kimkat0161e Wales And Her Language Considered From A Historical, Educational And Social Standpoint
John E. Southall. 149 Dock Street, Newport, Mon. 1892.
02-06-2017

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Wales And Her Language Considered From A Historical, Educational And Social Standpoint With Remarks On Modern Welsh Literature And A Linguistic Map Of The Country.
John E. Southall. 149 Dock Street, Newport, Mon. 1892.

CHAPTER X. 365-375.

CORNISH ITS RAPID DECLINE REASON THEREFOR RELATION OF A LANGUAGE TO THE MINDS OF THE SPEAKERS IRISH ITS DIFFICULTIES TO LEARNERS IRISH LANGUAGE SOCIETY SCOTCH GAELIC.


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365, 366, xxx, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375,

 

 

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CHAPTER X.

CORNISH ITS RAPID DECLINE REASON THEREFOR RELATION OF A LANGUAGE TO THE MINDS OF THE SPEAKERS IRISH ITS DIFFICULTIES TO LEARNERS IRISH LANGUAGE SOCIETY SCOTCH GAELIC.

A REVIEW of the decline of the ancient Cornish has -^ directly nothing to do with "Wales and her Language," but it is introduced here, as affording a sidelight on the position of the Welsh, and both to shew how far the history of the two languages runs parallel, and how far important differences exist, which must materially affect an estimate of the future of Welsh, based on the history of the sister tongue.

Celtic scholars, who are well acquainted with the slender materials which exist for such a digest as I am about to make, will, I am sure, excuse a repetition, for the sake of the less well-informed. In rendering this, I shall principally rely for assistance upon information given in Jago's " Glossary of the Cornish Dialect."

We have already seen that in Wales, at the time of the accession of the first Tudor Kings, there was a large amount of manuscript literature existing, apparently more in proportion to the population than was the case in England, and there is a probability the language was spoken both by feudal lords, small freeholders, and serfs, over the whole of Wales (except portions where alien colonies had settled,) and in parts of Herefordshire and Shropshire. At the same period it is probable that Cornish was spoken a few miles over the Devonshire border, (Devon-Cornish appears to have existed in Queen Elizabeth's time), and that the whole country west of


 

 

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366 WALES AND [HER LANGUAGE] CHAP. X.

the Tamar the river dividing the counties- was nearly solidly Cornish.

From the nature of the trade carried on by the inhabitants, there was considerable intercourse with England in connection with fishing and mining pursuits, and though there is no evidence that English was anywhere generally spoken in the county before the art of Printing was introduced into England, the vocabulary was gradually becoming less and less representative of a pure Celtic tongue, something like the colloquial Monmouthshire Welsh of our day, which is interlarded with English words.

However(,) this may be, no English was used in the old parish masshouses before 1547, when the Vicar of Menheniot taught his parishioners the creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments in English.

Now, it is very remarkable that within the very short space of 60 years not merely did it come to pass that English was generally spoken, but Carew, in his "Survey of Cornwall," published in 1602 said, "Of the inhabitants, most can speak no word of Cornish." About 1610, another Cornish writer says: "It seemeth, however, that in a few years the Cornish will be, by little and little, abandoned. By 1640, Cornish appears to have been excluded from all the parish meeting-houses but two, viz., Feock and Landewednack.

Though such extreme rapidity at first astounds a person who has only been accustomed to deal with the retrocession of the Welsh-speaking border, which at one point Oswestry can scarcely be said to have moved three miles in a century, on further consideration of the facts, the difficulties partially disappear.

In the first place, Cornwall is not known to have had a national literature. There was no Iolo Goch or Glyn Cothi or Dafydd ap Gwilym; no Triads, no Cyfreithiau Hywel Dda,



 

 

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CHAP. X.] [WALES AND] HER LANGUAGE. 367

no Mabiniogion to be read in the halls of the country squires. In the next place, there was no translation of the Bible, and no religious literature beyond the so-called sacred dramas, which were meant to be performed rather than read. In the third place it was disused as a medium of communication in public worship, at first apparently, because the people could understand English, rather than because they could not understand Cornish. As to the real facts of the case historians are at variance: Whitaker author of the "ancient Cathedral of Cornwall," affirming that the tyranny of England forced the language on the Cornish, by whom it was not desired: Borlase on the contrary says, "that when the liturgy was appointed instead of the mass, the Cornish desired it to be in English."

Now the truth probably is that a small minority of the people, represented by such as the Vicar of Menheniot, desired the change of language, and that a certain amount of coercion was used to effect the purpose desired, which was remarkably successful owing to the combined effect of banishment from the Episcopal worship and the absence of printed literature, though a much longer period was required than from 1540-1640 before the conversational use of the language entirely ceased.

The last Cornish sermon preached noticed in history, was preached in 1678. In 1701 E. Lhuyd noticed the language being retained in fourteen parishes, along the sea shore from the Lands End to near the Lizard, by some of the inhabitants only. E. Lhuyd managed to acquire sufficient knowledge of the language to write a Cornish preface to his book. In 1746 a Cornishman was found who could converse with Bretons. In 1758 the language had nearly ceased in ordinary conversation. In 1788 Dolly Pentreath the last person whose mother tongue was Cornish died, although there were others alive then who could converse in it more or less.

We have just seen that there were surrounding conditions


 

 

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368 WALES AND [HER LANGUAGE] [CHAP. X.


in the face of which no language could be expected to live; nor the population speaking it, to partake of the civilization of modern Europe. In a state of savagery, its preservation might have been possible; but Wales and Cornwall have some 1600 years passed that stage of development. External circumstances, then possibly accented by the policy of the Tudor governments, starved Cornish to death.

Welsh still lives under differing external circumstances, and is likely to do so for hundreds of years to come, as the starving process has only been partially applied. It is one of the objects of this book to shew that such circumstances may be so modified as to ensure it a natural, rather than an artificial death; or else to indefinitely prolong its life.

The following is two verses of the First chapter of Genesis in old Cornish:

Yn dalleth Dew a wriig nef ha'n nor.

Hag ydh ese an nor heb composter ha gwag; ha tew olgow ese war enep an downder, ha Spyrys Dew rug gwaya war enep an dowrow.

The following is modern Cornish followed by the corresponding Welsh (see Arch Brit p. 251)

Bedhez guesgyz diueth ken gueskal enueth, rag hedna yu an guelha point a skians oil.*

Bydd drawedig ddwywaith cyn tare unwaith, canys honno yw 'r gamp synwyrolaf oil.

Breton the remaining sister tongue is more akin to Cornish than to Welsh. I have no precise date as to the population speaking it probably 900,000 would be near the mark.

Many people talk about a language as though it was simply a matter of choice with the people which they spoke. This is


* " Be struck twice before striking once, for that is the wisest achievement of all." This occurs in a curious old story, containing the adventures of a Cornishman, fished up by E. Lhuyd.

 

 

 






 

 

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OHAP. X.] [WALES AND] HER LANGUAGE. 369


not SO altogether. The amount of the actual use of a language is m reality, the resultant of several forces, the operations of which if they were capable of being weighed and measured could be expressed by an exact mathematical formula; as however, we can never reduce metaphysics into a branch of physics, we will not make the attempt.

Though we can never arrive at an exact conclusion, we may still take into consideration, the adaptability of the sounds and structure of a language to the mental constitution of the people who speak it, in pther words how far a given language is an adequate representation of the feelings, ideas and mental powers of those who speak and write it.

The relation therefore which a language bears to the minds of those to whom it is a mother tongue, is indicated by what may be called its statural or substantial vitality. The effect produced by laws, custom and education considered in themselves as exterior forces acting upon the use of the language, may be called the artificial or accidental vitality.

The use of language is not a matter of choice with the generality of people, simply because it is not an end, but only a means to an end. That end is to express a wish, or communicate an impression to a fellow being with the least possible trouble and leaving aside the action of the baser emotions, such as pride, a person chooses that language to communicate in, of which the natural vitality combined with the artificial vitality enables him most freely to express his mind, and consequently produce the results aimed at, with the least mental effort.

Suppose for instance a nation with a language which possesses a certain correspondence with the expression of their own mental habits comes in contact with another language possessing a less correspondence, we might say that the natural vitality of the first language was greater than that of the second,

 

 

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370 WALES AND [HER LANGUAGE] [CHAP. X.


and up to a certain point notwithstanding the concurrent use of the second, the speakers fall most naturally back upon the first. It is possible however that the use of the second may through external or artificial causes so exclusively predominate, that it takes root like the graft of a tree, the balance turns the other way, the firstoccupies a secondary place, or it gradually dies and its natural vitality is then only expressed by a tendency of mind, to what naturalists would call " reversion," which waits sufficiently favourable circumstances to assert itself.

The science of language has of late years received considerable additions the history of languages, their growth and decay, have been laid open to dissection as never before, but the philosophy of language, the reason why one man in some cases uses a different word to express the same idea as his neighbour, and in other cases uses the same word, but sounds it so differently that it is scarcely recognizable, the reason why the collocation of ideas in the form of a sentence is so different in the mouths of one nation compared with that of another, is still involved in obscurity.

For instance, what were the causes which induced the old Greeks long ages ago to adopt v-d-r, the Saxons v-t-r, the Cymry d-v-r, as their base for water? Why are the English so afraid of the guttural ch sound that they pronounce night as nite, and Vaughan ( W= Vychan) as vawn? And why have the Cymry a dislike to either the flat or sharp j sound, so that Johnny becomes ShOni, while their brethren, the later Cornish adopted it and hir (long) became cheer, a cliff now called the " Chair ladder " in reality yr hir lethr. How is it that we say nothing but Edward for a man's name, but a person speaking with a Strong "Welshy" accent utters a quite appreciable approximation to the French Edouard, only with a sharp t sounded at the end?

Comparative Philology has brought to light many important



 

CHAP. X.] [WALES AND] HER LANGUAGE. 371

facts, it has taught us much of the relations of sounds, has traced obscure relationships in the words themselves, and has classified diiferences under the operation of laws, but it has a vanishing point. Just as biology under the guidance and appliances of modern science can deal with the most abstruse phenomena of life, but it can never fathom their well spring, so before the student of philology as well as that of biology there is always a cm-tain drawn, which he cannot lift; in other words he is still in the field of secondary phenomena not in that of origins.

Applying this to the matter in hand, we may have a key to the great vitality of the Welsh language, and shall be justified in at least being cautious before endeavouring to compass its artificial extinction, assuredly the time-honoured methods of the schools and colleges are artificial.

lEISH.

It is reported of Tiior the Scandinavian mythological hero, that he set out fi'om Asgard'" for Joteuheim, the home of giants, the weird land of frost and snow: in the course of his wanderings he arrived at Utgard, wliere he was introduced into an immense banqueting hall; there around the table on stone thrones were gravely seated giants who were determined on taking the self-conceit out of him, and making light of his prowess, proposed that his capacities should be tested. At one of the experiments whereby this was done, he was handed a cup full of liquor which he was requested to empty; after twice attempting to drain it by moderate draughts, Thor was surprised and vexed to find that scarcely any impression was made on the surface; fiercely applying himself a third time he just succeeded in reducing the liquor a little below the rim.

Now a student entering on the study of Irish if he thinks to

* The home of the reputed gods.


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372 WALES AND [HER LANGUAGE] [CHAP. X.

master it by the same means, and with no more trouble than he would pick up most other European languages, would be very likely to share such feelings as the Scandinavian folk attributed to Thor after his capacious draughts out of the drinking cup, albeit, they apologize for him by saying, that the bottom of it reached the ocean, and the ebbing and flowing of the tides are the visible signs left of his mighty draughts.

The initial difficulty in Irish is caused by the great discrepancy between the spelling and the pronunciation; I defy anyone to acquire an approximately correct Irish pronunciation from such grammars as are at present published. A mastery too of the constructions, and the use of the particles is by no means child's play even to a person tolerably familiar with Welsh. Speaking of difficulties, a friend of the author's may be mentioned, whose business took him into every district in Ireland; being an intelligent man he wished to acquire the language, but was obliged to desist from the attempt, and I have heard him enunciate a theory that the superfluous consonants which constitute a worse bugbsar than the initial mutations in Welsh, were inserted by the Monks in order to keep the people in ignorance, this is ingenious, but certainly unsupported by evidence.

We have already seen the disadvantages under which Welsh education has laboured, on account of the exclusion of the language from the course of elementary instruction. Up to within 1877 or thereabouts, the position of the Irish language in the course of government education was almost precisely similar to that of Welsh; there was however this important difference in the status of the two languages; for many generations Irish had been going down; it existed it is true, as a fireside tongue in the homes of the people,-but it possessed no modern literature to speak of, and was rapidly becoming less and less used.

There was it is true, and is now, a professor of Irish at



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CHAP. X.] [WALES AND] HER LANGUAGE. 373

Dublin University, and perhaps a little might be read there of the extensive Mediaeval literature of the past, but the persons up and down the country who could read the language were but few and far between.

Under these circumstances a society was brought into existence, called the "society for the preservation of the Irish language," the reader should bear in mind that its promoters were not afraid of the word preservation. This society held a congress in Dublin, in 1882, in which a considerable number of facts were elicited, which helped to throw up in relief the question of bilingual education in Welsh schools, in some matters there is a striking parallel between Wales and Ireland, in others quite as striking a contrast: I may also observe-that this society does not timidly confine its aims to Irish-speaking children, but also that teaching the language may be extended to English-speaking children in Ireland. What have they done? They have sold 100,495 books,* among which are the first, second and third Irish books giving elementary instructioii in that langiiage, and 6,225 copybooks, with headings in Irish. The following table shows the progress made in the national schools:

No OP PcrPILS WHO PASSED IN IMSH. 1881 1882 1883 1884 1885 1886 1887 1888 1889 1890 1891 12 17 25 93 161 321 S71 443 512 531 515

i For 1891, the returns were made up seventeen days before

the expiration of a full twelve months.

The passes in Irish, in the Intermediate programme rise from43' in 1883, to 244 in 1891. These figures are taken from the

last annual report. These reports usually contain interesting

selections from correspondence with teachers and others, an

example which the Welsh society inight well follow.

* of these 53,951 were the first Irish book.

 

 

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374 WALES AND [HER LANGUAGE] [CHAP. X.

Some of the reports from national school teachers, point to exactly the difficulty with parents that has been experienced in Wales, e.g. Parents of the boys disincline to allow their children to learn, in some instances are found to have warned them against speaking Irish, or admitting that they could, (Ennis); children regard the language ashamedly, encouraged to do so by their parents (Sligo). The difficulty of securing qualified teachers has also hampered the work of this society. The total number of persons speaking Irish in 1881, in Ireland, was given by the census as 949,937, but in 1731 the Irish-speaking population was 1,340,808, in 1851 1,524,286; whether or no the efforts of this society will ever lead to a recovery of the figures of 1851, we may not venture to say.

Since the end of last century, we see then, that the Welsh-speaking population has increased, the Irish decreased.

At the 1882 meeting, Marcus J. Ward, of Belfast, said

I value the national language, while it lives, because it is the key which alone can furnish a means of knowing completely the Celtic genius of our countrymen. It is the only way to the hearts and minds of our Irish-speaking population, in whom we may trace unerringly what are the characteristics, the bent, and the tendency of the nationality to which we belong, and on what stock have been grafted the successive immigrations to this our land.

A very singular monument to the religious zeal of the ancient Irish, before the fangs of popery were fully closed on the Island is to be found at this day in Vienna, in Die Schottische strasse, the Irishmen's street, so-called from its connection with the Scoto-Irish missionaries of the early middle ages. These very missionaries left manuscript remains to which it may be said we are indebted for that monument of German industry and difficult research, the " Grammatica Celtica " of I. C. Zeuss, which has been for several years the chief authority among scholars on Celtic grammar.


 

 

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CHAP. X.] [WALES AND] HER LANGUAGE. 375

Although Irish Gaelic possesses scarcely any modern literature in the usual acceptation of the term, the Scotch Gaelic is rather differently situated. Mary Macpherson, a professional nurse, seventy years old, is a recent poetess, whose works have attracted some attention, yet strange to say, she can read, but cannot write her own compositions, of which a volume containing between eight and nine thousand lines taken down from her own recitation, was published at Inverness, in 1891, for five shillings.

The Gaelic speaking population of Scotland, is about 400,000 that of the Isle of Man, whose dialect by the way, appears far easier to master than Irish, my own small experience may be trusted, perhaps does not exceed a few score.


 

 



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