News from Celtic Press
Last Thursday (4th April), the General Secretary (GS) of the League was invited to speak at the International Celtic Congress in Bodmin.
The theme of the conference, which lasted for four days, was ‘Youth and the Future of Celtic Culture’ and the GS, Rhisiart Tal-e-bot, was asked to speak mainly about his work developing Cornish language nursery school provision. The conference took place at Lanhydrock Hotel and Golf Club and was attended by approximately 80 people, representing all six of the Celtic nations.
The GS is the founder and director of Movyans Skolyow Meythrin, a charitable organisation that works to promote the Cornish language in Cornwall among children of early years age. An edited version of the talk given by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot can be found below.
“Youth and the Future of Celtic Cornwall
According to Circero, ‘He who knows only his own generation remains always a child’.
Before we can develop a vision for the future, we must look back into the recent past and this is where I would like to begin this talk. The ‘Celtic’ face of Cornwall today is etched with Celtic knots and triskels in a way that would have been unimaginable to a previous generation. Look at the example of the way Pirantide has been celebrated this year and the many festivals that have taken place in celebration of the Cornish patron saint the length and breadth of Cornwall. In my College I ran a Cornish quiz and one of the questions was ‘Where did St Piran supposedly originate?’ and the number of correct answers I received truly astounded me. The Cornish language is now ‘officially’ recognised and there is even funding available for central government for its promotion. The bilingual road sign policy of Konsel Kernow is a huge move forward in terms of Cornish distinctiveness and even my 20 year old something hairdresser, who asked my where I was from, talked about our shared Celtic heritage!
Today Cornwall offers us a changed cultural landscape, but only if we place the progress that has been made into a generational context. Today we are more likely to have a book on our shelf called ‘Cornwall Forever’ and a photo on display of a relative parading through a Cornish street carrying a Cornish flag, than a coronation mug behind a glass cabinet.
Our Cornish and Celtic awareness of Cornwall’s place in the world is as much in response to the availability and ease of access to information over the last decade as anything else. The world is a rapidly changing place and we know about revolutions beginning in Tahrir Square and disasters occurring on the other side of the world almost as soon as they happen. Thanks to the development of the internet – we do not have to hear a news commentary about these events from one particular source. Rather we can pick and choose who we hear the news from, which can be from a range of different news sources about the significance of a particular event and can even include the very people on the ground that are being directly affected by it. Today I can hear about the campaign for a Yes vote on the planned Scottish referendum in 2014 on Euro News, Al Jazeera, France 24 or Russia Today. I can even chat to one of the many Yes vote campaigners directly if I so choose on one of the many forums that have been set up to debate the issue and who have just returned from talking to potential voters in central Glasgow, without even leaving my office.
The internet has played a valuable part in increasing people’s awareness of their Cornish and Celtic present, but so has the work of the many contributors who have voiced their concerns through letters in the newspaper, instigating and taking part in Cornish cultural activities and swelling the membership of various Cornish organisations over the years. Change has come about and we are luckily living in a different cultural landscape to the one Cornish and Celtic campaigners lived in previously, but at the same time we are different people.
However, I do not believe that those who desire a Cornwall with a Celtic future can be blasé about the development of that future and a Celtic future for Cornwall is not inevitable and perhaps it can never be. Indicative to the title of this talk is the suggestion that without young people the future of Celtic Cornwall is in doubt. However we are now riding on the crest of a digital age and we expect change to happen much quicker than campaigners previously did and must take care not to become too frustrated.
However, we must all begin to realise that we can and should be instigators of that change, regardless of how old we are, which is an important consideration in view of the fact that our nations comprise of an ageing population that will continue to grow older with every passing decade. We cannot necessarily rely on young people to solely be the future of Celtic Cornwall and it does not seem fair to burden that minority of the population with such a heavy duty, without carrying our share of it too.
In my opinion, campaigning for a more Cornish and Celtic future is as still important as it ever was.
As Ghandi rightly argued:
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
And this statement has plagued my mind for the past few years, with questions such as:
Am I doing enough to help carry the burden for our young people so that our Celtic future does not become history? What am I doing to instigate the change needed to bring about the Celtic future that I desire for our nations? What methods can be employed to ensure that change is effective and sustainable?
In this talk I will outline some of my views and experiences of what I see to be the role of young people in creating a future Celtic Cornwall.
I returned to Cornwall in 2009, because I felt that I should (or could) do more to ease the burden on the young people of Cornwall in helping them to create a Celtic future for themselves. I am not Cornish and was living in the Basque Country on the Spanish state side of the border, but I still felt an intense pull towards what was happening in Cornwall and followed the news and communicated with the people I knew there on a daily basis.
Since leaving Cornwall in 2004, I had fathered a child and for some reason the first words I spoke to her in the hospital in France where she was born were Cornish, and I continued to sing to her in Cornish, making up songs, with the limited Cornish I knew. It would have made more sense to have spoken Welsh to her or learned and spoken Basque, but I had felt a deep affinity for the Cornish and their Cornish heritage during the 8 years of my life here in my 20’s.
I had found that the young people I met in Cornwall, where I worked as a primary school teacher, were generally embarrassed about their Cornishness, but at the same time curious too. While living in Cornwall I had run a lunch time Cornish club at the primary school I worked at and so many children turned up I had to have a waiting list, but I also noticed that these very same children turned up because they wanted to know what this Cornish language was that I had told them about in assembly that week. The vast majority of the children had not previously heard about the existence of the Cornish language, let alone heard the language spoken and during the first few sessions the children kept asking me to say something in Cornish and then were amazed that they could not understand what I was saying, because they were convinced that they were already speaking ‘Cornish’ themselves with their strong Cornish accents.
As you may know from the results of an annual survey of schools in Cornwall, a large and growing proportion of young people in Cornwall say they feel Cornish and this is an interesting point to highlight here in relation to the topic of this talk.
In 2006 the category ‘Cornish’ was introduced on the Pupil Level Annual School Census (PLASC) survey and since that point the number of pupils being recorded as ‘Cornish’ on the survey has been increasing. In 2006, 24% of pupils were recorded as ‘Cornish’ in the PLASC survey, but by 2011 this figure had reached 41%, which is a 59% increase in just five years. Why this increase has occurred though is not clear.
The number of people moving into Cornwall from elsewhere over the last ten years is substantially and proportionally higher in Cornwall compared to other areas of the UK, so it seems odd that the number of children who are self/identifying as Cornish on the PLASC survey is dramatically increasing. Such high levels of in migration would suggest that there should be fewer children who identify themselves as Cornish in Cornwall, not more. The migration issue is another factor that would suggest that identity is not necessarily related to language and I have met a number of people who moved to Cornwall in later life who describe their identity as Cornish.
Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that Governments shall respect the right of a child to preserve his/her identity. However, even though the UK Government are signatories of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and 41% of children in Cornwall identify themselves as Cornish on the PLASC survey, schools in Cornwall are not obliged to teach the Cornish language, heritage and culture as part of the curriculum in order to help meet the requirements highlighted in the UNCRC. The national curriculum in Cornwall is entirely and legally English. The English national curriculum allows for some regional emphasis, but it is dependent on the school teachers themselves on what they choose to see this ‘region’ as. Cornwall is officially seen by the UK Government and others to be an area in the South West region of England and assimilation into this region has been growing since the 1960’s, with recent proposals suggesting that even the parliamentary boundaries in Cornwall should be merged with parts of Devon. Teachers can and do place Cornwall within this English ‘regional’ definition and so it is this English aspect that they include within the ‘regional’ emphasis of the curriculum.
My daughter was laughed at in school when she said in all sincerity that she was going to England for holiday and she has been ‘sold’ the idea that Queen Elizabeth II was her English Queen, over the last year, with celebrations taking place in the school for the Jubilee and even the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
When there are so many factors seemingly working against the free expression of the Cornish to assert their identity, why an increasing number of children are recording their identity on the PLASC survey as Cornish is a fact that is certainly worth exploring. The two obvious explanations as to why there is an increase in the number of children recorded as Cornish on the PLASC survey are that either family members are filling out the forms for the children or the children themselves are self-identifying themselves as Cornish. The role of the family and school in promoting Cornish identity is certainly worth further exploration.
It would be interesting to find out if people in Cornwall increasingly feel antagonised by the lack of recognition, promotion or protection for Cornish identity, which has resulted in a growing surge of Cornish expression or whether people are finally feeling more confident about expressing themselves as Cornish. It could also be the case of course that the younger generation feel more Cornish than their forebears. In Cornwall the Cornish people are part of a local minority culture within a minority culture within a wider UK societal context. If some form of crisis is needed to resolve issues of identity, as it has been suggested by researchers, then the Cornish – at both a local and wider level – certainly have that in Cornwall.
Lets put the future into the hands of the young people and give them the opportunities they need to express their Cornishness.
It is certainly worth bearing in mind that children are aware of their identities in a much deeper way that they are sometimes given credit for. My daughter, who is now six years of age and has a French mother, a Welsh father, was born in France, but spent the first three years of her life in the Basque Country and the latter three years in Cornwall, says to me that she is Spanish, Welsh and French. A Cornish identity does not really feature at all, despite the fact that I have used Cornish in the home since she was born. But to provoke me she said the other day that she was supporting England in the rugby, but wouldn’t say that she is English, despite the English national curriculum culture that she is exposed to. Research has shown that children are aware of their identity at a very young age and at 3 years of age my daughter used to add de Pamplona to the end of her name.
Staff in educational settings are certainly more inclusive now and more aware of issues of identity than they ever used to be, even compared to five years ago, but the assimilation in our schools continues undoubtedly, as my previous example showed.
Between 2007 and 2009 I was the president of a European youth organisation and had travelled widely around Europe visiting historic regions and nations, where I met with groups of young people who spoke their historic language and engaged with their historic heritage in a way that was uncommon in Cornwall from my experience. Most young people from these historic regions and nations knew about their respective cultures, histories and a large proportion of them spoke their respective languages. By knowing the language of their historic nation or region, these young people were at an advantage in my opinion and seemed to have a more self assured way about them and be more comfortable in their own identity. I first experienced this when I was 21 years of age and was invited to take part in an international high school event in Aabenraa, Denmark for a month with other minority groups from across Europe.
My fellow Welsh attendee, who I had never met before, was a native Welsh speaking 18 year old who didn’t think anything of standing up in front of the 100 or so participants and talking about his Welsh identity and country of Wales in Welsh and English. I however, was a native English speaker from the English speaking South Wales Valleys and the only thing I remember from Welsh class in school was ‘hoffi coffi’ and some of the more challenging children in the class arguing with the teacher about Welsh being a dead language. In Denmark I felt ashamed, in front of these other young people from minority cultures and language groups from across Europe, that I could not speak the historic language of my land.
My fellow attendees at the Danish High School could not understand why I did not know my native language and one provocative Armenian even questioned I could be Welsh at all, if I didn’t speak that language. In Denmark I found myself at a disadvantage compared to the Basques, Bretons, Catalans, Corsicans, Galicians, Silesians, Welsh and many other peoples of Europe who all spoke their own respective languages, because I felt I had missed out on the opportunity to find out about and develop aspects of my cultural and linguistic heritage that should have formed part of my Welsh identity and was unable to express myself through Welsh. This international experience contributed to my growing understanding that the acquisition of language was one of the key components in overcoming the defeated attitude and frustration that I felt about my own identity and in all honesty I felt angered and radicalised about my inability to express myself in what I considered to be my ‘native’ language and a significant element of my cultural heritage.
On returning home, I did not decide to learn Welsh, because I was living in Cornwall, but decided that I would learn Cornish. I do not want to make any excuses, but learning Cornish in Cornwall is not as easy as learning Welsh in Wales and due to one thing or another, the acquisition of this language has been a long term project of mine. One of the main difficulties I encountered was not deciding on which spelling system to use – I was not really interested in this debate – but looking for opportunities to speak the language. In training as a primary school teacher and working in a number of schools I soon realised Cornish had little place in schools (although I did encounter one Cornish lunch time club that ran in a school in Camborne). I found that learning Cornish with the commitments of work, my campaigning interests, socialising and doing stuff that young people generally like to do, was particularly difficult. I joined Cornish language classes and even tried to set up yeth an werin’s on occasion, but my constant frustration was the lack of opportunity there was to participate in Cornish cultural activities and events. When I was working I tried to teach the children in my class as much Cornish as I could as part of their daily routine, but I was seen to be back then a bit of an oddball for wanting to promote Cornish and people I spoke to generally could not understand why a non Cornish person would want to do such a thing.
I felt that a different perspective was needed.
As I was offered a job by the British Council (BC) in 2005, working as part of their bilingual project in Spain. The ‘bilingual project’ was an idea developed by Prime Ministers Blair and Aznar in the late 1990’s and involved Spanish state primary schools agreeing to change their provision from a monolingual Spanish to a bilingual Spanish/English language setting, where they would use a modified Spanish/English national curriculum. When I joined, the project had been running for several years in Spain with astounding results and during my time working on the project I learned a huge amount about how to work with children, parents and teachers in the acquisition, acceptance and development of a language among members of deprived communities, who often had little interest in what I was doing. The project had virtually no funding and no support structures in place to advise on how best to get results. I was pretty much just left to get on with the job and this freedom allowed me to be as creative as I wanted to be, which was in stark contrast to the straight jacketed education system that I had experienced. However, I am not a trained language teacher and as you can image I had to read widely and try to speak with as many teachers as I could about how best to proceed, which initially proved fairly difficult, partly because I did not know any Spanish and even the English teachers struggled to converse with me.
One afternoon on my break, I was reading MacKinnon’s independent report into the Cornish language one more time and noticed for the first time really the sentence:
“Without a developed playgroup stage, prospects for wider provision of Cornish in primary schooling are more difficult – let alone a Cornish-medium primary stage being established in the foreseeable future.” MacKinnon (2000: 32)
After reading this sentence it became all too clear what had to be done in Cornwall.
By that time I had been working for three years in Spanish state schools, with nursery age children predominantly, and I had come to realise the importance of learning a second language from as early an age as possible. I had just become a father and so had my friend in Cornwall and I decided to call him to ask if he knew if a Cornish language preschool had been set up yet in Cornwall. I knew about the existence of Dalleth – a preschool charity that had been set up in the 1970’s in Cornwall – but also knew that it had not functioned for many years. My friend in Cornwall told me he did not know of any group that currently taught preschool age children Cornish and he commented that he was thinking of using Cornish in the home with his daughter and would love for her to go to a Cornish nursery.
It was then that I decided to work with my friend to set up a Cornish nursery school movement. I contacted Professor MacKinnon to seek his advice on the best way forward and he put me in touch with several other people in Scotland and the Isle of Man who had been working to develop the Scottish and Manx languages at the preschool level of education for many years. While I was working in the Basque Country I set up the Community Interest Company, Movyans Skolyow Meythrin and thought that it would be relatively straight forward to help coordinate a Cornish language early years movement from abroad with the help of my friend on the ground in Cornwall, but I had completely underestimated how much work this would entail!
I wanted to develop the movement as quickly as possible, because I felt that the sooner the movement was set up, the sooner a Cornish preschool could be established and the sooner children could begin to learn Cornish. I believed that if a preschool movement was operating in Cornwall, it would lay the foundations for the systematic teaching and learning of Cornish and the development of the Cornish (and Celtic) heritage in the education system.
Finlay McLoed from Scotland reaffirmed my experience from working in the BC bilingual project that if I wanted to make this project successful, I had to engage the parents as much as the children in the learning of the Cornish language, so that the language could potentially be introduced in the home environment, which would lead to greater language learning success. I was also advised to focus on immersion education, not bilingual education.
I started to put together a list of the jobs that needed to be done next to make the movement better known and to set up the first preschool, but was quickly overwhelmed by the mammoth task ahead. I realised that if I was serious about fulfilling the aim that I set out to achieve, I would need to be in Cornwall to push the movement forward and so I started to think carefully how I could do this as effectively as possible. Providence was on my side and I applied for and was offered a job at Cornwall College (CC) that could not have been better suited to the task that I had set myself.
The department that I would work at for CC had a purpose built crèche that was not being used and my employer was supportive of the idea of developing a Cornish language preschool on the site. I secured limited funding and support from Maga – the Cornish Language Partnership – who I had been talking to for the past year, who agreed to back the project as a pilot scheme for a year to see how it developed. We found nine families who were prepared to attend Cornish language Saturday school sessions on a weekly basis for about 3 hours, where the parents and children would learn Cornish for the home environment. Qualified teachers would work with the children and parents, with the parents working in separate classroom to the children – between the ages of 2 and 5 years of age – who were learning in a crèche in the same building.
It was relatively straight forward to find a teacher for the parents, but unfortunately the task of finding a qualified early years teacher, who was also a Cornish language speaker was not so easy. In addition the teachers would need to be prepared to work voluntarily every Saturday for at least a year. Looking back I now realise that this was a huge commitment for anyone and as you would expect even though people commented that they wouldn’t mind volunteering for the odd weekend, no one would commit for the long term.
Regardless, we could not find anyone who had a reasonable standard of Cornish and was qualified to work with young children. I had initially flirted with the prospect of being the early years Cornish teacher myself, but dropped the idea after speaking with MacKinnon and McLoed, because I did not speak Cornish fluently enough and I was told that for the project to work successfully the early years teacher needed to be fluent. However, it looked as though there was no other option except for me to take on the role of early years teacher, at least until someone else came along
We intended to launch Skol Veythrin Karenza (SVK) on Saturday 9th January 2010, but the marketing department at Cornwall College – who had kindly offered to undertake the marketing launch for us – asked us to postpone the launch for a week, because they had been inundated with requests from the press and media to come to film and interview us. BBC radio and TV from Cornwall, Wales and the Midlands, West Country TV, The Times newspaper, Live 5 Radio, S4C, The Guardian, ITV, Nursery World, the West Briton, Western Morning News were just some of the media sources that either visited us or wanted an interview. There wasn’t a week that went by for a period of about a month and a half when I wasn’t doing some sort of interview. Having had some negative experience of the media previously, I was initially sceptical and cautious of their questions, but soon realised that their enthusiasm was genuine and the news items that they produced were extremely positive; not only that, their coverage was better than anything we could have hoped for in spreading the message that Cornish was a developing and living language and that parents wanted their children to learn the language, because it was an essential element of their Cornish and Celtic heritage.
Despite the media coverage throughout Cornwall and beyond, very few new children or families visited us or enquired about joining the group, as we had at first imagined. We were not OfSTED registered and so could not accept children without their parents and besides we wanted the parents to attend the setting to learn Cornish too in order to bring the language into the home. In retrospect we were asking for a big commitment from families, but we were also providing a service that was extremely cost effective (£2 per family) and professional. Despite my lack of fluency, I found that with a few hours careful preparation every week, I was a very convincing fluent speaker of Cornish (especially with young children!). After several months though, when we were sure no more journalists would turn up, we decided to use English more, because I was struggling to keep up with the amount of preparation that was needed to work through Cornish with 10 children at a time of varying ages, while working full time during the week. The experience was truly exhausting for me, but immensely interesting and I intend to record my reflections on it at some point.
As well as promoting our work, the media had given us the opportunity to reflect heavily on what we were doing and where we intended to develop in the future. Dalleth had functioned on a monthly basis and so our ambitious weekly target was a development on the work of that organisation, but we needed to see how long we could continue with the provision that we had started. One year passed and the families involved were as still committed to the project as previously. One family had dropped out of the project, but most wanted to continue and so we did. The children’s understanding of Cornish grew rapidly and the parents told me that they were using the language in the home and their children were regularly singing Cornish songs.
My fear though was that we were not developing further and so with a research grant from Plymouth University and Cornwall College, I visited the Isle of Man and Wales to see how their nursery provision was run. The research trips were extremely informative and gave me a clearer vision about the direction we needed to take. The visits made me realise that to get where we wanted to be we needed to change direction. Initially, we had thought that after a year of running the Saturday school we would be ready to open a full time OfSTED registered Cornish language nursery, but realised that this was not feasible.
Slowly we started to make some changes, which involved trying to formalise the service that we were offering. The Saturday school had become a very close knit community and we were more like a large group of friends learning Cornish together, rather than a Cornish language service. some of us got the impression that the couple of families that visited the school since it started had and decided not to attend, because they felt a little put off by our familiarity with each other.
We finally stopped the Saturday school in June 2012 and planned to open again the following September, while reaching out to a wider audience. During the two years, MSM had provided other services to develop the Cornish language at early years level and were not just involved with SVK. We had produced a CD of children’s songs in Cornish and other promotional material, attended various community events and conferences and worked with several organisations and schools to develop the aims of organisation. With our very scarce resources we were reaching out to the young people in our community, but it was obvious that we needed to do more. Several times we applied for additional funding in order to try to boost the development of the school, but without success and it seemed that becoming a fully functioning OfSTED preschool was still one step too far for us.
With extremely limited resources, especially time, some enterprising ideas were needed desperately if we were to continue with our early years Cornish language provision into the forthcoming academic year, which was still the only provision of its type in Cornwall. We could not stop providing a Cornish language early years setting, this much was agreed, but the situation looked bleak. For those of you who are not aware, working with children in the UK is a legislative and complicated mine field and there are so many restrictions to the service that is provided. It was felt that we could not, in the normal way, overcome these barriers, but at the same time we needed to continue teaching children Cornish.
Just before the new academic year began I suddenly had a brain wave and in September 2012 SVK metamorphosed into a ‘Klub Kernewek’ to be run every Wednesday on the Karenza site in Cornwall College. Within a week I rearranged my teaching timetable, made a deal with Cornwall College about the cost of renting the Karenza crèche, requested that childcare and education students volunteer at the crèche, arranged a new service level agreement with Maga and invited Flying Start nursery school children, who occupied the building next door, with their key workers to attend a Cornish club to learn Cornish for a morning and afternoon session each week.
This could not have been done without the help of two volunteers from the SVK Saturday School, who kindly agreed to run the provision and we opened our doors to children from Flying Start Nursery and the children of students from Cornwall College in October 2012. In addition we offered Cornish language classes during a lunch time session to staff, students and the general public.
We currently have 16 children between 3 and 5 years of age from Flying Start nursery attending Klub Kernewek at SVK every Wednesday for either a morning or afternoon session and 5 children between 18 months and 6 years of age attending for the whole day. We do not charge, but at the same time, due to a beneficial arrangement with Cornwall College, our overheads are kept low. Cornwall College students have even organised fund raising activities for us when we have requested. I would describe the situation with the provision that we are offering at SVK as opportune, but it is not really sustainable and in this sense is not ideal. We have certainly widened the provision and one of the Directors of MSM said that what SVK is offering on a Wednesday is more akin to a bilingual centre rather than a school, which seems to be a better description for the arrangement that has been organised.
One of the dilemmas that we face as an organisation, which is an aspect of our practice that will really hold us back in the future unless we can find a solution to the problem, is not having Cornish language speakers who are actually qualified to work with preschool age children. Maga told me recently that they can get up to 40 requests a month from schools in Cornwall, asking them to come in to run Cornish language taster sessions with children and as you can imagine they are not able to meet demand.
MSM has continued this year to go into schools to work with children on a particular theme in the Cornish language, but this is an infrequent occurrence. One of the benefits that I am really pleased about with the Klub Kernewek arrangement on a Wednesday is that childcare and education students, between 16 and 19 years of age, who have agreed to volunteer at the crèche on a weekly basis can see how Cornish can be used with preschool aged children. It is clear though that more needs to be done in this area and on my visit to the Isle of Man in 2011, I saw that Mooinjer Veggey – a much more developed preschool movement – was also struggling to attract qualified Manx speaking staff.
This year however I was lucky enough to receive funding to develop a short course at level 4 targeted at early years practitioners who are working in preschools and nurseries who want to learn Cornish and introduce the language into their settings. Part of my motivation in developing this course, stemmed from my reasoning that it may be easier to introduce the Cornish language into existing English language early years settings, especially if, as Maga pointed out, demand from schools to introduce Cornish is so high.
Working with preschool age children especially does not require the level of fluency needed to work with adults and it is possible to become ‘fluent’ in early years teaching in a couple of months. Such language courses exist in Wales and the north of Ireland and I have been drawing from their experience about how to move forward in this area. For Cornish though one of the difficulties of teaching at this level is finding the correct terminology to use in the language, because some of the words regularly used with young children like ‘woops-a- daisy’ or similar cannot be found in any dictionary. Even straight forward words like push chair, nappy and ‘poo-poo’ cannot be easily discerned.
As for September 2013, the start of the next school year, the plan is for SVK is to have a fully functioning OfSTED registered preschool, where families pay to access our provision, as they would in any English language preschool setting. It may not be full time, but it could easily be three days a week, using our current site. The idea is simple and the method to achieve this is not that complicated, but what we lack at the moment is the time and resources to put this into action. We have also started to plan how we can introduce a parent and toddler group to our existing Wednesday provision, as they do in Wales, but again we are limited by our scare resources, in particular the time necessary to achieve this.
A registered preschool at SVK was to be the first fully functioning Cornish language setting of MSM, but not the only one. We must build on our experience of working with children of early years age and now that we have been doing this for over three years, it is essential that we keep up the momentum. At the start of the 2013/2014 new school year, we cannot really maintain what we have provided for the 2012/13 academic year. We now need to move on to the next step in a sustainable way by opening our preschool setting to the public and charge for our services. It is only then that we can seriously think about expanding our provision to other areas of Cornwall and using SVK as a sort of training centre for early years practitioners to attend, in order to learn how to more effectively introduce the Cornish language to children in the early years of education.
There may be growing number of children in Cornwall who are recording their identity as Cornish in our schools, but the richest element of their Cornish heritage – the Cornish language – is sadly lacking in their education. The most persuasive argument for the acceptance of Cornwall as a member of the Celtic Congress in 1904 was the use of the Cornish language and this is the valued element that will continue to sustain Cornwall’s distinct Celtic heritage in the future. What MSM is working on is just one method of introducing young children to the Cornish language, but it is an essential part of ensuring that there is a future for the language. All of the other Celtic countries have a fully functioning preschool movement and even though MSM has begun on this journey, there is a long way to travel and stopping or turning around is not an option.
The ‘Celtic’ criterion can only really be a linguistic criterion and without each of our Celtic languages, spoken within living memory, we could not really qualify to be part of the Celtic family. Galicians write to me regularly and complain bitterly that they are not accepted into the Celtic League as a seventh national branch of the organisation, because they argue that their culture is Celtic and so is their way of life. We have had to stand firm and argue that the Celtic language that was spoken in Galicia died out many centuries ago and the language that is spoken there ‘within living memory’ is a member of the Romance family of languages and consequently, under our definition, they cannot be called Celtic. A Celtic identity is part of the Cornish heritage, but it cannot and should not be taken for granted.
The development of the Cornish language cannot exist in a vacuum and MSM, at least in these initial stages, needs something of a campaigning edge to it. We cannot rely on people accepting our vision merely because we think our vision is the right one. There has to be an element of persuasion and one of the most persuasive forces in education is parents, who we must show that in learning Cornish, their children will not only gain access to a rich cultural heritage, but will also develop significant educational benefits that will put them on par with the majority of children in the rest of Europe, most of whom speak additional languages. At the same time, it important for us to be realistic and reversing language shift is usually an extraordinarily slow process. There are rarely quick fixes.
The future of Cornish lies with our young people and the future of a Celtic Cornwall lies with the Cornish language. A parent recently told me that her son likes coming to SVK because he feels ‘special’ and it is this ‘specialness’, through learning Cornish that we all have a responsibility to instil in our children. All children are unique and there are certain gifts that we can give them, which will enable them to recognise this fact in themselves. The Cornish language is a gift that we can bestow on our children that will give them the confidence to be Cornish and Celtic over the coming generations.”
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8th April 2013
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