Here is the English translation of the feature that electropop star Gwenno wrote for this week’s print edition of The Big Issue…
I must admit that I’ve wanted to write and record an album entirely in Cornish for a very long time. I’m not quite sure why – and that’s a good thing, I think, certainly when you’re creating it’s quite important to switch off your brain from too many distracting thoughts to allow yourself to tune in to your emotions. So, I thought a lot about what emotions the language conjured up in me. I thought back to the time I was a kid, singing silly songs with my sister and my dad about traffic lights, apples, cakes, and about the feelings that I have when I sing the same silly songs with my son. The home was important to me, and the feeling of family. Cornish is the language of the home to me more than anything else, and so that’s what I wanted to celebrate.
Another reason I used Cornish to write my new album was for the sound of it, and for its history. It’s quite difficult for me to describe, but the sound of the language is ‘darker’ to my ear, and I really like that. I like to use words which have a ‘harder’ sound: it evokes the landscape the stone and the sea of Cornwall for me. I have never lived in Cornwall, so Cornish reveals an image to me of the land and its people. When I was looking into the history of the language and the people who have kept it alive over the years, I learnt so much about the language that I have always spoken without thinking about it, and that gave me a lot of joy too.
I’d like to tell you a bit about the state of the language today. Cornish is a language that has been spoken by people in Cornwall since the 5th century. The largest number of Cornish speakers was around the 15th century, and after that for numerous reasons (the Bible wasn’t translated into Cornish, many Cornish speakers were murdered by Henry VII in 1497, and many had to leave Cornwall to find work) the language lost its footing until the 19th century when a Cornish scholar, Henry Jenner, collected all of the phrases and words together, publishing his book A Handbook of the Cornish language in 1904 and started to build connections with the other Celtic countries through the Gorsedh in Brittany first of all, and then with the one in Wales.
After that, Robert Morton Nance, a leading authority on the Cornish language, collaborated with Jenner to establish the Gorsedh in Cornwall in 1928. This helped reestablished the Celtic-Cornish identity in Cornwall and introduced the language to a wider audience and inspired people to use it in their day-to-day lives. By now there are around 2,000 who have a good knowledge of the Cornish language and there are more and more people learning!
I can’t predict what will happen to Cornish in the future, but, I know that it’s important to me to use it in my everyday life, and to use it to write my songs too. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to the album, and that so many people have come to see us play when so many don’t understand a word, it’s given me a lot of encouragement to sing in my own language and has confirmed to me that there is a place for Cornish in the world today and in the future.
Gwenno’s Cornish-language album Le Kov is out now @gwennosaunders