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Background and support
Sample text

Isle of Man (Ellan Vannin)

Flag of the Isle of Man (with the Three Legs of Man, a so-called ‘triskelion’, symbol for the Sun, Power and Life)

Background and support

In the course of Irish expansion in the fourth/fifth centuries AD, forms of Irish were brought to the Isle of Man, replacing the Brythonic language already spoken there. The variety of Irish spoken on the island developed parallel to Irish in Ireland until well into the second millennium AD.

Manx – known to its speakers as Yn Ghaelg or Yn Ghailck – diverged from eastern forms of Middle Irish in the late Middle Ages or early Renaissance and continued to develop independently of Irish from then on. At the beginning of the 18th century the Isle of Man had a majority of Manx speakers but with the annexation of the island by England in 1765 a vigorous policy of anglicisation was introduced which led to a drastic reduction in the numbers of Manx speakers in the subsequent generations. In 1866 the island obtained a limited measure of home rule.

It was not until the very end of the 19th century that Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh ‘The Manx Language Society’ was founded. However, the number of native speakers continued to decline rapidly and by the mid 20th century there were only a handful of people left who had had exposure to native Manx in their childhood. The last of these – Ned Maddrell – died in 1974. A revival, similar to that in Cornwall, is evident in the Isle of Man and the numbers of speakers of revived Manx has reached several hundred.

A translation of the Book of Common Prayer into Manx by Bishop John Phillips (1604-1633) dates from 1610, but never published. The later, 1662 Prayer Book was translated in 1760 by clergy from the Isle of Man and this was published in 1765. There was a reprint in 1842 and an edition in 1893 by A. W. Moore and published by the Manx Society. An extract from this prayer book is given below.

In the 1750s Bishop Hildesley revived the translation projects of the previous century and he is associated with the eighteenth-century translation of the bible into Manx – The Manx Family Bible : Bible Chasherick yn Lught Thie – a modern printing of which is available from Shearwater Press, Isle of Man (1979).

Some secular literature is also available in Manx, e.g. a longish poem on the history of the island called the Traditionary Ballad which may well stem from the mid-1500s. Other documents exist in the form of traditional tales and songs. The folklore stories of Ned Beg Hom Ruy (Edward Faragher, 1831-1908), published in 1981-2, probably represent a very late example of vernacular Manx.

The orthography used for Manx is quite different from Irish. It only uses the English alphabet, e.g. sh = [ʃ] as in shin ‘we’ (Irish sinn), and does not avail of vowel diacritics to indicate vowel length (as Irish does) but it does use some devices found in Welsh, e.g. the use of y [ə] and w [ʊ/ɯ] to indicate vowels. This system dates from the 17th century though whether it was devised personally by John Phillips or not is uncertain.

Another organisation dedicated to the culture, history and language of the island is the national agency (of the Isle of Man Government) which has an informative website: Manx National Heritage.


According to George Broderick (Broderick 1993), Manx can be divided into three periods (Broderick):

Label Time Documentation
Early Manx 17th century Translation of Book of Common Prayer, 1610
Classical Manx 18th century Translation of Manx Bible (1744-1773)
Late Manx 19th century Tales and songs of remaining native speakers

For the classical period the following statements concerning structure seem valid.


5 short and 5 long vowels: /i(:), e(:), a(:), o(:), u(:)/ and schwa (both stressed and unstressed). Diphthongs existed from combinations of high vowels (i, u) and schwa and some other vowels (these may have been sequences of two vowels as the first element can be long). As in Irish, diphthongs arose from the vocalisation of voiced fricatives and their coalescence with preceding vowels.

A distinction between palatal and non-palatal existed for dentals, sonorants and velars, but not for labials or for r.

t tj n nj k kj
d dj l lj g gj
s sj     x xj
        ɣ ɣj

As in Irish, the original dental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ merged with /h/ and /ɣ/ respectively, though a new /ð/ arose for /t, d, s/ in intervocalic position. The palatal segments /tj/ and /dj/ are realised as affricates, /ʧ/ and /ʤ/ respectively.

The mutation system of Manx is quite similar to Irish both in type and manifestation. It has two mutations lenition and nasalisation (as opposed to three in Welsh) and the shifts in articulation are clearly reminiscent of Irish as the following table shows.

Base p b f m t d s ʃ k g
Lenition f v Ø v h, x ɣ h h, xj x ɣ
Nasalisation b m v   d n     g ŋ


There are two genders, masculine and feminine with the former a default. Gender distinctions are not observed consistently.

As in Irish the old nominative, accusative and dative distinctions have been collapsed into a single common form. A vocative also exists; this lenites a qualified noun, usually preceded by the particle a. A genitive case is found, but with much less differentiation than in Irish. Adjectives do not normally vary for gender and case, but those qualifying feminine nouns generally lenite.


Manx, like the other Celtic languages, is a post-specifying language. Adjectives follow nouns and genitives the nominatives they qualify, e.g. Laa yn Nollick ‘Christmas Day’. Verbs occupy initial position in declarative sentences (VSO), e.g. Ta’n dorrys jeiht ‘The door is closed’. The range and forms of tenses, moods, persons and numbers for verbs is very similar to Irish. There is a verbal noun which, as in Irish, expresses progressive aspect. A verbal adjective is also found.

The system of prepositional pronouns, known from Irish, exists in Manx as well. These elements are used here to express semantic roles and relations in sentences, much as in Irish.

Certain features of Manx point to a similarity with northern forms of Irish and Scottish Gaelic, e.g. the negating particle cha ‘not’.


Apart form inherited common Q-Celtic words, Manx has a range of borrowings from languages with which it has been in contact throughout history. Latin, Scandinavian, French and English loanwords are plentiful in the language as the following examples illustrate.


agglish ‘church’ < ecclesia
bannaght ‘blessing’ < benedictio
liour ‘book’ < liber
saggyrt ‘priest’ < sacerdos


baatey ‘boat’ < bátr
garey ‘garden’ < gardhr
ronsaghey ‘ransack’ < rannsaka
uinnug ‘window’ < vindauga


cashtal ‘castle’ < castel
danjeyr ‘danger’ < danger
foayer ‘favour’ < faveur
shirveish ‘service’ < servise
vondeish ‘advantage’ < avantage


ansoor ‘answer’ < answer
boayrd ‘table’ < board
crout ‘trick’ < craft
fordrail ‘afford’ < afford
laccal ‘wanting’ < lack

Sample text in Manx (from prayer book)

The Order for MORNING PRAYER daily throughout the year

At the beginning of Morning Prayer, the Minister shall read with a low voice some one or more of these Sentences of the Scriptures that follow; and then he shall say that which is written after the said Sentences.

TRA ta’n dooinney meechrauee chyndaa ersooyl veih’n vee-chraueeaght t’eh er ny ve cur rish, as jannoo shen ta cairagh as jeeragh, sauee eh e annym bio. Ezek. xviii. 27.

Ta mee goaill rish m’oiljyn, as ta my pheccah kinjagh kiongoyrt rhym. Psal. li. 3.

Follee dty eddin veih my pheccaghyn, as leih dou ooilley my vee-chraueeaght. Psal. li. 9.

Ta ourallyn Yee spyrryd seaghnit; cree brisht as arryssagh, O Yee, cha soie uss beg jeh. Psal. li. 17.

Raip-jee nyn greeaghyn, as cha nee nyn goamraghyn, as chyndaa-jee gys y Chiarn y Jee eu: son t’eh graysoil as myghinagh, moal gys corree, as dy chenjallys vooar, as meigh-chreeagh tra t’eh kerraghey. Joel ii. 13.

Gys y Chiarn y Jee ain ta bentyn myghinyn as leih peccaghyn, ga dy vel shin er n’irree magh n’oï: chamoo ta shin er choyrt biallys da coraa yn Chiarn y Jee ain, dy immeeaght ayns e leighaghyn t’eh er hoiaghey roïn. Dan. ix. 9, 10.

O Hiarn, smaghtee mee, agh lesh foayr; cha nee ayns dty chorree, er aggle dy der oo lhiat mee gys veg. Jer. x. 24. Psal. vi. 1.

Gow-jee arrys; son ta reeriaght niau er-gerrey. Mat. iii. 2.

Trog-yms orrym, as hem roym gys m’ayr, as jir-ym rish, Ayr, ta mee er n’yannoo peccah noi niau, as kiongoyrt rhyts, as cha vel mee ny sodjey feeu dy ve enmyssit dty vac. Luke xv. 18, 19.

Ny gow er dty hoshiaght gys briwnys rish dty harvaant, O Hiarn; son ayns dty hilley’s cha bee dooinney erbee bio er ny heyrey. Psal. cxliii. 2.

My ta shin gra dy vel shin gyn peccah, ta shin molley shin hene, as cha vel yn irriney ain. Agh my ta shin goaill-rish nyn beccaghyn, t’eshyn firrinagh as cairagh dy leih dooin nyn beccaghyn, as dy ghlenney shin veih dy chooilley neu-ynrickys. 1 John i. 8, 9.

Kinvig, R. H. 1975 [1944] The Isle of Man. A social, cultural and political history. Liverpool: University Press.


Ball, Martin J. and James Fife (eds) 1993. The Celtic languages. London: Routledge.

Broderick, George 1984-6. A handbook of late spoken Manx. Buchreihe der Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, 3 vols. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Broderick, George 1991. ‘The decline and death of Manx Gaelic’, in Ureland and Broderick (eds), pp. 63-126.

Broderick, George 1993. ‘Manx’, in Ball and Fife (eds), 228-85.

Broderick, George 1999. Language death in the Isle of Man. An investigation into the decline and extinction of Manx Gaelic as a community language in the Isle of Man. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Cregeen, A. 1835. A dictionary of the Manks language. Douglas: Quiggin.

Gelling, Margaret 1991. ‘The place-names of the Isle of Man’, in Ureland and Broderick (eds), pp. 141-56.

George, Ken and George Broderick 1993. ‘The revived languages: Modern Cornish and Modern Manx’, in Ball and Fife (eds), pp. 644-63.

Goodwin, E. 1966. First lessons in Manx. 3rd edition. Douglas: Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh.

Jackson, Kenneth H. 1955. Contributions to the history of Manx phonology. Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson.

Kelly, John 1977 [1866] Fockleyr Gailckagh as Baarlagh [Manx - English Dictionary]. Menston: The Scolar Press.

Kneen, J. J. 1973. A grammar of the Manx language. Douglas: Manx Museum and Ancient Monument Trustees.

MacAulay, Donald (ed.) 1992. The Celtic Languages. Cambridge: University Press.

McCone, Kim, Damian McManus, Cathal Ó Háinle, Nicholas Williams and Liam Breatnach (eds) 1994. Stair na Gaeilge. In Ómós de Pádraig Ó Fiannachta [The History of Irish. In Honour of Pádraig Ó Fiannachta]. Maynooth: Department of Irish.

Moore, A. W. and J. Rhys (eds) 1893. The book of common prayer in Manx Gaelic being translations made by Bishop Phillips in 1610 and by the Manx Clergy in 1765. Douglas: Manx Society.

Ó Sé, Diarmuid 1991. ‘Prosodic change in Manx and lexical diffusion’, in Ureland and Broderick (eds), pp. 157-80.

Rhys, John 1894. The outlines of the phonology of Manx Gaelic. Douglas: The Manx Society.

Thomson, Robert L. 1954-7 ‘A glossary of early Manx (1610)’, Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie 24: 272-307; 25: 100-40, 264-308; 27: 79-160.

Thomson, Robert L. 1960. ‘Svarabhakti and some associated changes in Manx’, Celtica 55, 116-26.

Thomson, Robert L. 1969. ‘The study of Manx Gaelic’, Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture. Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol.4. London: Oxford University Press.

Thomson, Robert L. 1976. ‘The stressed vowel phonemes of a Manx ideolect’, Celtica 11, 255-63.

Thomson, Robert L. 1991. ‘Foreign elements in the Manx vocabulary’, in Ureland and Broderick (eds), pp. 127-40.

Thomson, Robert L. 1992. ‘The Manx language’, in MacAulay (ed.), 100-36.

Ureland, P. Sture and George Broderick (eds) 1991. Language contact in theBritish Isles. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Williams, Nicholas 1994. ‘An Mhanainnis’ [Manx], in McCone et al. (eds), pp. 703-44.