Pronunciation


This guidance is based on Kernowek Standard (KS) spellings. It reflects a plausible reconstruction of Cornish as spoken at the beginning of the seventeenth century.


VOWELS

Including diphthongs

Provided meaning is not obscured, there is a considerable tendency to reduce simple vowel sounds in unstressed syllables to the vowel sound in THE when not rhymed with THEE, though i or u ‘colouring’ will persist. And stressed short e likewise reduces before retroflex r. When they are not stressed, ow and final u tend to lose the w sound.

a

In a monosyllable not ending in a voiceless, geminate or pre-occluded consonant, the vowel sound in CAT but lengthened; also in a monosyllable ending gh, sk, st or th. Otherwise as for à.

à

The vowel sound in CAT.

â

The vowel sound in CAT but lengthened. In monosyllables ending in l n single s or v, the vowel sound in CORE when pronounced with silent r.

ai

When stressed, as for ê. Otherwise as for è.

au

When stressed, as for ô. Otherwise as for ò.

aw

The vowel sound in COW. But as for ow when the syllable is closed.

ay

Either the vowel sound in FLY or as for ey.

e

In a monosyllable not ending in a voiceless, geminate or pre-occluded consonant, the vowel sound in THERE; also in a monosyllable ending gh, sk, st or th (but see note below). Otherwise as for è.

è

The vowel sound in PET.

ê

The vowel sound in THERE.

ë

As for ê or î according to preference.

eu

When stressed, either the vowel sound in FUR or as for ê. Otherwise either the vowel sound in FUR but shortened or as for è.

ew

Half-way between the vowel sound in PET and the one in KIT + w, pronounced as a diphthong. Some pronounce as for yw. But the ‘yoo’ sound of USE in Ewny and relevant loan-words

ey

The vowel sound in FLY but pronounced further forward in the mouth. In unweyth ‘once’, dewweyth ‘twice’ etc it is often reduced to the vowel sound in KIT or PET.

i

The vowel sound in ME. But often reduced to the vowel sound in KIT when unstressed.

î

The vowel sound in ME.

o

When in a monosyllable not ending in a voiceless, geminate or pre-occluded consonant, as for ò but lengthened; also in a monosyllable ending gh, sk, st or th. Otherwise as for ò.

ò

Half-way between the vowel sound in COT and the one in CUT.

ô

As for ò but lengthened.

oo

For some speakers, as for ô when stressed, otherwise as for ò. This is a more easterly pronunciation in historical terms. For some speakers. as for û when stressed, otherwise as for ù. Historically this is the pronunciation of the west according to one interpretation. Another interpretation would be a distinct vowel, similar to û when stressed, otherwise similar to ù, but without lip-rounding.

ou

When stressed, as for û, though sometimes heard as for ow in loan-words. Otherwise as for ù.

ow

Half-way between the vowel sound in COT and the one in CUT + w, pronounced as a diphthong. Some pronounce as ù before a vowel, and some apply this pronunciation also finally. There is evidence too for pronouncing as for aw finally.

ôw

As for ow or yw according to preference.

oy

The vowel sound in COY but pronounced further forward in the mouth.

u

When stressed, as for î (there is an older pronunciation as in German grün ‘green’). Otherwise (and in auxiliary gwrug) the vowel sound in KIT. But always as for ù before a vowel. As for yw finally. In ugh and derivatives, the ‘yoo’ sound of USE.

ù

The vowel sound in COULD.

û

The vowel sound in COO. But û in relevant loan-words has the ‘yoo’ sound of USE.

y

At the beginning of a word or alone as a particle, the vowel sound in THE when not rhymed with THEE. Alone meaning ‘they’ or stressed at the end of a word, the vowel sound in ME (but with the tongue lowered, except in my, vy, sy, ty, jy). Unstressed at the end of a word of more than one syllable, the final vowel sound in TEDDY or BODY (slight variation as in English). Otherwise, the vowel sound in KIT.

ÿ

As for î or ê according to preference.

yw

The vowel sound in KIT + w, pronounced as a diphthong. Some pronounce as for ew.


Generally, sk and st lengthen preceding a e o in a monosyllabic word. But the e is often kept short in fest, prest, trest, west.

 

CONSONANTS 

Geminates pronounced as single, but see ss

b

As in English. But as for p in heb, neb, pùb, ryb when next word begins with a voiceless consonant, l or n.

bm

As in English but the first element pronounced only lightly (pre-occluded m).

c

Before any e i or y, as in SAT (but see [s]cy below for relevant loan-words). Otherwise as in CAT but generally with less aspiration than in English.

ch

As in CHAT.

ck

As for k.

d

As in English.

dh

As in THAT. But as in THIN before any v and (for some) when final. But often silent in the combination rdh when final and occasionally elsewhere; for some, as for rth when final.

dn

As in English but the first element pronounced only lightly (pre-occluded n).

dnh

As for dn, but d tending to t, nh a single sound (voiceless n with slight aspiration).

f

As English F (but as English V in 2nd state). When final, it is pronounced only lightly or is wholly silent.

g

As in English. But as for k in prag, rag (and finally in auxiliary gwrug) before voiceless consonant, l or n; and medially before any v.

gh

As in LOCH. But often reduced to h or even silent.

h

As in English. But it may become silent between vowels.

j

As in English.

k

As in English but generally with less aspiration.

l

As in English. But the ‘dark’ L heard in FALL and FILL is not proper to Cornish. After an f, k or p sound (however spelled), it may be pronounced as for lh. A few pronounce as lh whenever it is geminate or at the end of a word.

lh

This is just l + h in most cases. But when optionally employed in comparative / superlative formations like gwelha, iselha, and in the subjunctive of gwil, it is a single sound: voiceless retroflex l with slight aspiration.

m

As in English.

n

As in English. After an f sound (however spelled) in the same word, or after a k or p sound (however spelled) in the same utterance, it may be pronounced as if nh: a voiceless n with slight aspiration.

ng

Single sound ‘ng’ when final, but double sound ‘ng-g’ between vowels and in relevant loan-words.

nh

This is a single sound: voiceless n with slight aspiration.

p

As in English but generally with less aspiration.

q

As in English but generally with less aspiration.

r

Trilled gently on tongue tip (not rolled). But retroflex (tip of tongue curled slightly back, no trill) when preceded by vowel and followed by consonant, or when final (except when next word in same utterance begins with trilled r).

s

As in SAT. But as in IS (i.e. as if z) medially before a vowel or voiced consonant in the same utterance, when final after a stressed vowel (unless the following word begins with h), and in plural suffix ys. Also initially in relevant loan-words. And for some speakers in other circumstances by analogy. Some speakers integrate s into the system of grammatical mutation, with the z-sound as Second State. But ss is always pronounced as in KISS, except in the combination ssy (see below). In variant pronoun sy (for jy), as for sh. For prefixes as- / das- there is a good case for pronouncing ad- / dad- before r, though the spelling does not change.

[s]cy

In relevant loan-words, as for sh. But in verb-nouns like avauncya and châcya, cy is simply c + consonantal y.

sh

In loan-words, as in English.

[s]sy

In loan-words, as for sh. But sy is pronounced as S in TREASURE when the corresponding English word has that sound.  

t

As in English but generally with less aspiration.

th

As in THIN. But final rth is often reduced to rh: voiceless retroflex r with slight aspiration.

v

As in English. But as for f medially before any l n or r, and optionally in similar environment: e.g. lavurya, wharvos. Suffix -va is pronounced as -fa after any voiceless sound.

w

A ‘glide’ as in English. But only lightly pronounced in initial gwr, wr and qwr. Silent after ch and j and sometimes omitted in spelling.

wh

As in WHEN pronounced precisely (voiceless w with slight aspiration). ‘Lazy’ pronunciation as w is not an option.

x

In loan-words, as in TAX.

y

Before a vowel, y is a ‘glide’ with the same pronunciation as English consonantal y. Initial yê / yêw / yêy optionally as for e / ew / ey respectively. Silent after j, so often omitted in spelling.

yh

This is a single sound: voiceless y with slight aspiration.

z

In loan-words, as in English.


Juncture

Regressive assimilation may occur when consonants meet across the boundary of two closely associated words. The commonest instances have been noted above. When consonants come together inside a word, assimilatory or dissimilatory devoicing can occur. Some of these changes will happen automatically in fluent speech. Others are practised by some speakers only. The detail is beyond the scope of this guide.


Stress accent

Cornish words generally have a relatively strong stress accent. Primary stress falls in most cases on the penultimate syllable of a word. Compound disyllables tend to be pronounced with an even-stress pattern; this does not apply when the first or second element is (or is treated as) a prefix or suffix. In a hyphenated compound, each element bears its own stress. Monosyllabic prepositions are unstressed except for emphasis. Particles and the definite article are always unstressed. Stress may be reduced on a few other monosyllabic words qualifying a noun or adjective: e.g. neb, pòr, pùb.


This text: 11 October 2020