Research will help revive ‘dead’ Manx language

A researcher at the University of Liverpool has produced the first modern, comprehensive handbook on Manx Gaelic ¿ a language thought to have died out in the mid 19th Century.

As records detailing the grammatical construction of the language are rare, expert Jennifer Kewley Draskau, at the University’s Centre for Manx Studies, used texts dating back to the 15th Century as well as unstructured, informal conversations between fluent native speakers on the Isle on Man. She also studied the 18th Century Manx Bible and modern poetry to produce the handbook, called Practical Manx, a guide to the grammar and morphology of the language.

Manx Gaelic – an off-shoot of Old Irish – virtually died out as community speech when English became the language of trade in the 19th Century. Manx is experiencing a revival and more than 600 people now claim to speak the language.  The new study is the first attempt to record and describe the language, and the first time in more than a century that a grammar of Manx has been produced.

Jennifer said: “The research illustrates how language can alter over time due to changes in the economic and social environment. The wealthy merchants of the Isle of Man abandoned the language in favour of English in the 1900s, and Manx became associated with poverty.  In 1871, 25% of the Island’s population spoke Manx. By 1961 the number of speakers had dropped to 0.35%.

“Manx is experiencing a remarkable revival and is now taught in schools and evening classes. Government schemes have also ensured that Manx is used on all road signs whilst radio stations now broadcast a certain amount of content in the language.

“This new handbook will provide a measure of stability and consolidation for the language, harmonising elements from different time periods and modes of usage, as well as increasing confidence in the Manx speaking community.”

Practical Manx is published by Liverpool University Press.

Notes to editors:

1. The University of Liverpool is a member of the Russell Group of leading research-intensive institutions in the UK. It attracts collaborative and contract research commissions from a wide range of national and international organisations valued at more than £108 million annually.

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