Dead Celtic language comes back to life

"Ned" Maddrell was the last remaining native speaker of the Manx language at the time of his death.

‘Manx Gaelic’ is the old language of the British Isle of Man. In 2009 almost nobody knew how to speak the language anymore, and it was officially declared dead. However, pupils from the isle started to write letters to show the importance of Manx speech. Eleven years later, British authorities have decided to protect the language from dying again.

Dead language

Manx Gaelic is a so-called autochthon minority language, spoken by very few people born on the Isle of Man. In 1974 the language officially died out when the last native speaker Ned Maddrell passed away. Luckily for the Manx language, scholars recorded interviews in the language before all native speakers died. Now they could study and teach Manx Gaelic to new pupils. Even though a few hundred people spoke the language in 2009, UNESCO declared Manx Gaelic officially dead, again. 


UNESCO’s decision led to a protest from students of Bunscoill Ghaelgagh. In this primary school in the village of St. John’s, all lessons are solely taught in Manx. They started to write letters to display the importance of their language. Now eleven years later, the students got their reward. Local language organisation Jeebin submitted a plan to the British government to place Manx Gaelic under European protection. It will be backed by the so-called European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, a guideline document that helps protect minority languages.

European Protection

In practice, this means that the Isle of Man authorities will actively promote its native speech through several projects. For instance, Children will be taught (pre)school lessons in Manx Gaelic, and people can submit official documents in the language to local authorities. Radio and TV stations are encouraged to use Manx in their broadcasts, and banks accept cheques written in Manx. Isle of Man’s Minister for Education, Sports and Culture dr. Alex Allinson MHK was pleased to hear the news: “The Manx language is one of the island’s most important cultural assets.” He reckoned that now everyone regardless of their age would have the possibility to learn Manx in nurseries, schools and the wider community.

Manx Gaelic is part of the Gaelic language family and has close ties with Irish and Scottish Gaelic, but is a language of its own. If you want to know more about the insular Celtic languages, you can watch the video below.

Source: Isle of Man Today, Council of Europe, and Wikipedia

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