If you saw the third episode of Game of Thrones offshoot House of the Dragon last week you will have been gently kissed by a beautiful Cornish baritone. Edward ‘Kernow King’ Rowe’s voice definitely sounded a lot sexier to these ears than the posh English tones used by Rhys Ifans and the suppressed northern of Paddy Considine with whom he shared a scene.
That’s why it’s a crime that a poll carried out by dating app Match has found that Cornwall is the least sexy accent in the UK. Surely it means that 87% of the 2,300 participants who voted against the Cornish burr must come from Devon? It’s the only explanation.
Another explanation is that people who thought they were voting for Cornish as the least sexy weren’t thinking of the Cornish accent at all. They have been brainwashed by the homogenised Westcountry “ooh aaargh” accent that everyone hears on the likes of Doc Martin, Poldark and Fisherman’s Friends The Movie.
That isn’t Cornish – it’s Somerdordevon. It doesn’t exist. No one’s going to find that over-exaggerated gargling of the throat sexy. That’s why Brummie came out above us. Apologies to the people of Birmingham but even Thomas Shelby can’t make your accent sexy. Well, okay, he can….
Experience shows me that people love a Cornish accent. I’ve lost track of the amount of people I’ve interviewed over the phone who have commented how much they like my accent. I recently spoke to actor James Purefoy who used a Cornish accent (sort of) in the new Fisherman’s Friends: One And All film. “You’ve got a lovely voice, haven’t you?” was his opening gambit. Now if Mark Antony from Rome thinks my accent is sexy, I’m having it.
When I was a student in Cardiff unleashing a Cornish accent in the midst of Welsh ladies didn’t do me a disservice either. Maybe, it’s the Celtic thing.
There is no denying that Ed Rowe’s moody baritone as fisherman Martin Ward in award-winning film Bait is alluring and so is genuine Cornish actress Susan Penhaligon’s voice whenever she’s used a rolling Kernewek accent in roles. And there’s definitely something about Dawn French when she accentuates the Cornish.
It also has to be said that hearing a Cornish accent in a nightclub at 2am is guaranteed to get the juices flowing. It means the owner is willing to spread the jam first and enjoys a bit of crimping on the side.
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Our accent is all about the rhotic ‘r’, which is the ‘r’ sound after a vowel, as in “car”, so the Cornish will traditionally extend and roll the letter. It’s the sound of exotic promise and granite, the sound of hundreds nay thousands of years of tradition, the sound of “would you like a sausage roll with your paaasty, m’luvverrrr?”
But guess what – and those Match pollsters might like this – the accent is dying out. Dr Lucy Ellis, a linguistics expert (with a noticeable Cornish accent), told me a couple of years ago that the rhotic ‘r’ is slowly disappearing as Cornwall changes with the generations and social migration.
Basically it’s been diluted by all those Londoners and Mancunians who have moved to Cornwall over the years.
Lucy told me: “Saying it’s dying out is emotive and very sad, but yes it is slowly disappearing.” She added it is strongest in the working class Cornish accent and, as a result, is still strong in the Redruth and Camborne area. We always knew Camborne men and women were the sexiest.
She said: “You’d expect it to be really strong somewhere like Sennen, where I’m from, but it isn’t because there are now a high proportion of second homes.” Second homes are definitely not sexy.
Lucy explained that where people with Cornish-English accents live in close proximity to Standard-English accents the accent migrates to a more standard accent. Basically, it’s about fitting in socially with our surroundings. “The features of Cornish-English are definitely receding. It makes me sad where people are completely non-rhotic but it is happening across the country. That ‘r’ sound has been dropping out of language since Shakespearean times.”
However, there is still plenty of hope for the Cornish accent’s future.
“The rhotic ‘r’ may be disappearing but the Cornish vowel sound is still there to be heard in path and bath across the generations,” said Lucy. “Indigenous people always want to signal their difference, so the growth of people learning Cornish has helped the accent.”
That rise in people speaking the Cornish is definitely sexy. Have Brummies and Yorkshire folk got their own language?
Only this week I witnessed singer and musician Gwenno intoxicate and bewitch a whole venue with songs sung in Cornish. Let me tell you, it was very sexy indeed.
Get ready to Discover Cornwall
Cornwall is unique – there’s no place like it on the planet. With its stunning beaches, glorious countryside, ancient traditions and fierce sense of identity, it’s no wonder millions of people visit the county every year.
With this in mind, Discover Cornwall has been launched to highlight everything that makes Cornwall special, from the quirky to the fascinating and the historical to the downright weird and wonderful. Discover Cornwall will help you find out about the county regardless of whether you’re a local or a visitor. From the best fish and chip shops and pasty sellers to insightful reads into the more isolated parts of Cornwall, Discover Cornwall will help open your eyes to everything this special county has to offer.
To Discover Cornwall, click here.