This review appeared in An Baner Kernewek/The Cornish Banner 109, August 2002.
Alan M. Kent
In the light of the recent discoveries of the Middle Cornish plays Beunans Ke and The Acts of Arthur, there is something wonderful and elemental about being able to hold in one’s hand a copy of the New Testament in Cornish. The publishers Spyrys a Gernow and the translator Nicholas Williams should be congratulated for their immense achievement in this book, for it is a fine contribution to both Cornish literature and theology. This is a book whose significance will be long-lasting. The publishers have gone for a non-fussy cover, which is singularly appropriate. It patterns many other translations of the Bible in Celtic territories. In a way, it should be an essential purchase for anyone interested in the Cornish language.
Interestingly, this translation comes virtually a century after the initial soundings of the Cornish Revival, so in many ways, it is entirely appropriate that this text should emerge now. As many readers will know, there have, throughout history been various attempts to complete the process before – but this is first time that the entire Testament has been completed. One of them, was William Rowe of Sancreed (c. 1650-1690) who completed two chapters of St Matthew, and as early as 1918, Henry Jenner translated part of John. Various other Cornish scholars – such as D. R. Evans, E. G. R. Hooper, John Page and Ray Edwards have also contributed much to the Biblical translation process, though it has taken Williams to draw all this material together, and coordinate the ‘new’ translation.
The orthography used here is the emended form of revived Comish known as Unified Cornish Revised, which attempts as far as possible to imitate the Cornish of the sixteenth century, and in particular, John Tregear, the writer of Comish’s longest prose text, ‘The Tregear Homilies’. Thankfully, no attempt has been made to purge or purify the language of English borrowings, since Williams believes that the Comish used should reflect the language as it was actually spoken. Indeed, Williams has been careful to integrate parts of the New Testament that survive in Traditional Cornish, and this is an example of his skill as a translator. He has also drawn on existing translations from the Revival, but has scrutinised these meticulously. Williams has also avoided the more complicated grammatical constructions of the earlier Cornish texts making this a very easy read even for less advanced Cornish speakers.
Not only is the layout of the Testament clear and functional (after all, one hopes that this version will be read aloud), but the editor also supplies a set of maps showing Palestine, the Eastern Mediterranean and the travels of Paul. All of these make fascinating reading. Unlike many people involved in the publishing of Cornish texts, Spyrys a Gernow have elected for quality over quantity. The Testament Noweth shows the direction anyone interested in the Cornish language should be moving in.
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