Letter of William Bodinar

William Bodinar
  • English, Late Cornish
  • prose

A short letter dated 3 July 1776 and written by fisherman William Bodinar to the antiquary Daines Barrington, who had apparently inquired after the state of the Cornish language. The letter is partly bilingual, providing 12 lines in Cornish, along with English renderings. Although he was not a native speaker, Bodinar relates that he was a boy when he learnt it (Me rig deskey Cornoack termen me vee mawe) from fishermen with whom he went out to sea and that he is still a competent speaker. He also observes that in his day, there are no more than four or five Cornish speakers in his town (Mousehole).

First words (prose)
  • Moushole July ye the 3d 1776 / Sir I understand you wants to know my age. / Bluth vee eue try egence a pemp. / My age is three score and five.
Addressee: Barrington (Daines)
Barrington (Daines)
(d. 1800)
English lawyer, antiquary and naturalist.

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Bodinar (William)
Bodinar (William)
(fl. 18th century)
William Bodinar (previously misread as Bodener), a fisherman of Mousehole, known today for a (partially) bilingual English-Cornish letter, dated 1776, which he wrote to the lawyer and antiquary Daines Barrington and bears witness to a remnant of the Cornish language.

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London, Society of Antiquaries, MS SAL 01/01/0492
  • English Late Cornish

Dated  3 July 1776.

prose (primary)




Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] Pool, Peter A. S., and Oliver J. Padel, “William Bodinar’s letter, 1776”, Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall 7 (1975–1976): 231–236.
A transcription of the letter from the original manuscript (p. 234), with a photographic reproduction and discussion.
[ed.] Nance, Robert Morton, “William Bodener’s letter”, Old Cornwall 3:7 (October 1940, 1942): 306–308.
Based on Barrington below.
[ed.] Loth, J., “Cornique moderne: I. Corrections au Cornique des Specimens of Cornish provincial dialect, by uncle Jan Treenoodle, London 1846; II. Letter in Cornish and English [pt 1]”, Archiv für celtische Lexikographie 1 (1900): 224–229.
Internet Archive: <link>
Offers an emended version of the bilingual part of the letter, based on Barrington’s version; with notes.
[ed.] Sandys, William [pseud. Jan Treenodle], Specimens of Cornish provincial dialect: collected and arranged by uncle Jan Treenoodle, London: John Russell Smith, 1846.
Internet Archive: <link> Internet Archive: <link> Digitale-sammlungen.de: <link> Digitale-sammlungen.de: View in Mirador
82–83 [‘Extracts from letter in Cornish and English’] Gives the text of the bilingual part, based on Barrington’s version.
[ed.] Barrington, Daines, “Some additional information relative to the continuance of the Cornish language: in a letter to John Lloyd, Esquire F. A. S.”, Archaeologia 5 (1779): 81–86.
Transcription of the bilingual part of the letter, lines 3-26.

Secondary sources (select)

Eska, Joseph F., and Benjamin Bruch, “The Late Cornish syntax of William Bodinar”, Études Celtiques 47 (2021): 197–218.
Eska, Joseph F., and Benjamin Bruch, “Prolegomena to the diachrony of Cornish syntax”, in: Elliott Lash, Fangzhe Qiu, and David Stifter (eds), Morphosyntactic variation in medieval Celtic languages: corpus-based approaches, 346, Berlin, Online: De Gruyter Mouton, 2020. 313–338.

External links

Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
September 2022, last updated: June 2023