Manx language making spirited comeback

old photo of Isle of Man

Manx, a language declared extinct in the 1990s, is staging an extraordinary renaissance.

Nearly 40 years after last native speaker of Manx died and half a generation after UNESCO declared it extinct, the Gaelic language is anything but dead.

“Road signs, radio shows, mobile phone apps, novels – take a drive around the Isle of Man today and the local language is prominent,” according to the BBC News Magazine.

Manx is a sister language of Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and like those two languages is descended from an old version of Irish. In the Manx tongue, the language is called “Gaelg” or “Gailck,” similar to the English word “Gaelic.”

Like many of the languages which once flourished within the British Isles, including Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Cornish, Manx was supplanted by English and later looked down upon by many, particularly those in power.

“In the 1860s there were thousands of Manx people who couldn’t speak English,” said Brian Stowell, 76, a native of the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland. “But barely a century later it was considered to be so backwards to speak the language that there were stories of Manx speakers getting stones thrown at them in the towns.”

Economics also played a role in the language’s demise.

Manx dictionary, atop a Manx flag.

Manx dictionary, atop a Manx flag.

“Recession in the mid-19th century forced many Manx residents to leave the island to seek work in England,” according to the BBC. “And there was reluctance among parents to pass the language down through the generations, with many believing that to have Manx as a first language would stifle job opportunities overseas.”

By the early 1960s there were but a couple of hundred individuals who were conversant in Manx. The last native speaker, Ned Maddrell, died in late December 1974.

But it’s premature to write an obituary for the Manx language.

Thanks to the efforts of activists like Stowell, lottery funding and a sizeable contribution – currently 100,000 pounds a year – from the Manx government, the language has seen a revival over the past two decades.

Now there is even a Manx language primary school in which all subjects are taught in the language, with more than 60 bilingual pupils attending, according to the BBC, which added that Manx is taught in a less comprehensive way in other schools across the island.

Donna Long, a lifelong resident of the island, recognizes that sending her four sons – all of whom were completely bilingual in Manx and English by the age of six – to the Manx-language school may not have tangible benefits should they leave the island.

However, she believes the experience will help them to learn other languages easily, she told the BBC.

(HT: An Sionnach Fionn)

(Top photo: Old photo of Queens Promenade, Douglas, Isle of Man.)

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6 thoughts on “Manx language making spirited comeback

  1. Fascinating. How could I not like it, being the proud Irisher that I am. Have forwarded this to several Irish kin who will appreciate it also.

    This info really surprised me – and it takes a lot to do this. Thank you, CBC.

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