Getting to know Kensa Broadhurst: A Q&A with a Cornish language activist

Photo provided by Kensa Broadhurst and used with permission. Background image: digitized versions of a 16th century Cornish play called The Creation of the World. MS Bodl-219, 16v, lines 1525-150 (provided by Broadhurst).

Europe’s linguistic diversity is increasingly reflected in online spaces, where regional and minority language speakers and their communities leverage digital tools and media to preserve, promote, and revitalize their language heritage. In this spirit, Rising Voices’ online campaign @EuroDigitalLang has been curating a rotating X (formerly Twitter) account. Here, language activists and advocates narrate their personal stories in their own words, engaging directly with their audience and sharing ongoing challenges as well as successes.

In this email interview, Rising Voices spoke to upcoming host Kensa Broadhurst, who is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Exeter and also works with the Cornish language. You can follow Kensa on X at @kensabroadhurst. She will be managing the @EuroDigitalLang account the week of June 3–9, 2024. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Kensa Broadhurst (KB): I teach Cornish at the University of Exeter and am the Cornish Language Lead for the Institute of Cornish Studies. I am on the committee of the Kesva an Taves Kernewek, the Cornish Language Board, where I have responsibility for teaching and am one of the examiners for the community language exams organized by the board. As part of this voluntary work, I organize training sessions for the Cornish language teachers who teach evening classes, both in-person and online, to students across Cornwall and worldwide, as well as doing some voluntary teaching too. I am one of a small team who write and read the news in Cornish for BBC Radio Cornwall — you can find our program on BBC Sounds too; search for “An Nowodhow.”

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

KB: Cornish was actually given a real boost by the COVID-19 pandemic.  As everything moved online, including all of the community-based lessons, suddenly it meant that Cornish lessons were available to anyone, not just people who could access an in-person evening class in Cornwall, London, or Bristol. The Cornish diaspora is mainly situated in Australia and the United States, and as a community, we were then able to reach people of Cornish heritage and teach them the language.

Currently, classes happen in-person all over Cornwall, but online too, and we have been careful to maintain this offering — both as traditional classes but also as language spaces including Yethow-an-Werin (get together) where the emphasis is on speaking the language. There are around 3,000–5,000 people worldwide with a reasonable knowledge of Cornish, and perhaps 500 fluent speakers.

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

KB: I've loved seeing how making use of digital spaces has allowed Cornish to reach new audiences and those who were unable to access their language previously. Those people for whom Cornish is part of their cultural heritage are able to feel part of the online community, and everyone can feel proud that Cornish has an online presence and importance. As a community, we're able to promote Cornish, but we also need to explore using digital spaces to help preserve our language too. We can use digital spaces to make Cornish accessible to everyone including those learners with additional needs — something I would definitely like to see us explore and expand. Finally, digital spaces and a digital presence allow us to promote our language, historic and present-day multilingualism within the United Kingdom, and the value of linguistic diversity.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online.

KB:As we are such a small language community we lack the numbers of people with both the language and technological skills to create an adequate online presence for Cornish. Often, we rely on the same people to do everything.  We do have tools such as a Cornish digital keyboard and an online dictionary, which have come about from Cornish being included within larger projects covering several languages. Although we do have a standardized form of the language that is meant to be used in education and by public bodies, we do also have several spelling systems and it can be confusing for beginners, or those interested in Cornish, to differentiate between these where online resources exist in the various forms. As with many languages, the work to create online spaces and resources for Cornish is done by volunteers, rather than being funded, and this can impact what is possible for us to achieve.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

KB: There are approximately 50 primary schools (out of around 240) in Cornwall which do offer some Cornish teaching. However, as Cornish is not taught at secondary level, there is currently no means of progression for these pupils. Cornish is taught by non-specialist teachers; we really need to implement a program of teaching Cornish to primary school teachers to give them the confidence to pass on the language. We need more resources which reflect current modern language teaching in order to engage young people.

However, for all of this to truly succeed, we need young people to see Cornish being used more widely outside the classroom, in community settings and in the worlds of education and work — if they cannot see why the language can be of further use, why should they learn it? This could also be achieved by linking Cornish to the region's wider intangible cultural heritage.

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