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The Manx Tongue – In Rude Health

"Flicker" - Fockleyr Manninagh as Ba...
“Flicker” – Fockleyr Manninagh as Barrlagh, liorsh Juan Y Kelly

Some very good news on Manx, the sister language of Irish. The BBC has a lengthy article discussing the fortunes of the Gaelic dialect on the Isle of Man and an unexpected revival from what many saw as a fatal decline in the late-20th century:

“Condemned as a dead language, Manx – the native language of the Isle of Man – is staging an extraordinary renaissance, writes Rob Crossan.

Road signs, radio shows, mobile phone apps, novels – take a drive around the Isle of Man today and the local language is prominent.

But just 50 years ago Manx seemed to be on the point of extinction.

“If you spoke Manx in a pub on the island in the 1960s, it was considered provocative and you were likely to find yourself in a brawl,” recalls Brian Stowell, a 76-year-old islander who has penned a Manx-language novel, The Vampire Murders, and presents a radio show on Manx Radio promoting the language every Sunday.

The language itself has similarities with the Gaelic tongues spoken in the island’s neighbours, Ireland and Scotland. A century ago, “Moghrey mie” would have been commonly heard instead of good morning on the island.

By the early 1960s there were perhaps as few as 200 who were conversant in the tongue. The last native speaker, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974.

The decline was so dramatic that Unesco pronounced the language extinct in the 1990s.

But the grim prognosis coincided with a massive effort at revival. Spearheaded by activists like Stowell and driven by lottery funding and a sizeable contribution (currently £100,000 a year) from the Manx government, the last 20 years have had a huge impact.

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. Manx is taught in a less comprehensive way in other schools across the island.

In an island where 53% of the population were born abroad, it’s perhaps surprising that there seems to be as much enthusiasm among British immigrants for Manx language as there is among native Manx people.

Outside of the strenuous efforts being made in the education, there is also the inevitable app for grown-ups.

On an island with such a large migrant population, albeit mostly British, there has been a heartening turn of events for those who want to preserve languages.

“Nobody on the Isle of Man is much impressed or surprised by anything,”, says Stowell. “But it’s definitely a positive sign when you can speak our native language in a pub and not get in a brawl – that to me has to be a sign of progress.””

In related Manx news, also from the BBC:

“The first children’s television series to be translated into Manx will be a “fantastic resource”, according to a Manx language officer.

Adrian Cain said the Manx Gaelic version of BBC’s Friends and Heroes will be launched on DVD in the Spring.

Friends and Heroes was first shown on television in 2007 and uses both hand-drawn and computer-generated animation.”

1 comment on “The Manx Tongue – In Rude Health

  1. Alastair Kneale

    Great news about Manx. Just shows that a dedicated few can become many. So ‘gura mie ayd’ to all of those people who kept our culture and language alive when things seemed dark. There memory is sacred to us. And a big thank you to our Irish cousins who we hold dear.
    Love to read An Sionnach Fionn which i share with my friends. Keep up the good work.
    Alastair from Mannin


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