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Intonation in Cornish Speech

Byrne's Explanation of this singularity

The Cornish people have a peculiar intonation of speech, a kind of singing utterance. This peculiarity of speaking is noticeable also among the Irish and the French. Many attempts have been made to explain the pleasant varying of the tones in conversation which one hears perhaps most markedly in the more secluded parts of West Penwith and Kerrier.

Byrne in his "Principles of the Structure of Language," Vol. II, p. 182, explains this habit. "This intonation, as of singing, arises from the light parts of the sentences being merged in the whole; so that there is a tendency instead of distinguishing the parts with accentiation, to give expressiveness to the utterance of the whole by inflections of the voice." Previous to this he says that owing to the Celtic race being distinguished by a quickness of thought, their language shows more tendency to break thought into small parts than any other of the Indo-European languages. This is shown by the reduction of a root word to such a fragment of thought that it has to be compounded with one or two particles in order to express what in other languages is a simple idea.

Apparently the Celts always tried to narrow down and clarify their conception of the idea conveyed by a word, striving to pin a word down to some definite meaning and struggling against the tendency that the older words have of becoming generalised and diffused in their meaning.

J. Hambley Rowe

  • Peter Penn (ed.), Cornish notes & queries: (first series) (Elliot Stock, 1906), p. 110 ebook