The Last Fluent Speaker Of Cornish | Sanestos Series

Like the other Celtic languages on the British Isles, the Cornish language–otherwise known as Kernowek–had experienced a slow decline with the encroachment of the English language.

Although her date of birth is unknown, what is recorded about her is that she was born in Mousehole, Paul Parish, Cornwall and was baptized in 1692. Her father, Nicholas Pentreath, was a fisherman. What was known about her knowledge of Kernowek comes from a neighbor, William Bodinar, who engaged in many conversations in the language. She was also known for openly challenging the Navy searching for conscripts. However, what has been known about Pentreath outside of that Cornish town came from Daines Barrington, who documented her upon visiting her in 1768. Pentreath passed away in 1777.

Upon her death, she was buried in the Paul Parish churchyard. Her son, John, attempted to legitimize his own birth by having Pentreath’s grave inscribed with the surname “Jeffrey,” supposedly after the man who was the biological father. Close to one hundred years later, the linguist Louis Lucien Bonaparte and Reverend John Garrett of Paul Parish erected a stone monument upon the wall of the church commemorating her.

In this modern era, it is possible that there would be more appreciation for her contributions as the last speaker of Kernowek.

Sources

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