The status of the Cornish was reclassified last week by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), who recognised that the language was not `extinct’, but ‘critically endangered’.
Last Wednesday (8th Dember2010) the most recent edition of the Atlas of World Languages in Danger was published, which for the first time recognised the existence of Cornish as a living language. In February 2009, the Cornish language was classified by UNESCO as extinct, despite numerous complaints from individuals and organisations, including the Celtic League. Previous to 2009, UNESCO listed endangered languages in the Red Book of Endangered Languages, which the Atlas has superseded. The online Atlas is a much more comprehensive list of the world’s endangered languages and also includes some interactive features. In 2009 though, Cornish was listed as extinct alongside the Manx language, leading some linguists to question its academic validity.
Over the last ten years the Cornish revival has grown rapidly, with the language has been recognised by the (UK) government and receiving funding for its development. Manx was even further advanced in its revival than Cornish, with the language being taught in its own Manx medium schools system and as part of the curriculum in others.
Campaigners were therefore surprised to discover that UNESCO had described both languages as extinct in 2009. Following an outcry by campaigners and a re-designation of the degrees of endangered terminology on the Atlas, both Cornish and Manx have now been reclassified, with Manx being reclassified earlier on this year. Both languages also have a `revitalised’ status, showing that they are revived.
Nevertheless, this means that all the Celtic languages are now recognised as living, albeit endangered languages, for the first time by the UN. The Breton language is the only Celtic language that is not `officially’ recognised by the state government. The Celtic languages also occupy all classification categories with the exception of `extinct’. The classification of the six Celtic languages
is as follows, with the healthiest classification at the top. A rough approximation of numbers of speakers compared to population can be found alongside.
Cymraeg/Welsh: Vulnerable (611,000 speakers out of 2.98 million population)
Gaeilge/Irish: Definitely endangered (80,000 speakers out of 6.1 million population)
Gàidhlig/Scottish: Definitely endangered (58,652 speakers out of 5,168,500 population)
Brezhoneg/Breton: Severely endangered (200,000 speakers out of 4365500 population)
Gaelg/Manx: Critically endangered (revitalised) (1,689 speakers out of 76,315 population)
Kernewek/Cornish: Critically endangered (revitalised) (2000 speakers out of 500 000 population)
The 2010 edition of the Atlas has been made possible through funding by the Norwegian government.
This article prepared for Celtic News by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot General Secretary Celtic League. For follow-up comment or clarification contact:
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J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information