Thomas Tonkin and the Cornish Language Revival

Thomas Tonkin (1678-1742), a Cornish landowner and historian, had a significant role in documenting and promoting the Cornish language during the early 18th century. Here’s a breakdown of his contributions:

1. Proficiency in Cornish and Welsh Languages:

  • Tonkin made ‘great proficiency in studying the Welsh and Cornish languages’ around the period from 1700 onwards, which laid a solid foundation for his subsequent contributions to the Cornish language revival (Wikipedia).

2. Collaboration in Language Documentation:

  • Thomas Tonkin collaborated with William Gwavas in producing a wordlist, which is preserved in Tonkin’s archive of manuscript materials on Cornish, now housed in Bilbao (Academic).

3. Abridgement of Cornish Treatise:

  • He abridged a treatise, ‘Antiquities Cornu-Britannick’, which was later printed in 1777 and incorporated in Davies Gilbert’s history at the end of his history. This work was a step towards documenting and preserving Cornish linguistic heritage (Wikisource).

4. Assistance in Cornish Grammar and Vocabulary Compilation:

  • Tonkin, alongside Gwavas, provided considerable assistance to Edward Lhuyd, who was working on Cornish Grammar. They compiled a vocabulary and collection of Cornish fragments titled ‘Archaeologia Cornu-Britannica’, which was later printed by Dr. William Pryce in 1790 (Wikisource).

5. Engagement in Cornish Language Preservation Initiatives:

  • Tonkin was part of a group of Cornishmen who invited Edward Lhuyd to Cornwall in 1700 with the aim of helping preserve the language, showcasing their awareness and proactive approach towards preventing the language’s extinction (Cornwall Heritage).

6. Proposed Printing of Cornish Linguistic Material:

  • In 1736, Tonkin drafted a collection of modern Cornish pieces and a Cornish vocabulary for printing, as well as proposed the printing of a history of Cornwall in 1737. Though these works were not published during his lifetime, they indicated his dedication to documenting and promoting Cornish language and history (Wikipedia).

Through his linguistic proficiency, collaborative efforts, and initiatives, Thomas Tonkin played a pivotal role in documenting the Cornish language, thus contributing significantly to the groundwork for its revival.