William Gwavas and the Cornish Language Revival

William Gwavas (1676-1741) was an English barrister and writer who significantly contributed to the Cornish language revival during the early 18th century. Here’s a breakdown of his contributions:

1. Cornish Vocabulary Compilation and Linguistic Works:

  • Around 1710, Gwavas collaborated with Edward Lhuyd and Thomas Tonkin to work on a “Cornu-British vocabulary,” aiming to document and preserve the Cornish language. They were known to be the main authorities in Cornwall on the old Cornish language, and were collectors of mottoes, proverbs, and idioms​【oaicite:5】​.
  • Some of Gwavas’s Cornish writings were preserved in manuscript form and later went to the British Museum (Addit. MS. 28554). His commonplace book, dated 1710, contained Cornish linguistic material and was eventually purchased by Bernard Quaritch in a sale in 1887​【oaicite:4】​.

2. Preservation of Cornish Writings and Literary Contributions:

  • Gwavas is credited with various Cornish writings dating back to 1731, which aimed to preserve and promote the Cornish language. One notable mention includes a monumental inscription intended for his tomb, dated 16th September 1719, indicating his dedication to the Cornish language even posthumously​【oaicite:3】​.
  • He also penned letters mostly in Cornish, including one to John Boson in 1710 and another, undated, addressed to an individual going to America on the back of a copy of the Creed in Cornish. These letters are preserved in the Gwavas MS​【oaicite:2】​.

3. Translational Work and Scholarly Contributions:

  • William Gwavas worked on translating Cornish material, as indicated by a mention of a “Lost Cornish Vocabulary fragment” at Trinity College Dublin, showcasing his effort in making Cornish linguistic resources accessible and preserved for future studies​【oaicite:1】​.

4. Support to Other Cornish Language Scholars:

  • Besides his own writings, Gwavas provided substantial support to other Cornish language scholars like Thomas Tonkin, helping him with Cornish vocabulary and texts for Tonkin’s ‘Parochial History of Cornwall’, 1733​【oaicite:0】​.

Through his linguistic works, collaborative efforts with other Cornish scholars, and preservation of Cornish literary materials, William Gwavas played a crucial role in laying the foundation for the Cornish language revival during the early 18th century.