Where The Cornish Went, Went their Words

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I grew up in Australia, and remember my mother and father sometimes seemed to use different words. He came from the city, and she was a country girl, her parents had come from the former goldmining area of Ballarat. My mother used to call piles of earth ‘mullock heaps’ and if she was hunting in her handbag for something, she was ‘fossicking’.

A while back I went to a talk on Cornish language and was amazed to find my mother’s family language was actually mining terminology. Mullock heaps were the soil removed from mines and fossicking was sorting through this spoil for ore. I was  both amazed at the survival, and domestication of these specialist terms, and it raises questions as to the impact of the Cornish language which has long died out in these British islands.

In the 18th and early 19th century, Britain, especially the isolated and impoverished region of Cornwall, was producing the bulk of the world’s copper. I had been told the expansion of Wales’ Anglesea mines put them out of business and sent the miners emigrating to wherever there were new mines, but surely they would have sought work closer to home? It seems more likely it was the discovery of copper fro  the 1840s in Canada, Australia, Chile, Spain, Japan and the United States that were to blame. Thousands of coper miners left Cronwall, and they went anywhere that their expertise in deep mining was needed. In Mexico they eat Empanadas,  probably their version of the Cornish Pastie, so it seems they made it there. And it seems from my mother’s speech they, like many other nationalities,  made it to the Australian gold rushes of the 1860s. Where they took their skill, they took their terminology.

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