Kernewek (Cornish) I am hungry

Dydh da!

In the course Go Cornish Intro , lesson 4 I am/ I need there are two sentences with the exact same meaning I guess or is there any difference?

a) gwag ov vy
b) yma nown dhymm

I was surprised when I chose for b) the translation I’m hungry and it came out as wrong and the correction was “I am hungry “.

By the way, where is everybody? Nobody learning Kernewek here?

Many thanks for the person or persons who took the time and effort to make this great lessons. Meur ras!

Dydh da! @KarmenKern

Apologies for the slow reply! The Go Cornish course was created by another user and not by any of our in-house linguists - sadly none of us actually speak Cornish. The creator of the course has left an email address in the course description though so that you can contact them -

They will definitely have a better idea of the difference between “gwag ov vy” and “yma nown dhymm”. I don’t speak Cornish, but I’ll give you my best guess as a linguist. It looks like “gwag ov vy” literally means “I am hungry (or empty)”, so the structure of the sentence is pretty much like English (gwag=empty/hungry; …ov vy=I am…). But “yma nown dhymm” looks more like it’s literally saying “I have hunger”, or even more literally “there-is hunger to-me”. This is a common way to talk about hunger in many languages (especially in other European languages like “j’ai faim” in French, “ich habe Hunger” in German).

As for when to use one over the other, if they’re both in the course, then it’s likely that they’re both in common usage. One possible reason why there might be two versions is that “gwag ov vy” is similar to English, and since nearly all Cornish speakers also speak English, this might have crept in due to influence from English, and “yma nown dhymm” might be a much older Cornish form. Of course, all of this is just a guess, so please do get in touch with Go Cornish for what I’m sure will be a much more reliable answer than mine!

As for the translations and picking the correct options, I suggest trying to remember that “gwag” means “empty” as well as “hungry” (one way to try to remember that would be to picture a duck discovering that somebody has stolen all the jewellery from its, now EMPTY, jewellery box, panics and starts shouting “GWAG GWAAAG!” - it sounds silly, but it will get the word to stick). On the other hand, “nown” only ever means “hunger”, so “yma nown dhymm” can never mean “I’m empty”.

I hope this helps! At Memrise, we always love to see people learning minority languages and keeping them alive, so please do stick with it and don’t hesitate to get in touch with anything else we can help with.

Omlowenha dyski (happy learning)!


Thank you for your lovely reply! The duck is still making me smile!
Yes, definitely, I will contact Go Cornish, thank you for the email address.

Your explanation makes sense and I agree that when we look over to other European languages there are similar structures and possibilities to express the feeling of an empty stomach.

I’m still curious and fascinated by the etymology of gwag and nown.

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The word for “hunger” is common to the three Brittonic languages: Breton naon, Cornish nown, Welsh newyn “famine”, and also exists in Gaelic: Irish núna “famine”. These words derive from Proto-Celtic *nowinyos “hunger, famine”, which is formed on the Proto-Indo-European root *neh₂-w- “to be afraid”. The semantic derivation seems fairly clear: famine is something frightening that one does not dare to name by its own name, and there is an euphemism which is observed about other frightening things or beings, for instance in some (or all?) Slavic languages the old word for “bear” has been replaced by “honey-licker”, which makes her more sympathetic.

In Breton the phrase for “I am hungry” is very similar to the Cornish one; it also means “there is hunger to me”, as Rob has written: naon am-eus, that is to say am- “at me” (with a simple pronoun, not a prepositional pronoun as in Cornish), eus “is”. In Gaelic languages, you would say that “hunger is on you” since it does not belong to you but it affects you, for instance in Irish: tá ocras orm ( “is”, ocras “hunger”, orm “on me”).

About gwag I’m afraid I don’t know but someone else might :slight_smile:

Best wishes.

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Hello Ives,

It’s really interesting how you’re able to connect the celtic languages and show how close they are.

I can’t find anything that suggests an indo european root neh~w related to the meaning of being afraid. All the roots I know meaning to fear have that f-r or p-r since ancient times ( furcht in Germanic, furia in latin, pavor,…) or tim-, tem-, terr-…in many european languages.

What I see here or rather have the feeling that this nown is just simply our same “none”, relating to the emptiness of the stomach. There I see neh- in germanic “nichts”, even in Galician “non, nenghun”.

Gwag sounds more onomatopoeic referring to the sounds and movements of the stomach like growling, croaking. In Spanish there is the expression “ me crujen las tripas” where the verb crujir like rugir have also maybe similar onomatopoeic origin.
Maybe there is a relation with the Germanic roots wag (Wagen, wackeln) referring to the bowel movements.

Hello Karmen,

Actually the simple root is *neh₂-, -u/w- being an enlargement which is not necessarily present. You can find it for instance in Julius Pokorny’s Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch (available on under the entry *nā- (older notation). It is no frequent root; to the few words Pokorny mentions one can add Gothic naus “dead body”, which shows the enlarged form of the root, *neh₂-u-.

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Hi Yves,
Sorry for coming back so late. Thanks for the link, I love etymology dictionaries.
Keep in touch if you find something interesting.