The Cornish tongue

Now, here’s where the weird side of the writing life comes in. I have experts who have helped me make a (fictional, I assure you) bomb, repair a smoking Morris, and give my characters places to sleep on a train. But what about accents? On the off chance that we have an expert in the Cornish tongue out there, I offer you the rough version of bits of dialogue, without context, that need to be nudged a little farther into the south-west of England.

So here you go–criticisms and suggestions welcome. And if anyone lends a considerable hand, I might feel moved to thank them in the acknowledgments page and send them a book, come January.

“Naouw, Robbie, shouldn’ thee be at ’awm helpin’ tha mutherr?”
The Cornishman answered in the same peculiar tongue. “I sawr the motorr. I didna’ laik its leuks. I thought you mun wan’ m’elp.”
**
“Robbie, tha’s a good lad, but thee mun go back to tha mum’s naow. Ahm foin. These twa gennelmun come all the way from London town to talk t’me, so Ah mun keep them, naow, must Ah?”
Robbie’s shoulders relaxed, and he hugged Grey back, then turned and eyed the motor for a moment before tilting his head and whispering loudly into Grey’s ear, “Ah wanna sit innit.”
“Naow, Robbie, you wudna’ lahk the smell. Motorrs like tha’ are not for thee. Off tha go, naow. Say giud day to Mr. Stuyvesant and Major Carstairs.”
**
“Robbie, if tha’s skaavin’ from tha chores, tha may’s well come in, tha’ll get a crick in thy neck listenin’ lahk that.”
**
“This is my neighbor, Robbie Trevalian,” Grey told the American. “He likes to keep me safe. Robbie, say ’ello t’ Mr. Stuyvesant.”
The Cornishman’s eyes rose to examine Grey’s guest. “Thet nahm’s tew long,” he complained.
“My other name’s Harris,” Stuyvesant told him. “How about using that?”
“Robbie, me ’ansum, would you laik to do summat fur me?” Grey asked.
“Yais!” The translucent eyes gleamed with joy.
Grey pulled out his pocket-watch and laid it on the table, opening the cover. “Thee sawr that other gennlemun, went off daun the lane?”
“Th’ man in black?” Robbie’s voice contained an oddly fastidious note of distaste.
“That’s right. I tol’ him he could na’ come back ’til three o’clock. Can thee show me where three o’clock is?”
Robbie bent over the instrument, face screwed in concentration. “Long ’and here, short ’and there.”
“Clever lad. Naow, if he starts to come up the lane afore that, you tell him Mister Grey’s not home to him until three. Can you do that?”
“Mister Grey’s not ’ome to him unnil three,” he parroted, hitting Grey’s precise intonation.
**
The easy grin returned, as Grey dropped into the Cornish patter. “Ay, the Robbie leaves me lampered, that he do.”

Comments

  1. I have no idea.
    So, I have asked the folks over in the Scilly Isles to have a look and help if they can.

  2. Here’s a website:

    http://www.cornish-language.org/english/Default.asp

    They have some good things there…even a phrase book and dictionary…I’ll keep my eyes peeled for anything else that may help. It looks good, what you have there…pretty close to what I have seen anyway, but I am no expert in Cornish…well perhaps those hens…but nothing more. If I come across anything else, I’ll post it here.

  3. Crikey! The above link I gave you is on the Cornish language. I presume we are talking about the dialect and not the language…I think. The language is actually a derivative of Gaelic.

    Links on some dictionaries of the dialect:
    http://www.alanrichards.org/corndic.htm

    http://bally.fortunecity.com/sligo/172/dialect.html

    of course…wikipedia…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Country_dialects

    I hope these help.

  4. DAVE LAMSON says:

    I HAVE SPENT THE BETTER PART OF MY 67 YEARS WRITING A MANUSCRIPT ABOUT POORLY EDUCATED DESCENDANTS OF CIVIL WAR SLAVES. I ALSO USED SLANG TO SHOW
    THEIR UNEDUCATED FORM OF SPEECH, BUT AFTER FALLING ASLEEP AT A FOREIGN FILM,
    WITH NO ENGLISH SUBTITLES, I DECIDED TO USE A FORM OF YOUTHFUL ENGLISH SLANG
    THAT WAS EASIER TO UNDERSTAND AND NO NEED FOR ENGLISH SUBTITLES. MISSPELLED
    WORDS IN A CHILDISH PHONETIC SOUNDING OF WORDS. WHICH KEPT IT SIMPLER AND
    EASIER TO UNDERSTAND. EVEN TAKING MY TIME READING IT YOU LOST ME EACH TIME YOU USED THE CORNISH LANGUAGE.

  5. I know nothing about Cornish — the language, the dialect, the accent. Let that be clearly understood. Reading these excerpts, I get a lovely sense of the foreign and interesting; I can get some of the rhythm and melody of the speech. Equally importantly, I can understand what the characters are saying. So if you continue to nudge, may I politely and oh-so-respectfully request that you don’t nudge too far? Else it will all turn to gibberish and my poor brains will leak out my ears as I try to read. That, or I’ll be trying to sound out dialogue out loud. That could be problematic if this book, like your others, keeps me up all night reading; I’d hate to keep my darling husband awake!

  6. Phil the Badger says:

    The Cornish Language (Kernewek IIRC) is indeed a variety of Gaelic.

    You are trying (too hard) to write Cornish dialect.

    I live in Devon, just North of the Tamar (England’s Souther border), and have heard some fairly broad Cornish accents, bit nothing this broad.

    As for accuracy of vocabulary, “laiks” and “leuk” strike me as bein rather mor Northern than Southern English. Also, “Skaavin” (or even “skiving”) strikes a jarring, seemingly anachronistic note.

    For Cornish Language, I suggest:
    homepages.rootsweb.com/~marcie/kernow/language.html

    For Cornish dialect:www.bbc.co.uk/cornwall/voices2005/

    For the sound of the accent:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/voices/recordings/group/cornwall-bodminmoor.shtml

    It is, imo, a mistake for an author to try and do a “Kipling”, and wite an accent phonetically.

    Better to try to emulate Arthur Ransome, who capture the rhythms and turns of phrase of local speech, with a few dialect words thrown in whose meaning is clear from the context.

  7. How lovely to be asked!
    I agree with Phil the Badger. I have spent time with my family in Cornwall, for most summers this last 20 years. I have West Country (but not Cornish) relatives.
    “Guid” is more Scots – if anything the West Country is more drawn out: “goood”. Similarly “loooks” not “leuks”.
    They pronounce most syllables, so it is “the” not “th'”.
    I can’t remember hearing anyone in the West Country use “thou” although it was more widespread generally in the 20s (when I think Touchstone is set?) – certainly it was still in use in the Midlands then. In my generation I have only heard it used north of Nottinghamshire.
    “innit” is London. If you don’t want “isn’t it” I’d put “in’t it” or “en’t that”.
    And I think that using “fine (foin)” isn’t quite right for that period. All right seems to cover it.
    “Sawr, “daun” and “noaw” seem to strike the right note.
    I definitely agree that the BBC is the place to hear the accent. I can’t find it on the site, but a few years ago, they did a wonderful montage of Wordsworth’s Daffodils, each line being read by children from different parts of Britain.
    Is that all right with you there, then me luvver? But if you were a bloke, I would indeed say “me ‘andsome”.

  8. What a co-incidence! I read in the news today of our newest, tiny radio station: Radio Scilly: http://www.radiolicious.co.uk/2007/08/23/radio-scilly/
    That reminded me of the Cornish commercial radio: Pirate FM and that the accents are lampooned in the film Blue Juice (moi oal graanneee uzed ter saaayy…). is a British skit on surf culture, set in Cornwall – very funny, starring the young Catherine Zeta Jones, Sean Pertwee & Ewan Macgregor.

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