In 2009 the Manx language was declared extinct. Today Isle of Man residents are using Twitter, music and schooling to help revive their ancestors’ mother tongue
“I often go to my local pub The Albert to speak Manx to friends, which is strange to think, given that years ago this could have ended up with me being asked to leave a pub,” said Adrian Cain.
The Albert is a local watering hole in Port St Mary on the south coast of the Isle of Man where, according to Cain, drinkers can now be heard conversing over their pint glasses in a language .
Cain, Manx Gaelic development officer at the Manx Heritage Foundation, is one of the thousands of speakers of Manx, a language, closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic. After centuries of lying dormant the language is now experiencing an unexpected revival.
“The Manx language is a wonderful comeback story,” says David Harrison, a lecturer who has spent the past 20 years studying endangered languages around the world. “It impressed me so much because it was a language that defied the odds against survival,” he says.The decline of ManxAs with many endangered languages, the Manx people have been made to think their language is worthless.
During the 19th century the native language of Manx became increasingly overshadowed by English. Islanders began raising their children in English with the view that Manx would soon become useless. Evidence of this can be seen as far back as 1872 in a letter published in the , where Reverend J T Clarke lamented the decline of his mother tongue: “In order to be able to deal in the English markets, it is English, and only English, Manx people must learn to speak.”
By claimed to speak Manx and over the next two decades this figure quickly dropped to 1.1%, according to official census figures.
Poverty on the island during a recession in the mid-19th century cemented an association between the language and economic decline. “As with many endangered languages, the Manx people have been made to think their language is worthless,” said Harrison. “These negative attitudes get internalised by communities, which causes them to let go of their language. They had to reverse this mentality.”
Yet throughout the decline there have been many people fighting to preserve the language. Evidence of support can be found as early as . It invited people with an interest in the Manx language to attend a meeting, marking the beginnings of the Manx Language Society, which was officially founded two years later.The last speakers
One of the biggest pioneers in the revival is Brian Stowell, who decided to learn the Manx language in 1953 after reading an article about a man called Douglas Faragher, who was lamenting the rapid decline of his mother tongue.
Stowell joined Faragher, and along with several other people, they spent the following weekends driving around the island in a van listening to old Manx tape recordings. “Initially I was seen to be a bit of a nut job,” said Stowell. “But it became clear that beneath the surface there was huge support for the language from many people.”
Stowell believes one of the biggest obstacles has been the old Manx speakers themselves. “Manx to a large extent dumped their own language. There was a strong fear of the language and many people thought it to be backward and associated it with poverty,” said Stowell. A common saying among the old Manx speakers was Cha jean oo cosney ping lesh y Ghailck
, meaning: “You will not earn a penny with Manx.”
Ned Maddrell was the last native speaker of Manx who, unlike others, did not want to see his language disappear. A decade before Ned’s death in 1964, Stowell made some tape recordings of him talking, which can now be heard on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-286xpqtC7MA new generation of native speakers
According to Cain, more than 1,800 people claim to speak, read and write Manx today, although this may not necessarily illustrate actual fluency.
Last December, Harrison visited the Isle of Man about Manx and see for himself how a language recently declared dead was brought back to life.
“It is extraordinary to think that they have produced a generation of ‘new native speakers’,” said Harrison, commenting on how far the revival movement has come.
Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, a primary school that teaches almost entirely in the Manx language, has been key to the revival. Established 14 years ago and located in St Johns in the centre of the island, there are 70 pupils attending the school. Apart from a weekly English class, every lesson is taught in Manx. “Our pupils have helped bring Manx back from the brink,” said headteacher Julie Matthews. Pupils have also started writing to penpals from schools in Glasgow that can read and write in Scottish Gaelic, a language closely related to Manx.
This is not the first time the pupils have used letters to reach out in their language. In response to the , where Manx was listed as effectively dead, several children from Bunscoill Ghaelgagh school wrote letters asking the organisation: “If our language is extinct then what language are we writing in?” The classification has since been changed to “critically endangered”.
There is evidence that the language is skipping back a generation. “More and more parents of pupils are learning Manx because their children can speak it. It’s a good idea to know what your children are talking about,” Matthews said.The role of technology
According to Harrison, embracing the support of technology has been key to the success of today’s Manx revival. Adrian Cain has pioneered the use and is a keen Manx . Cain has also recently produced a Manx app for smartphones, which has been downloaded by thousands of learners.
“My role is outside the education system and we are encouraging more adults to learn the language,” says Cain, who added that using new technologies make learning Manx much more accessible.
The language has become present in many aspects of everyday life and culture. “I was really struck by how absolutely devoted and passionate people were about the language,” said Harrison. “I saw and heard it used in all kinds of settings – texting, video subtitling, social media – I even saw a Christmas church service in the language.”
The Manx revival has also been echoed through music and, according to the Manx music development officer Dr Breesha Maddrell, islanders are increasingly choosing to listen to music performed in Manx by bands such as . Maddrell herself performs in several Manx bands. “The Manx people have always been natural storytellers and as we don’t have strong literature, music has always been a way of communicating our culture and language,” she said.
Reflecting on his time on the island exploring the language, Harrison said: “The X factor for reviving languages is really pride and love for the language. The revival on the is a clear example of this.”
While methods of communication have changed in ways that original Manx speakers might never have imagined, this pride has been constant through each step of the revival: from letters, Church meetings, old tape recordings to apps and tweets or, to use a recently coined Manx word: .
Article original link: http://www.theguardian.com/education/20 ... sle-of-man