Romany and Cornish – Minority Languages in the UK

“Even if the language were actually “dead” (I do not believe that it has, by any reasonable definition of “dead”), precedent suggests that should not be a barrier to its official recognition. Ned Maddrell was the last fluent, native speaker of the Manx language and he died in 1974. Dolly Pentreath, the last native Cornish speaker, died in 1777. That’s 236 years ago. Yet Cornish is recognised, and Romani is not.

Of course, this is partly explained by the effectiveness of lobbying for recognition of languages like Cornish, but surely there is also something else at play. The fact is that, in origin, Romani is not a language of white Europeans, and is therefore not so easily seen as part of the heritage of a northern European country.”Damian Le Bas: [more]

I would love to write my own report on this when I have the time, perhaps in another lifetime. As someone who is found of, and has a comparable comprehension in, both Cornish and Romani – being Romani by blood, Cornish by birth.

The comparative recognition of the two languages fascinates me. As Damian L Bas correctly identifies Cornish is a dead language with the last native speaker having passed away in 1777. The Cornish revival has not been a success and is more of an eccentricity than a true revival yet resources for learning the language and literature written in the language is freely available (at least within the Duchy itself) to anyone who would show an interest. I have never myself met a fluent speaker and I always react with surprise upon learning (on the very rare occasions) that someone I have just met might have at one point taken lessons. Perhaps at school for a project or a workshop at one of our many revivalist festivals. It’s a futile task yet public money is funnelled into it.

Romani however is a language still spoken, both in its Angloromani form and … lets call them … European variants. I myself am not a native speaker of Angloromani, as I am not one of Cornish, I speak English as is expected of everyone born here, even fluent Welsh speakers and the children of those new to the country. Yet it is ignored as not only a language spoken in this country today, for in the metropolitan centres a cacophony of Asian tongues can be heard, but as one with a long and rich history, fundamental to the modern variant of English itself.

Not even a passing remark can be found in official, or academic text (outside special interest “Gypsy” groups) referring to the use of a Romani tongue, as plus ultra a history or geographic of the British Isles will rarely document the presence of a Romani demographic. This lack of recognition seriously harms, in more ways than I can comprehend in an orderly fashion, the further development of the Romani people as a fundamental dynamic of British society. There is no way to study, or even to read, in the language spoken by our ancestors and spoken by our parents today.

My English is perfect, it’s only a shame that race politics means I cannot  speak in the language of my choosing.

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