Jumping to conclusions


The red arrow on the map marks a place called Langarth. It is the terminus for the park and ride bus service into the centre of Truro. The apparent elements of the name are lan, which means ‘sacred enclosure’, or more prosaically ‘yard’, and garth, which means ‘enclosure’. Rather odd, huh?

I had occasion to use the park and ride service the other day and was pleased to see that the on-board information screen gave the name of the next stop in English and in Cornish. So after leaving Langarth we came to COLLEGE or KOLJI and then HOSPITAL or KLAVJI. On the way back I was surprised to see LANGARTH or LEN AN GATH, as we approached the terminus.

After a quick scurry to the books after I got home, I found that this probably means ‘pool (or stream) of the cat’. It could even mean ‘valley of the cat’. The elements lan, len (aka lyn) and nans (=’valley’) were frequently confused in place-names. Where the <r> in Langarth came from I cannot explain, however.


Map credit: Google Maps.

21 thoughts on “Jumping to conclusions

  1. “Where the <r> in Langarth came from I cannot explain, however.”

    Perhaps from the same place as the /r/ in /ˈlɑːrntstən/ (= Launceston). That’s certainly how I hear the latter pronounced in Bodmin, although to be fair not all speakers include the rhotic /r/.

  2. P.S. Three of the symbols in /ˈlɑːrntstən/ were entered as superscripts (<sup> … </sup>) but the superscripting was lost when the entry was published.

  3. My copy of An Gerlyver Meur arrived yesterday, and I was able to look further into the mysteries of Langarth. AGM offers “ridge” and “promontory” as possible meanings of “garth” in addition to “enclosure” but does not list “gath” at all; in the English-Cornish part, however, “cat” is given as “kath”, so presumably A.G.M. is using one orthography whilst First Devon & Cornwall are using another.

  4. Philip,

    Cornish, like all extant Celtic languages, has a system of initial consonant mutations. One such is called soft mutation, which is essentially lenition: p→b, t→d, k→ɡ, b→v, m→v. More detail on p.36 of An Gerlyver Meur.

    Kath is a feminine noun and the soft mutation is triggered by a definite article preceding singular feminine nouns, so kath= cat, a cat, but an gath = the cat.

  5. My friend JDL has found a similar place-name, again not far from Truro, in the parish of St. Clement. It is Longsongarth and derives from lost+an+gath = ‘tail of the cat’.

  6. Perhaps the Beast of Bodmin really does exist and is the descendant of a long line of wild cats that were once so common locally that various places were named after them . . .

  7. I’ll take a look at that, Sidney―Oh, and let me correct my bad grammar: “I WILL accept it!”

  8. It is (perhaps) interesting to note that William Penaluna’s 1838 historical survey of the county of Cornwall includes the phrase “koil gath” in the index, translated as “wild cat”. Obviously the mere existence of the phrase in the language is not evidence of the (local) existence of the creature itself, but it does perhaps slightly increase the probability that they were at one time indigenous to the region. And like Sydney, I cannot fault “I accept it”, but if I have to compare and contrast “I accept it” and “I will accept it”, then the former (to me) indicates a completed action (= “I have now accepted it”) while the latter indicates a future but pre-determined action.

  9. Incidentally, William A Axworthy’s 1903 Historical sketch of the parish of Saint Neot (Cornwall). Including the life of Saint Neot, together with a description of the Parish church and its windows, and the Ballad of Tregeagle states that “[i]n the account of the destruction of vermin, the fox catcher appears as a recognised personage, like the mole catcher of the present day. The animals paid for were badgers, pole cats, foxes, wild cats, rats (as many as 52 were paid
    for in 1677J, kites, vultures, and once or twice an otter”, whilst Sarah Hartwell, in her recent Domestication of the cat opines that “[t]he cat may have arrived in England with the Phoenicians who traded for tin in Cornwall” although she immediately goes on to say that “it is most likely the Romans who first brought cats with them some time before 4 AD. Cat footprints have been discovered in clay tiles at Caesaromagus (Chelmsford, Essex). Further cats arrived with the Vikings”.

  10. Thank you, Sidney. I was thinking of the use of “will” to announce decisions (as in “You can have it for £50.” “OK. I’ll buy it.”), but now I see that I was not announcing but implementing my decision.

  11. Philip,
    I wrote my answer to Sidney before I read your apt comment on “I accept it” vs “I will accept it”. And I find that information about cats in ancient Britain really evocative.

  12. More cat places. From Oliver Padel’s Cornish Place-name Elements I find, apart from the two places already mentioned:

    Killigarth – the first element means ‘nook’ or ‘corner.
    Ponsongath – ‘bridge of the cat’
    Polgath – ‘cove of the cat’

    Interesting that the final two do not have garth for gath.

  13. Hmm… This pervasiveness of the cat is very intriguing. Perhaps it has to do with sorcery and witchcraft (or with some long-forgotten religion, as Sidney suggested above).

  14. Apologies for long absence from the comments section!
    My own two cats keep asking whether they can move to a Celtic country from Sweden and be properly worshipped!
    I have to tell them to wait until the end of August and then I can let them know if this is going to happen 😉
    Martin

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