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Manx Language: How Did it Return from the Dead?

Jan 2022

Language , Translation ,

Have you recently come across the phrase “Manx language” and wondered what it is? Or are you a language history buff and you want to find out more about its life cycle? If you answered yes to either of these questions, then you’ve come to the right place!

In this post, we’re going to discuss what Manx language is, and give you a brief outline of its history (including how it “came back from the dead”!), and share some useful Manx phrases if you’ve got a thirst to expand your foreign language vocabulary!


What is Manx Language?

The Manx language is a Goidelic language (of Gaelic origin, like Scottish and Irish Gaelic).

In Manx, the language is referred to as Gaelg, which shares origin similarities with Gaelic. Being one of the six Gaelic languages spoken, it is common for native speakers to easily understand and speak both Scots and Irish Gaelic.

Many phrases overlap in terms of their origins, formation, spellings and pronunciation. Equally though, just as other primitive Gaelic languages, its use is limited and population of speakers is small.

isle of man flag

History of Manx Language

Manx language is native to the Isle of Man, and is believed to be of direct Irish Gaelic descent and suggested to be Primitive Irish. It was brought to the British Isles in the fourth and fifth centuries AD by Irish monks and merchants. At the time the monks were spreading Christianity through the land, and eventually replaced the pre-existing Brythonic language with Gaelic.

The establishment of the Manx language faced difficulties with the numerous invasions and settlements from the Nord Vikings, who eventually used the Isle of Man as a capital for their eventual reign through the Shetland and Orkney Islands, and the Outer Hebrides. The ways of the Vikings were adopted by the Manx people, but this had little impact on their native language – eventually seeing the spread of Gaelic all throughout the northern isles.

Manx was used as everyday speech, but when it came to official Government documents, the written language was commonly English or Latin. This resulted in the history of this resurrected language being mostly unwritten, with the earliest writings being from 1610 and the first published book in 1707.

Much like the rest of the Celtic and Gaelic mother tongues, a rapid decline of their spoken and written use began in the early 19th Century, due to an increased use of English and the beginnings of mass tourism.

Do people still speak Gaelic now, we hear you ask? Well read our exploration of the resurrection of Scots Gaelic, and how it got a new breath of life.


When did Manx Language become Extinct?

The Isle of Man was one of the earliest tourist destinations within Britain, initially for those of upper-class status who had wealth to travel, and then eventually the working class of industrial Britain.

In the early 20th century, the tourist population would annually reach 600,000 with the local residents only sitting at 50,000; in comparison, today the tourist population peaks at around 120,000, and the permanent population sits at 80,000.

When tourism was at its height, the only way for the Isle to be economically successful was to adapt to speaking English. Eventually, the Isle of Man natives fell victim to prejudice and Manx was viewed as a language for the uneducated, ignorant and impoverished.

Such attitudes contributed to the rapid decline of the language, and by 1901 only 9.01% of the entire population claimed to be native speakers of Manx Language. Similar to other Gaelic households, only the grandparents or great-grandparents would have Gaelic as their first language, whilst the parents would be bilingual, and the children would only speak English.

This timeline led to the eventual demise of the Manx Language, where it was pronounced a “dead language” in 1974 after the last native speaker, Ned Maddrell, passed away. In succession to this in 2009, Manx Language was officially defined as “extinct” by Unesco.


The Resurrection of Manx Language

The revival of the language comes off the back of the dedication of a small group of committed speakers, learners and practitioners. However, this revival has been a decades-long battle for the Isle of Man natives, and began long before the language was pronounced dead and then extinct.

History shows that in the early 50’s , 1953 to be precise, local resident Brian Stowell became one of the biggest pioneers in the language’s resurrection after reading a newspaper article about the language’s decline. He then began listening to recordings of native speakers to try and pick up the language, all with the help of the writer of the article, Douglas Faragher.

From here, the role technology played in the continual education and promotion of the language was crucial. The recordings of Madrell, the last native speaker, are now available on YouTube nearly sixty years after he recorded them.


A New Generation of Native Speakers

One of the greatest things to have occurred during the resurrection of the Manx Language is the establishment of a local Isle of Man primary school, Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, where children are taught in Manx language. The now 14-year-old school only has one English lesson per week.

This has paved the way for a new wave of Manx Language speakers, where the children who are fluent are educating their parents. The passion for the language was displayed by the school children when they contested Unesco’s decision to label the language extinct – their letters and efforts resulted in it being changed to “critically endangered”.

Now with roughly 1,800 residents fluent in reading, writing and speaking the Manx Language, the history and revival of the Manx Language is something which is important to the heritage of the Isle of Man. Various heritage sites are in place on the island to preserve its history and character.

manx word letter magnets

Useful Manx Phrases

ENG.                                                                            MANX.

Hello/How are you?                                                      Kys t’ou?

Goodbye                                                                       Slane lhiat

How old are you?                                                          Cren eash t’ort?

Thank you very much                                                   Gura mie ayd

It is raining                                                                    T’eh ceau fliaghey

It is sunny                                                                     Ta grian ayn

Just after midday                                                          Red beg lurg manlaa

Has anyone called?                                                      Row peiagh erbee ayns shoh?

How can I get there?                                                     Cre’n aght hem dys shen?

How much does it come to?                                          C’wooad t’eh?

Are you the doctor?                                                       Nee uss yn fer thee?

I am not well                                                                  Cha nel aym pene


If you enjoyed reading our English to Manx Language translations and would like some more helpful Gaelic phrases, then read our English to Scots Gaelic translations.

If you’ve stumbled across this blog and you or someone you know is in need of professional Gaelic translation services, Global Language Services is here to help. We’re well-versed in Gaelic translation and have helped many businesses reach Gaelic-reading audiences. You can get in touch with us via phone or email with your project requirements.

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