmen".
-Traditional Cornish saying

Unlike other Celtic peoples, such as the Irish and Welsh, most Cornish surnames are derived from place names. In Cornwall, these include "Tre-" (meaning town or farmstead), "Pol-" (a pool) and "Pen-" (head, or headland). Examples


  • Treherne
  • Trelawney - Trelawney is also the name of the Cornish national anthem
  • Tremayne
  • Trevaskis
  • Trevelyan - GM Trevelyan historian
  • Trevithick


  • Polkinghorne
  •  Polperro
  •  Polwhele


  •  Pendarves
  •  Penhaligon
  •  Penrose - London born Charles W. Penrose, who was of Cornish descent was in the Quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  •  Pentreath - Dolly Pentreath was one of the last speakers of traditional Cornish.

However these are not the only Cornish language prefixes often found in surnames. Others include Ros- (moor), Lan- (clearing or church), Car-/Ker- (fort), and Nan-/Nans-/Nance (a valley).

Other Cornish language surnames[edit | edit source]

Trade names -

  • Angove (Cornish - An Gof - the Smith), Gough or Gove
  • Helyer (helghyer "hunter")
  • Marrak (marghek, "knight, horseman")

Personal attributes -

  • Gwyn (fair haired. Also a Welsh surname)
  • Teague (also of a separate Irish origin)
  • Prowse
  • Rescorla