Nicholas Jonathan Anselm Williams (born October, 1942 in London, UK), writing as Nicholas Williams or sometimes N.J.A. Williams, is a leading expert on the Cornish language.
At Chigwell School, Essex, Williams taught himself Cornish and became a bard of the Cornish Gorsedd while still in his teens, taking the bardic name Golvan (which means "sparrow"). He read classical languages, English language and Celtic in Oxford. After short periods in the universities of Belfast (where he received his PhD) and Liverpool, he was appointed lecturer in Irish in University College Dublin in 1977. He married Patricia Smyth from Portadown, County Armagh in 1976. They have three children, Benedict, Jerome, and Dominica who are bilingual in English and Irish.
Williams has written widely on the Celtic languages and their literatures. His works on Irish include the editions The Poems of Giolla Brighde Mac Con Midhe (1980) and Pairlement Chloinne Tomáis (1981); I bPrionta i Leabhar (1986), an account of Protestant writing in Irish during the seventeenth century; Díolaim Luibheanna (1993) a discussion of Irish plant names and plant lore; and Armas, a handbook of Irish heraldry in Irish, which he illustrated himself. He also was joint editor of Stair na Gaeilge (‘the History of Irish’, Maynooth, 1994) for which he contributed chapters on the Irish dialects of Leinster and on Manx.
As P. Berresford Ellis points out, Williams was the first professional Celtic scholar to study revived Cornish in depth. In 1990 Williams published an article "A problem in Cornish phonology" demonstrating that the proposed phonemes /tj/ and /dj/ had never been part of the language and should therefore be removed from Kernewek Kemmyn. He continued his critique of this variety of Cornish in Cornish Today (Kernewek Dre Lyther 1995) in which he also set out his own emended Unified Cornish (Unified Cornish Revised or UCR). Williams elaborated UCR in Clappya Kernowek (Agan Tavas, 1997) and in his English-Cornish Dictionary (Agan Tavas, 2000). Spyrys a Gernow published his Testament Noweth, a Cornish translation of the New Testament from the original Greek in 2002. He gave the O’Donnell lectures in Oxford in May 1998, when he spoke on consecutive days on Manx and then Cornish. This was the first time that an O’Donnell lecture had ever been devoted to the Cornish language.
Among important articles by Williams on Cornish one might include the following: "'Linguistically sound principles': the case against Kernewek Kemmyn", Cornish Studies, 4, (1997); "Pre-occlusion in Cornish", Studia Celtica 32 (1998); "Indirect Statement in Cornish and Breton", Cornish Studies 6, (1998); "Saint in Cornish", Cornish Studies 7 (1999) and the review, "'A modern and scholarly Cornish-English dictionary': Ken George’s Gerlyver Kernewek Kemmyn (1993)", Cornish Studies, 9 (2001). Williams together with Graham Thomas has edited the recently discovered Middle Cornish play Bewnans Ke. Their edition is to be published by the National Library of Wales in 2004.
Williams was awarded first prize in the Gorsedd literary competition three times in the early 1960s. More recently he won first prize for Cornish poetry in the Cornish Gorsedd in 1997, 1998 and 1999. In 1974 Berresford Ellis wrote, "Probably the most able young writer in the language today is N.J.A. Williams (Golvan), a worthy successor to Edwin Chirgwin." Some of Williams’s poetry in Cornish was published by Tim Saunders in The Wheel (1990). The Welsh critic Bobi Jones says in the introduction to this anthology, "Nicholas Williams, the well-known scholar, is also the T. Gwynn Jones of Cornwall -- polished, classical, rather conservative, soundly rooted in medieval romanticism." Williams’s "Ancow Arthur", a translation of Tennyson’s "Morte D’Arthur", published in Delyow Derow 15 (1996) is an example of his verse.
Nicholas Williams is a Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London and was awarded honorary membership of the Irish Translators’ and Interpreters’ Association for his Cornish New Testament. He has translated four books in the series the Letts Pocket Guides into Irish, Mammals, Insects, Medicinal Plants and Edible Plants. His recent translation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland into Irish (2003) was hailed by at least one reviewer as ‘better than the original’. In November 2004, he published his Irish translation of Through_the_Looking-Glass.