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The Downturn of Manx

Manx or Manx Gaelic (Gaelg/Gailck) belongs to Goidelic branch of the Insular Celtic languages. It emerged from the Old Irish (Gaelic) which was brought to the Isle of Man, an island located in north of the Irish Sea between England and Ireland, during the fourth and fifth centuries AD, by Irish people who moved there.

[cml_media_alt id='6764']Panoramic view of cottages, Cregnesh, Isle of Man, British Isles[/cml_media_alt]
Panoramic view of cottages, Cregnesh, Isle of Man, British Isles

In 800 AD the Vikings began to raid the island and ultimately settled down on the conquered territory. They profoundly influenced political and legal institutions, and the island’s government, the Tynwald, is still based on the parliamentary assembly system. However, in terms of language, there was no significant impact on local dialect and very few words of Norse Tongue were borrowed into Gaelic. The most probable reason of Vikings’ assimilation into the local culture is their ability to speak both languages Norse and Gaelic. A range of place names are of Norse origins, including Jurby, Colby, Langness, Port Soderick, Laxey (salmon river) and Snaefell (snow mountain), as well as a few words related to boats and the coast.

After Magnus’, the last King of Mann, death in 1265, the Isle of Man became in 1266 part of Scotland controlled by Alexander III. Over the following two centuries, the island was under the Scottish and English control during which Manx emerged as a distinct language.

In the seventeenth century Isaac Barrow, the governor of Man from 1663 to 1671, established English-medium schools in each parish of the island. However, he believed that the use of Manx in churches during preaching was an obstacle to the comprehension and understanding of the scriptures, and encouraged the use of English. The success of these schemes was doubtful, probably because only few of the ministers were capable to speak English. Later on, Thomas Wilson who became Bishop of Mann in 1698, due to his realistic and enlightened attitudes to the Manx language, translated the The Principles and Duties of Christianity, known in Manx as Coyrle Sodjey, which became the first book to be published in Manx (in 1707). By this, he expected church representatives to be able to use Manx, because at that time over 60% of the population of the island were capable to communicate in local language.

Wilson’s successor, Mark Hildesley was also sympathetic to Manx and strived to provide the schools with Manx language teaching materials. This incentive was supported by the Bishop of York, and in a relatively short period most of the schools were teaching using Manx. Moreover, during Hildesley’s tenure as bishop Manx translations of the bible and other religious works were published and distributed.

After Hildesley’s death, positions of Manx were heavily undermined by the Anglican Church, which stopped supporting Manx instruction in schools, and by 1782 English became the prior language of instruction in all schools, except five.

In 1890s after the fast increase of industry, roads, and transportation systems, English was spread to other parts of the island and Manx gradually became associated with poverty, ignorance, and peasantry even by Manx speakers. A visitor to the Isle of Man noted in letter dated 1883 that “There can be no doubt that the Manx people are ashamed of their language. They say, and, of course, with truth, that it is of no use to them, either for advancement in life or for the acquisition of the most ordinary information.”

Ned Maddrell (1877-1974) is usually called as the last native speaker of Manx. There were a number of other Manx speakers, but these people, were ashamed to confess that they spoke the Manx language.

In the early 1940s, the small group of enthusiast was keen to renew the interest to vanishing language and related traditions and due to their aspirations and input, the interest to the Manx significantly increased in the late 1960s. By 1971 the census showed a 72% increase in Manx speakers from 165 in 1961 to 284.

Every year on Tynwald Day, 5th July, summaries of the various laws established during the year up to that date are read aloud in Manx and English on Tynwald Hill. This practice, which has continued for many centuries, helps remind people that the Manx language exists, provides it with a degree of prestige, and is a source of new words as well.


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Author: Artem Bielozorov

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