News : War of Words Breaks Out Over Cornish
Cornwall, UK, Oct 7, 2015 -- A war of words has broken out after council staff were ordered to learn Cornish - despite the fact only 500 local people speak it.
Officials at Cornwall Council told employees at call centres and receptions they will need to be able to speak the regional tongue.
Bosses say customer service operators needs some basic phrases in case a Cornish-speaking person calls in.
The move has been announced as part of a publicly-funded drive to widen the reach of the Celtic tongue, promoted by Jenefer Lowe, development manager of the Cornish Language for Cornwall County Council.
Cornish is one of the least spoken languages in the world with less than 5,000 people being able to speak any at all.
Cornish, or Kernowek, is protected under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
It reportedly has a growing number of speakers - even though just 500 people told the 2011 Census it was their first language.
But taking its growth one step further, the council's revised Cornish Language Plan - funded by a recent government grant of £150,000 - now suggests staff should learn 'basic words and phrases' and use them when dealing with the public.
It says: 'Reception staff do already on occasion try to use some Cornish phrases, particularly when there are known Cornish speakers arriving for a meeting, but there is no specific provision or training offered.
'There is no use of Cornish within the call centre.'
But from April next year, the report says the council should 'deliver basic training in key phrases and greetings for reception staff,' while call centre staff and council officers will be encouraged to 'use basic Cornish greetings'.
Council officers will also be provided with a translation of their job title, department and other details for use on e-mail signatures, while the corporate e-mail disclaimer will be made bilingual and any letter received in Cornish will receive a reply back in the same language.
In March this year, just six weeks before the general election, the then coalition government announced an extra £150,000 to help promote the language.
The council says its current annual bill is £30,000 - but a spokesman justified its cost.
He said: 'Cornwall Council recognises that Cornish is a unique cultural asset which underpins the distinctiveness of Cornwall and has an important part to play in the cultural, economic and social life of the region.'
Cornwall councillor Loveday Jenkin is one of the few council members who is fluent in Cornish.
She is also chair of the Cornish Language Fellowship - or Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek - and said that under EU rules for the protection of minority languages, the council had a statutory duty to report it.
She said: 'I back the move to encourage council staff to speak Cornish and I think it's a positive step towards the further promotion of the language.
'The total spend per head, per language speaker, is still tiny compared with other minority languages.
'For example, Gaelic is supported by about £2 per speaker, whereas Cornish gets only 4 pence per speaker.
'And the wider economic benefits are enormous. Cornwall is very lucky to have its own language and it helps establish our unique cultural identity, which promotes and strengthens the brand.'
Money has also been set aside to develop the council's website in Cornish.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Cornwall Council:
Cornwall Council (Cornish: Konsel Kernow) is the unitary authority for Cornwall, in England, United Kingdom. The council, and its predecessor Cornwall County Council, has a tradition of large groups of independents, having been controlled by independents in the 1970s and 1980s. As of the 2013 election, it is run by an Independent-Liberal Democrat coalition.
Published: Thursday, October 8, 2015