Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Cornish language has been undergoing a revival. Revived Cornish is based on a corpus of mainly Middle Cornish and Late Cornish texts ranging from the 14th century to the 18th century. Like English, following the Norman conquest, Cornish adopted a large number of Old Norman French loan words. Many if not most revivalists, including various lexicographers of revived Cornish, avoid words of Old Norman French origin that resemble Present Day English words. These revivalists view any semblance to English in the lexicon as a corruption of the Cornish language and adhere to an ideology of a purely Celtic Cornish lexicon. Consequently Revived Cornish has undergone a relexification in which neologisms based on Celtic roots have replaced Old Norman French loan words. Such neologisms have often been created by respelling Welsh and Breton words to allow for phonological differences with Cornish. Perversely, the avoidance of words that resemble English words is itself an example of the influence of the English language upon Cornish and is at odds with the Middle Cornish and Late Cornish corpus upon which Revived Cornish is based. This paper examines the corpus of revived Cornish, including its dictionaries and shows that present day lexical preferences are conditioned by an etymologically based ideology that eschews items that bear any resemblance to Present Day English.
Cornish syntagmatic lexical relations include collocations and idioms, and appear on a cline from free combination through recurring combination and restricted combination to fixed expression. Collocations are significant according to their frequency of occurrence. In other words, if an expression is heard often, the words become 'glued' together in our minds. To varying degrees, collocations are restricted with regard to the words with which they combine. Common features of collocation include non-substitutability and non-modifiability. Some expressions, such as idioms, are totally fixed.
However collocation is not merely concerned with the frequency with which words co-occur. Firth writes “You shall know a word by the company it keeps” (Firth 1957a: 11), and that “Meaning by collocation is an abstraction at the syntagmatic level” (Firth 1957b: 196). Thus one of the meanings of nos (‘night’) is its collocability with tewl (‘dark’), and of tewl (‘dark’), of course, its collocation with nos (‘night’). Furthermore collocates of any given word form distinguish that word’s different senses. This is particularly noticeable with collocations in which a verb or a noun combine with a preposition, for example: mires dhe ‘take care of’, mires orth ‘consider’, mires rag ‘seek’, and mires war ‘observe’. This presentation is illustrated with examples from Middle and Late Cornish.
The Cornish language went into decline during the Middle Ages until it was all but totally extinct by the time the revival began at the beginning of the 20th century. The period following the Norman Conquest had been the era of Cornish classical literature when the Cornish Miracle plays were written. This episode came to an abrupt halt with the accession of the Tudor dynasty. Following a series of unsuccessful rebellions, the Cornish speaking population was reduced and the Cornish language went into rapid decline. By the beginning of the 18th century, Cornish was confined to the far west of Cornwall. The revival began with the publication Jenner’s (1904) Handbook of the Cornish Language. During the 20th century a succession of orthographies were devised for Cornish, so that by the close of the 20th century 3 main orthographies were competing. In 2002, Part II of the 1992 Council of Europe Charter for Regional and Minority Languages granted Cornish Official "minority language“ status. A new orthography, the Standard Written Form (SWF) / Furv Skrifys Savonek was adopted for official and educational use. The SWF was revised in 2013. Nevertheless, since its introduction, the SWF has been much criticised, and has not been universally accepted by the Cornish language community as a whole.