Are They Cornish Words?
The Duchy of Cornwall
How Did You Say That?
When I started going to school I discovered that the other children pronounced some of the words we used in a different way. Because of this I began to listen more carefully to the way things were said at home. I'd always thought that the way my parents spoke was the correct one. Now I was confused. My mother, father and grandparents did not even all say some words the same way as each other. Which was right? Who should I copy? I didn't want to be different from the other children but they did say some words in a funny way, and some of the words I spoke they didn't even understand.
In our family, there were words that came up in conversation, such as 'auction' and 'vase' that were especially noticeable.
Auction: Dad, who was Welsh and Irish but born in Australia, Grandma, who was Cornish, but born here, and Grandpa, who had migrated from Cornwall all said 'awkshn', but Mother, who was second generation Australian, said 'okshn'. Who was right? The children at school said it the same way as my Mother, so I settled for that.
Vase: This one was even trickier. Grandma and Grandpa both said 'vawz.' An American I'd heard speaking on the wireless (between the static) I was sure had said 'vayz'. Dad and Mother said 'vahz' and so did the teacher at school, so that's what I chose to call it, too.
That Cornish 'r'
I loved listening to the Cornish burr when my Grandpa spoke, recited whole chapters of the Bible, or sang me funny little songs. It sounded so pretty and just right, but I couldn't copy that, as no on else at home or at school spoke that way. However, as I grew older one of my teachers was Scottish and she sometimes taught us how to speak 'properly.' We did not have to copy her 'r' sound within or at the beginning of words, but we learned to hear the difference between words that ended with an 'r' when the next word began with a vowel, and those that ended with a vowel and the next began with a vowel.
Words ending with an 'r' when the next begins with a vowel: such as 'batter up', 'water over', 'Father in Heaven'. With these phrases we pronounced the 'r.'
Words ending with a vowel when the next begins with a vowel: such as 'law of', 'draw a'. We were told most definitely that we must NOT use an 'r' sound between the two words - and not a glottal stop, either! One vowel must glide gently into the next. A particularly difficult one was 'draw-ing', as many of us said 'drawring'.
Were they Cornish Words?
I also found that some of the words I used were not understood, so I thought they must have been Cornish words. Some that I remember and still use are:
Tifling: Pronounced 'taifling', which meant a small thread hanging from some clothing, often from a hem or a collar. It's not in the English Dictionary and I don't think there's an English word to replace it.
Trug: The basket that I carry my gardening things around with me. Although this isn't in my Dictionary I did find it on my computer, but it was said to be a word from Sussex. No one in our family had ever been there at that time; it had to be a Cornish word, and probably Celtic. Who knows?
Slooch: Now this one got me into some trouble. A friend was dragging her shoes along the ground and I said, "Don't Slooch, you'll ruin your shoes and your Mum will go mad."
"Don't what? You mean slouch!"
"No, I don't. Slouch is when you bend over at your desk instead of sitting up straight. Slooch is when you don't lift your feet properly when you walk."
"There's no such word!"
Does anyone else know this one?
Do you find that your family uses words that seem to be special to you and none of your neighbours use?See results without voting
Language is Interesting
There are more, but you get the idea.
Now I'm wondering if other people of Cornish descent, and people from other cultures - even to the third generation in their adopted country as I am - find similar problems. It would be interesting. So many words from other cultures have been adopted and adapted into English, which is what helps to make it such a richly varied language. Language is interesting and the way we use it so important in our communication and interaction with each other.
More by this Author
A number of entries in an autograph album, 1910-11, follow particular themes, such as Christian and Moral, Friendship and Funny. The album includes illustrations in some entries, a number of signatures and addresses...