William Scawen – a Cornish revivalist revisited

Posted: May 8, 2012 by Peter J in feature, historical
Tags: , , , , ,

On Youtube, a week or two back, was put this well-produced video (by 3 S films), as part of a Cornwall Record Office project, featuring William Scawen: pioneer Cornish/Kernewek language revivalist of the 1600/1700s.

One of his manuscripts on the subject is discussed at his home, Molenick near Saltash, by Chloe Phillips of the Cornwall Record Office and Prof. Mark Stoyle (University of Southampton), an early-modern historian of the south west of Britain and one who for long has been a significant factor in processing Cornish history of that period (for example he published an article, regarding early-modern Cornwall’s turmoils, in the BBC History Magazine in 1997, with many papers and books on similar themes since). Prof. Matthew Spriggs of Australian National University, Canberra, further developed that essay on Wm Scawen with a perceptive paper of his own.

It might surprise people (it did me) that in Matthew Spriggs’ paper (reiterated here by Mark Stoyle) it’s stated that Wm Scawen never became conversant in Cornish (although the Tonkins & Keigwins and others around Mounts Bay with whom he corresponded 300 years ago do seem to have been bilingual). Then again, striking too is Matthew Spriggs’ suggestion that Wm Scawen might have inspired Edward Lhuyd‘s founding study of Celtic linguistics.

Another thing puzzles me: pronunciation of the surname Scawen (and the surname Scown in, say, Stephens Scown) to rhyme with English ‘sawn’ (or ‘sewn’), instead of rhyming with how we d’say Boscawen (which rhymes with ‘crown’ in English). Perhaps our ‘elders’ can enlighten us. Explanations gratefully received ! 🙂

And finally, whether Wm Scawen’s “Antiquities Cornu-Brittanic” of around 1688 has ever yet actually been published (ideally, in electronic form) is unclear to me – hopefully by now copyright will not be a problem ! – perhaps someone in the know could … let us know. Mur ras !

  1. infida says:

    Oh dear. Would you like another pronunciation? My father, a West Penwith man, would pronounce the second half of Boscawen to rhyme with ‘coin’. Cornish pronunciation is so diverse, don’t you think? I remember reading in my youth that the Cornish language pronunciation was more akin to the dialect intonation of the West Penwith speakers which frightened the life out of me at the time as I had an elderly cousin in St Buryan whose accent was so strong I struggled to understand a word he said!

    I once spent an enjoyable afternoon looking for my cousin’s farm in mid-Cornwall which she informed me, by phone, was signposted with the name of ‘Trelee’ and we drove past the ‘Treleigh’ signpost loads of times before a non-Cornish passenger in the car pointed out that ‘Treleigh’ was pronounced ‘Trelee’. We were dumbfounded – after all everyone down here knows ‘Treleigh’ is pronounced ‘Trelay’!!

    There now follows a humbling thought – have I become an ‘elder’? !

  2. Peter Jenkin says:

    Well good points Infida 🙂 perhaps I ought’ve writ “… how I & some others d’say Boscawen”.

    Cornish pronunciation’s tricky – I’d prefer a system but defer to the consensus.

    Thanks for your thoughts, good to hear from you 🙂

    • infida says:

      No system please!! The difference makes us interesting. I love the sing-songing St Ives dialect (rare in this day and age) but I would not want all the Cornish to sound as if they came from there.
      ‘T’wouldn’ be fittee’ as my father would say. 🙂

  3. Pete says:

    Professor Stoyle responds:

    1. The precise pronounciation of the name ‘Scawen’ seems to be a rather controversial point! Chloe and I took advice from native-born Cornishmen and women who suggested that Scawen should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘scorn’, and this is also the view that Professor Sprigges takes. However, I don’t think that any of us would go to the stake on this point!

    2. Yes, Professor Sprigges and I have been collaborating on Scawen for several years now, and we are hoping to produce a proper edition of the Antiquities Corn-Brittanic at some point in the future. At the moment, no such edition exists.

  4. […] by the Penzance Conservation Community Interest Company – in May they took delivery of William Scawen‘s original manuscript of his Antiquities Cornu-Brittanic 1688, and also his Observations on a […]

  5. Edward Pender says:

    One of my family in the 17th/18th century recorded the Cornish language in letters following Scawens efforts to slow down or revive the dying Cornish Language.. I purchased an 18th century collection of tracts recently and among them was Scawens ‘observations on an ancient manuscript , entitled, Passio Christi, written in the Cornish language……… with an account of the language, manners, and customs of the people of Cornwall. This was published in 1777. Is this an uncommon item? I was born and grew up in Penzance and I return for my ‘Cornish Fix’ as often as I can!!

    • Pete says:

      Certainly d’sound uncommon Edward. Possibly by William Borlase, on whose manuscript Penzance Conservation Company have been working recently. Perhaps you could contact the Cornwall Record Office for more information.

      Maybe the 17C / 18C family member who you mention was Oliver Pender – best regards to you Edward and we’re glad you’re keeping in contact with Cornish culture – one of Oliver Pender’s letters is here: http://www.moderncornish.net/late-texts/Pender-Oliver-letteraboutpilchardstogwavas.html

      (O Pender’s letter, beyond the link, is as he spelled it in his own original 18C spelling; it might be spelled in present-day main-form SWF Cornish spelling, as, “Sirra hweg, my a wrug fanjya agas lyther seythen alemma, mes nag esa termyn dhymm dhe skrifa dhywgh arta; rag nag eus dewedh dhymm lemmyn adro dhe’n hollan ker; meur ras dhe Dhuw yma ogatti oll gwrys …” / “Dear sir, I did get your letter a week from now, but had no time to write to you again; for I’ve had no end now about expensive salt; thanks to God tis nearly all done …”).

  6. Edward Pender says:

    Hi Pete, yes, Oliver Pender was living in Newlyn. The tract I mentioned is by’ ——Scawen’ on the title page, and possibly published by William Scawen in 1777.Thanks, Cornwall Record Office no doubt will have more details. Thanks again. Edward

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