“All things must pass,” wrote Ian Roberts, a Cambridge University linguist, in a book published last year. “This is as true of you and me as it is of everything we know. It’s also true of languages: Avestan, Etruscan, Tocharian, Gothic, Cornish, Klamath, Yurok, Akkadian, Sumerian, Dyirbal. Gone.”
Except that one of these languages, Cornish, is not gone, a fact that a Cambridge linguist might be expected to know. Under the noses of a lot of other smart people who should know about this kind of thing, it has revived to a remarkable extent–with hundreds of speakers, many of them quite fluent–and stunningly, at least four native speakers, two pairs of siblings raised from childhood by fathers who have spoken nothing but Cornish to them. It has a narrow foothold on life, but last year the British government cut the paltry yet crucial £150,000 that helped train teachers and organize the movement. The end of the remarkable story is uncertain.
I did my best to tell the tale in Quartz, here.