Monday, 24 January 2011

The curious case of the Kernowek signs at Camborne police station


The Celtic League were contacted by a member of the public last year concerning the removal of  bilingual signs Cornish/ English (Kernowek/ Sowsnek) at Camborne police station.
Here is what the various signs did say:

Welcome to Camborne Police station - Dynnargh orth Gorsav an Kreslu Kammbronn

No smoking in this office - Megi difennys y'n sodhva ma

Push pad on right to enter/to exit - Herdhyewgh pad dhe'n dyhow dhe entra/mos
'mes

Enquiries - Please ring bell once - Govynadow - Senewgh klogh unnweyth, mar pleg

Sorry, no public toilet facilities available here - Drog yw genen, nyns eus
privedhyow kavadow omma

Enquiry Office - Open 8am to 6pm (closed Christmas Day) - Govynnva - Ygor 8kh
dhe 6wh (deges Dydh Nadelik)

When closed please use wall phone on the right - Pan vo deges gwrewgh devnydh
a'n pellgowser fos dhe'n dyhow, mar pleg

The informant expressed concern that the signs had been removed because someone had complained about them, they had cause the individual offence. (answers on a postcard on how languages can in their written form be offensive) Whether this was the case or not is hard to verfiy, but the signs had all gone. So the General Secretary of the Celtic League wrote to Commander Martin Orpe, asking for an explanation and pointing out that the Cornish language is recognised under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages which encourages public institutions to use Kernowek. The full text of the letter and the explanation from the informant is here in the Celtic League press release (August 26th 2010) : Cornwall: Police queried as bilingual signs go missing

Then in early September, Inspector Mark Bolt gave an interview on Radio Cornwall stating that the signs would be replaced as they were scruffy and needed Polish and Lithuanian adding to the Cornish and English previously available. (No link from the BBC nor with the West Briton who did at the time print the same statement.) However no direct reply was made to the League, as they state in their press release about it: Cornish signs to be replaced by police


So all was well, Camborne Police Station was to get it's bilingual signage back and it seemed that perhaps there was no complanaint that caused the signs to be removed. There was a simple common sense reason for the removal. However this was not to prove the case, just before Christmas Commander Orpe eventually replied to the Celtic League's original letter, now stating that the signs would not be replaced. He states that he had conferred with the forces diversity unit and that Devon and Cornwall Police:

we will not place signage outside Devon & Cornwall
police stations duplicated in Cornish, and hence the signs that you allude to at
Camborne will not be replaced.

I hope you agree that in the difficult financial climate that we find ourselves
in we are very much under the microscope in relation to where and what we spend
public money on.
As duplicated on the Celtic League press release: Devonwall police disengenous over bilingual signs issue
I can understand the rationale behind not wanting to spend money but remain confused as to why this was not considered when the signs were removed. Also why couldn't the old signs be re-erected?

The latest on this confusing case is a letter leaked by a member of the force to the Celtic League, it comes from the Head of the Equality and Diversity Unit at the Exeter HQ. Which basically states that there is no legal requirement to display information in Kernowek and consequently the force does not have a policy either way. In direct contradiction to Commander Orpe's statement. It states that the Equality and Diversity Unit was not contacted about the erection of the signs orignially or when they were removed. The leaked letter is available here: Leaked letter sheds light on police signs language row

So that's the story,  personally I find it confusing and it raises so many questions. Was there a complaint? would a police force really remove signs based upon this? Or why were scruffy signs put up in the first place? Have Polish and Lithunian signs been put up? Is English the only language of the police force in Cornwall?

I think as a general point we need to have an open and honest debate about the role of Kernowek in public institutions. It is ambigious at the moment, there is no law or consensus that states that public institutions have to use the language. But then there is no law or consensus that states that public institutions do not have to use the language.

It's interesting that Devon and Cornwall Police have a google translate tool on their website which allows for translation into nearly 60 languages, but not Kernowek. So if you speak any language from Afrikaans to Yiddish including Welsh and Irish there's a facility for you, there's even Latin!
Quaestionibus genera - (DCCLXXVII) CDXLIV (VIII) CDLII