The Death and Revival of Cornish

How a language dies — and how it can come back to life

Adam M Wakeling
11 min readJun 1, 2021
Lizard Point, Cornwall (Wikimedia Commons)

“Me deskey Cornoack moas da more gen tees coath”

(I learnt Cornish going to sea with old men)

From a letter from William Bodinar to Daines Barrington, 1776, one of the last surviving written lines of traditional Cornish

EEighteenth-century Mousehole was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bustling place. The residents of the small, out-of-the-way Cornish village about two miles south of Penzance spent their time fishing, repairing their boats and nets, and doing their best to keep the Atlantic gales out of their cottages. Mousehole is one of the most south-westerly places in Britain, and sits on one of the few sheltered bays on the coast of a peninsula with the ocean on three sides.

The villagers would no doubt have been surprised, one day in 1768, to find a well-spoken, well-dressed man from London standing in their marketplace. He was Daines Barrington, lawyer, antiquarian, and man of letters, whose writings had spanned such diverse topics as Experiments and Observations on the Singing of Birds to Tracts on the Probability of reaching the North Pole. His interests included linguistics, and he had come to Mousehole in search of Cornish speakers.



Adam M Wakeling

Adam Wakeling is an Australian writer, lawyer and historian. He is online at and on Twitter @AdamMWakeling.