A taste of Cornish culture
Language and dialect
First up, the language. Cornwall has its own language, Kernewek, closely related to Breton and Welsh, and many road signs are written in both English and Cornish. There are not many native speakers, but the Cornish dialect is commonplace. Here are just a few words or phrases that you’ll probably come across, and what they mean!
If someone says they’ll ‘do it dreckly’ it means the task will get done, just not with the greatest urgency.
Alright my ‘ansum?
How are you?
There you go me luvver
This is for you dear.
Pasty ur no?
Would you like a pasty or would you rather not?
Ah, he’s a sweetie.
She’s a bit teasy today
She’s a bit grumpy.
What are your plans for today?
Jolly good show, well done.
Cornish traditional costumes
You won’t see the Cornish walking down the street in traditional dress, but you may catch a glimpse of a Cornishman in a kilt at a wedding! There’s a National Tartan which was designed to represent the white and black of the Cornish flag, black and gold for the ancient Cornish Kings, red for the legs and beak of the Cornish chough, and blue for the sea surrounding Cornwall.
Fishermen, miners and Bal Maidens (women who worked in the mines) all had distinctive clothing, and photos of the working men and women from centuries past can be viewed in Perranzabuloe Museum in Perranporth which has fascinating exhibits on the area’s past.
Dancing and Music
Cornish dancing takes many forms, the most popular of which are probably the Nos Lowen dances (Cornish for Happy Night), great for communal events such as Troyls which are Cornish ceilidhs. There are also circle or serpent dances which have been around since medieval times, and ‘scoot’ dances where hard metal plates are attached to the soles of dancers’ shoes. Finally, there are the furry dances, best known as part of the Helston Flora Day, and processional in nature.
Traditional sea shanties are very popular in Cornwall, as are male voice choirs, and brass bands. An annual festival of Celtic music, the Lowender Peran festival held in Newquay, celebrates music, dance, art and culture in recognition of Cornwall’s heritage and Celtic links.
Cornwall’s best-known food is of course the humble pasty: delicious pastry crimped on one side (never on top) and filled with beef, swede, potato and onion. But the Cornish are also known for Stargazey Pie (with fish heads sticking out of the pastry), and Cornish pilchards (known as sardines outside of Cornwall and traditionally a staple of the Cornish diet).
And of course, you can’t come to Cornwall and not partake in a traditional Cornish cream tea: preferably with Cornish tea, fluffy light scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream (remember, jam first!).
There are lots of legendary tales in Cornwall, often involving giants, such as Jack the Giant Killer, and Bolster – the giant of St Agnes whose story you can read in our very own guide to St Agnes, written for Visit Cornwall.
Mermaids are also woven into Cornwall’s mythological past, with the most famous tale (tail?!) that of the mermaid of Zennor who fell in love with local man Matthew Trewhella who had a beautiful singing voice. He was love-struck too, carried her back to Pendour cove and followed her beneath the waves, never to be seen again.
These days when people think of sport in Cornwall then surfing is the main one that springs to mind, and of course it has been a prevalent sport since the first boards in the UK were made in Perranporth from coffin lids in the 1920’s.
However, Cornwall has a number of other sports that are traditional to the region too. Cornish wrestling used to be commonplace, and at one point was extremely famous across Europe, and Cornish hurling was a popular mob football game played between two parishes using a small silver ball. An annual hurling match still takes place in St Columb Major when the town’s shop windows are covered with wire mesh to protect them as it can often get violent!
Pilot gig racing has its origins in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Pilot gigs were rowing boats that met incoming merchant ships and ‘piloted’ them safely into harbour. The first gig boat to the ship would be the one that was paid, hence evolving into racing each other. The World Pilot Gig Championships take place on the Isles of Scilly each year, with 2019 seeing the 30th anniversary of the competition.
Immerse yourself in our truly unique way of life, and experience Cornish culture for yourself, our welcoming self-catering accommodation from beachside retreats to rural idylls is waiting.
With thanks to Cornish Culture for historical reference.