Manx Update.

I recently posted a brief account of “Manx’s Surprising Revival”; here‘s a longer one by Sarah Whitehead of the Guardian, with quite a detailed account of the history:

One of the biggest pioneers in the revival is Brian Stowell, who decided to learn the Manx language in 1953 after reading an article about a man called Douglas Faragher, who was lamenting the rapid decline of his mother tongue.

Stowell joined Faragher, and along with several other people, they spent the following weekends driving around the island in a van listening to old Manx tape recordings. “Initially I was seen to be a bit of a nut job,” said Stowell. “But it became clear that beneath the surface there was huge support for the language from many people.”

Stowell believes one of the biggest obstacles has been the old Manx speakers themselves. “Manx to a large extent dumped their own language. There was a strong fear of the language and many people thought it to be backward and associated it with poverty,” said Stowell. A common saying among the old Manx speakers was Cha jean oo cosney ping lesh y Ghailck, meaning: “You will not earn a penny with Manx.”

There’s a nice audio clip of Ned Maddrell, the last native speaker of Manx (he died in 1974), and a description of Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, a primary school that teaches almost entirely in Manx. (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. The recording of Ned Maddrell was made in 1964, but he died in 1974. He may have spoken English before he learned Manx from his great-aunt, so while perhaps he was not technically a native speaker, he was the last childhood speaker.

  2. Fixed, thanks.

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Simon Auger quite often mentions Manx on his Omniglot blog. This is not the most recent, but it’s one of the most informative:

  4. David Marjanović says

    That’s interesting – I had thought the orthography was specifically created for the revival; turns out it’s much older and much more inconsistent.

  5. Yes, it’s a mixture of English and Welsh conventions; the latter is particularly seen in y = schwa.

  6. David Marjanović says

    A comment to the blog post says: “3. [ə] is spelled in several ways, depending on position in the word, including y, a, ey”.

  7. Trond Engen says

    Intriguingly, the article says the schoolchildren are writing to children in a (Scottish) Gaelic school in Glasgow. Are the spoken forms close enough that the different spelling systems are overcome?

  8. These Scottish Gaelic-speaking children surely also know English; if they get a letter in Manx and read it out loud as if it were English, it will be plain enough. More interesting to me is how the replies are sent: if they write back in ScG, the Manx kids will have to have a crash course in ScG orthography in order to make any sense of it.

  9. It certainly would make life easier if Manx were written in an approximation of ScG orthography.

  10. Easier for whom? We’ve discussed this before, whether Occitan should have a traditional orthography or one which makes it easier for people who already read French to interpret correctly. Here’s a passage from Ivan Derzhanski’s Fourth Letter from his delightful History of Bulgarian Orthography:

    Three questions were asked, and thrice each one was answered:

    (1) Must there be one speech, and one writing?
    a. nay and nay; b. nay and aye; c. aye and aye.

    (2) What must a word know?
    a. its roots; b. its kin; c. itself.

    (3) What must a tongue know?
    a. its roots; b. its peers; c. itself.

    So if one man says [maɪt] and the other says [mɪxt], (1a) each might spell the word in a way that reflects his own pronunciation; or (1b) they might both spell it the same, say might, but pronounce it in different ways; or (1c) one pronunciation, say [maɪt], might be made standard and reflected in the spelling, and the others would have to cope with that.

    And a word such as [saɪn] might be (2a) spelt with a g in it because it comes from Latin signum, or (2b) spelt with a g because it is cognate to [‘sɪgnəl], or (2c) spelt without g, because no [g] is pronounced.

    And the whole orthography might be made to assert (3a) the tongue’s ancient lineage and old glory, or (3b) its kinship and liaisons with others (this one need not be a conscious priority; see below), or (3c) its individual and inimitable character (this is where national scripts and ‘national characters’, such as Spanish ñ, come in).

    So the Manx orthography has all of (3a), (3b), and (3c) in different degrees; to switch to a more usual Goedelic orthography would be to prioritize (3a), shift emphasis in (3b) from ‘liaisons’ to ‘kinship’, and drop (3c) almost entirely.

  11. Well, yes, internationalism always comes at the expense of localism. But it would make it easier for the schoolkids, who are after all the future of the language, to communicate with others who speak a similar language, which adds to both the pleasure and the utility of the learning.

  12. I’ve been trying to learn Scots Gaelic for a couple of years, but honestly haven’t worked at it all that hard and wouldn’t claim to be more than a beginner. In the quoted phrase “Cha jean oo cosney ping lesh y Ghailck,” most of the words (cha, oo, cosney, lesh, y, and Ghailck) are obviously cognate to Gaelic, even to a novice like me.


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