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Manx language

Manx (Gaelg or Gailck, or [ɡilɡ]), also known as Manx Gaelic, is a Goidelic language once spoken on the Isle of Man. The last native speaker, Ned Maddrell, died in 1974, but in recent years it has been the object of language revival efforts, and it is now the medium of education at the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, a primary school for four- to eleven-year-olds in St. John's, Isle of Man.

Classification and dialects

Manx is a Goidelic language, which means it is derived from Old Irish and Middle Irish and is closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic. It shares a number of sound changes with dialects of Irish and Scottish Gaelic, but also shows a number of unique sound changes. In addition, Manx itself can be divided into two dialects, Northern Manx and Southern Manx.

Manx shares with Scottish Gaelic the loss of contrastive palatalisation of labial consonants; thus while in Irish the velarised consonants contrast phonemically with palatalised , in Gaelic and Manx, the phonemic contrast has been lost; these languages have only simple . A consequence of this phonemic merger is that Middle Irish unstressed word-final [əvʲ] (spelled -(a)ibh, -(a)imh in Irish and Gaelic) has merged with [əw] (-(e)amh) in Manx and Gaelic; both have become [u], spelled -oo or -u(e) in Manx. Examples include shassoo ("to stand"; Irish seasamh), credjue ("religion"; Irish creideamh), nealloo ("fainting"; Early Modern Irish (i) néalaibh), and erriu ("on you (plural)"; Irish oraibh).

Like northern dialects of Irish (cf. Irish phonology#Word-initial consonant clusters) and most dialects of Scottish Gaelic, Manx has changed the historical consonant clusters to . For example, Middle Irish cnáid ("mockery") and mná ("women") have become craid and mraane respectively in Manx. The affrication of to is also common to Manx, northern Irish, and Scottish Gaelic.

Also like northern dialects of Irish, as well as like southern dialects of Scottish Gaelic (e.g. Arran, Kintyre), the unstressed word-final syllable [əj] of Middle Irish (spelled -(a)idh and -(a)igh) as developed to [iː] in Manx, where it is spelled -ee, as in kionnee ("buy"; cf. Irish ceannaigh) and cullee ("apparatus"; cf. Gaelic culaidh).

Another property Manx shares with Ulster Irish and some dialects of Scottish Gaelic is that /a/ rather than /ə/ appears in unstressed syllables before /x/ (in Manx spelling, agh), for example jeeragh ("straight") [ˈdʒiːrax] (Irish díreach, cooinaghtyn ("to remember") [ˈkuːnaxt̪ən] (Gaelic cuimhneachd.

Similarly to Munster Irish, historical [vʲ] (spelled bh and mh) has been lost in the middle or at the end of a word in Manx with compensatory lengthening or diphthongisation of the preceding vowel. For example, Manx geurey ("winter") and sleityn ("mountains") [ˈsleːdʒən] correspond to Irish geimhreadh and sléibhte (southern pronunciations [ˈɟiːɾˠə] and [ˈʃlʲeːtʲə]). Another similarity to Munster Irish is the development of Old Irish before velarised consonants (spelled ao in Irish and Scottish Gaelic) to [eː], as in seyr ("carpenter") [seːr] and keyll ("narrow") [keːl] (spelled saor and caol in Irish and pronounced virtually the same in Munster).

Like southern varieties of Irish and northern varieties of Scottish Gaelic, but unlike the geographically closer varieties of Ulster Irish and Arran and Kintyre Gaelic, Manx shows vowel lengthening or diphthongisation before the Old Irish fortis and lenis sonorants. For example, cloan ("children") [klɔːn], dhone ("brown") [d̪ɔːn], eem ("butter") [iːbm] correspond to Irish/Scottish Gaelic clann, donn, and im respectively, which have long vowels in southern Irish and in the Scottish Gaelic dialects of the Outer Hebrides and Skye, but short vowels in northern Irish, Arran, and Kintyre.

Another similarity with southern Irish is the treatment of Middle Irish word-final unstressed [əð], spelled -(e)adh in Irish and Scottish Gaelic. In nouns (including verbal nouns), this became [ə] in Manx, as it did in southern Irish and a few dialects of Scottish Gaelic, e.g. caggey ("war") [ˈkaːɣə], moylley ("to praise") [ˈmɔlə]; cf. Irish cogadh and moladh, pronounced [ˈkɔɡə] and [ˈmˠɔl̪ˠə] in southern Irish. In finite verb forms before full nouns (as opposed to pronouns) [əð] became [əx] in Manx, as in southern Irish, e.g. voyllagh [ˈvɔləx] ("would praise"), cf. Irish mholfadh, pronounced [ˈvˠɔl̪ˠhəx] in southern Irish.

Linguistic analysis of the last few dozen native speakers reveals a number of dialectal differences between the northwestern and the southeastern parts of the island. Northern Manx is reflected by speakers from towns and villages from Maughold in the northeast of the island to Peel on the west coast. Southern Manx is used by speakers from the Sheading of Rushen.

In Southern Manx, older á and ó have fallen together as [eː]. In Northern Manx the same happens, but á sometimes remains [aː] as well. For example, laa ("day", cf. Irish ) is [leː] in the south but [leː] or [laː] in the north. Old ó is always [eː] in both dialects, e.g. aeg ("young", cf. Irish óg) is [eːɡ] in both dialects.

In Northern Manx, older (e)a before nn in the same syllable is diphthongised, while in Southern Manx it is lengthened but remains a monophthong. For example, kione ("head", cf. Irish ceann) is [kʲaun] in the north but [kʲoːn] in the south.

In both dialects of Manx, older ua and ao have fallen together as a sound spelled eay in Manx. In Northern Manx, this sound is [iː], while in Southern Manx it is [ɯː], [uː], or [yː]. For example, geay ("wind", cf. Irish gaoth) is [ɡiː] in the north and [ɡɯː] in the south, while geayl ("coal", cf. Irish gual is [ɡiːl] in the north and [ɡyːl], [ɡɯːl], or [ɡuːl] in the south.

In both the north and the south, there is a tendency to insert a short [d] sound before a word-final [n] in monosyllabic words, as in [sledn] for slane ("whole") and [bedn] for ben ("woman"). This phenomenon is known as preocclusion. In Southern Manx, however, there is also preocclusion of [d] before [l] and of [ɡ] before [ŋ], as in [ʃuːdl] for shooyll ("walking") and [lɔɡŋ] for lhong. These forms are generally pronounced without preocclusion in the north. Preocclusion of [b] before [m], on the other hand, is more common in the north, as in trome ("heavy"), which is [t̪robm] in the north but [t̪roːm] or [t̪roːbm] in the south.

Southern Manx tends to lose word-initial [ɡ] before [lʲ], while Northern Manx usually preserves it, e.g. glion ("glen") is [ɡlʲɔdn] in the north and [lʲɔdn] in the south, and glioon ("knee") is [ɡlʲuːn] in the north and [lʲuːdn] in the south.



The consonant phonemes of Manx are as follows:

Manx consonant phonemes
  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Palato-
Velar Labio-
Plosive p b             ɡʲ k ɡ        
Fricative     f v     s   ʃ       ɣʲ x ɣ     h  
Nasal   m           n             ŋ        
Trill               r                        
Approximant                       j           w    
Lateral               l                      

The voiceless plosives are pronounced with aspiration. The dental, postalveolar and palato-velar plosives are affricated to in many contexts.

Manx has an optional process of lenition of plosives between vowels, whereby voiced plosives and voiceless fricatives become voiced fricatives and voiceless plosives become either voiced plosives or voiced fricatives. This process introduces the allophones to the series of voiced fricatives in Manx. The voiced fricative [ʒ] may be further lenited to [j], and [ɣ] may disappear altogether. Examples include:Voiceless plosive to voiced plosive

  • /t̪/ → [d̪]: brattag [ˈbrad̪aɡ] "flag, rag"
  • /k/ → [ɡ]: peccah [ˈpɛɡə] "sin"Voiceless plosive to voiced fricative
  • /p/ → [v]: cappan [ˈkavan] "cup"
  • /t̪/ → [ð]: baatey [ˈbɛːða] "boat"
  • /k/ → [ɣ]: feeackle [ˈfiːɣəl] "tooth"Voiced plosive to voiced fricative
  • /b/ → [v]: cabbyl [ˈkaːvəl] "horse"
  • /d̪/ → [ð]: eddin [ˈɛðənʲ] "face"
  • /dʲ/ → [ʒ]: padjer [ˈpaːʒər] "prayer"
  • /dʲ/ → [ʒ] → [j]: maidjey "stick"
  • /ɡ/ → [ɣ]: ruggit [ˈroɣət] "born"Voiceless fricative to voiced fricative
  • /s/ → [ð] or [z]: poosit "married"
  • /s/ → [ð]: shassoo [ˈʃaːðu] "stand"
  • /ʃ/ → [ʒ]: aashagh [ˈɛːʒax] "easy"
  • /ʃ/ → [ʒ] → [j]: toshiaght "beginning"
  • /x/ → [ɣ]: beaghey [ˈbɛːɣə] "live"
  • /x/ → [ɣ] → ∅: shaghey [ʃaː] "past"

Another optional process of Manx phonology is preocclusion, the insertion of a very short plosive consonant before a sonorant consonant. In Manx, this applies to stressed monosyllabic words (i.e. words one syllable long). The inserted consonant is homorganic with the following sonorant, which means it has the same place of articulation. Long vowels are often shortened before preoccluded sounds. Examples include:

  • /m/ → [bm]: trome /t̪roːm/ → [t̪robm] "heavy"
  • /n/ → [dn]: kione /kʲoːn/ → [kʲodn] "head"
  • /nʲ/ → [nʲ]: ein /eːnʲ/ → "birds"
  • /ŋ/ → [ɡŋ]: lhong /loŋ/ → [loɡŋ] "ship"
  • /l/ → [dl]: shooyll /ʃuːl/ → [ʃuːdl] "walking"

The trill /r/ is realised as a one- or two-contact flap [ɾ] at the beginning of syllable, and as a stronger trill [r] when preceded by another consonant in the same syllable. At the end of a syllable, /r/ can be pronounced either as a strong trill [r] or, more frequently, as a weak fricative [ɹ̝], which may vocalise to a nonsyllabic [ə̯] or disappear altogether. This vocalisation may be due to the influence of Manx English, which is itself a non-rhotic accent. Examples of the pronunciation of /r/ include:

  • ribbey "snare" [ˈɾibə]
  • arran "bread" [ˈaɾan]
  • mooar "big"


The vowel phonemes of Manx are as follows:

Manx vowel phonemes
  Short Long
Front Central Back Front Central Back
Close i   u  
Mid e ə o  
Open   a      

Manx has a relatively large number of diphthongs, all of them falling:

Manx diphthongs
  Second element is /i/ Second element is /u/ Second element is /ə/
First element is close ui  
First element is mid  
First element is open ai au  

There is evidence that open-mid /ɛː/ and /ɔː/ were originally separate phonemes from close-mid /eː/ and /oː/, but by the twentieth century the pairs had fallen together. When stressed, /ə/ is realised as [ø].


Stress generally falls on the first syllable of a word in Manx, but in many cases, stress is attracted to a long vowel in the second syllable. Examples include:

  • buggane /bəˈɡeːn/ "sprite"
  • tarroogh /t̪aˈruːx/ "busy"
  • reeoil /riːˈoːl/ "royal"
  • vondeish /vonˈd̪eːʃ/ "advantage"


Manx nouns fall into one of two genders, masculine or feminine. Nouns are inflected for number (the plural being formed in a variety of ways, most commonly by addition of the suffix -yn [ən]), but usually there is no inflection for case, except in a minority of nouns that have a distinct genitive singular form, which is formed in various ways (most common is the addition of the suffix -ey [ə] to feminine nouns). Historical genitive singulars are often encountered in compounds even when they are no longer productive forms; for example thie-ollee "cowhouse" uses the old genitive of ollagh "cattle".

Manx verbs generally form their finite forms by means of periphrasis: inflected forms of the auxiliary verbs ve "to be" or jannoo "to do" are combined with the verbal noun of the main verb. Only the future, conditional, preterite, and imperative can be formed directly by inflecting the main verb, but even in these tenses, the periphrastic formation is more common in Late Spoken Manx. Examples:

Manx finite verb forms
Tense Periphrastic form
(literal translation)
Inflected form Gloss
Present ta mee tilgey
(I am throwing)
I throw
Imperfect va mee tilgey
(I was throwing)
I was throwing
Perfect ta mee er tilgey
(I am after throwing)
I have thrown
Pluperfect va mee er tilgey
(I was after throwing)
I had thrown
Future neeym tilgey
(I will do throwing)
tilgym I will throw
Conditional yinnin tilgey
(I would do throwing)
hilgin I would throw
Preterite ren mee tilgey
(I did throwing)
hilg mee I threw
Imperative jean tilgey!
(Do throwing!)

The future and conditional tenses (and in some irregular verbs, the preterite) make a distinction between "independent" and "dependent" forms. Independent forms are used when the verb is not preceded by any particle; dependent forms are used when a particle (e.g. cha "not") does precede the verb. For example, "you will lose" is caillee oo with the independent form caillee ("will lose"), while "you will not lose" is cha gaill oo with the dependent form caill (which has undergone eclipsis to gaill after cha). Similarly "they went" is hie ad with the independent form hie ("went"), while "they did not go" is cha jagh ad with the dependent form jagh. This contrast is inherited from Old Irish, which shows such pairs as beirid ("(s)he carries") vs. ní beir ("(s)he does not carry"), and is found in Scottish Gaelic as well, e.g. gabhaidh ("will take") vs. cha ghabh ("will not take"). In Modern Irish, the distinction is found only in irregular verbs (e.g. chonaic ("saw") vs. ní fhaca ("did not see").

Like the other Insular Celtic languages, Manx has so-called inflected prepositions, contractions of a preposition with a pronominal direct object. For example, the preposition ec "at" has the following forms:

Inflections of ec "at"
  Singular Plural
First person aym ("at me") ain ("at us")
Second person ayd ("at you") eu ("at you")
Third person Masculine echey ("at him") oc ("at them")
Feminine eck ("at her")


Manx IPA English Irish
Scottish Gaelic
one aon aon
two dó, dhá

tree [t̪riː] three trí trì
kiare [kʲeːə] four ceathair, ceithre ceithir
queig [kweɡ] five cúig còig
shey [ʃeː] six sia
shiaght [ʃaːx] seven seacht seachd
hoght [hɑːx] eight a hocht ochd
nuy nine naoi naoi
jeih [dʒɛi] ten deich deich
nane jeig eleven aon déag aon deug
daa yeig [d̪eiɡʲ] twelve dó dhéag dà dheug

Initial consonant mutations

Like all modern Celtic languages, Manx shows initial consonant mutations, which are processes by which the initial consonant of a word is altered according to its morphological and/or syntactic environment. Manx has two mutations: lenition and nasalisation, found on nouns and verbs in a variety of environments; adjectives can undergo lenition but not nasalisation. In the late spoken language of the 20th century the system was breaking down, with speakers frequently failing to use mutation in environments where it was called for, and occasionally using it in environments where it was not called for.

Lenition and nasalisation in Manx
Unmutated consonant Lenition Nasalisation
/p/ /f/ /b/
/t̪/ /d̪/
/tʲ/ /dʲ/
/kʲ/ /xʲ/ /ɡʲ/
/k/ /ɡ/
/d̪/ /n/
/dʲ/ /nʲ/
/ɡʲ/ /ŋ/?
/ɡ/ /ɣ/ /ŋ/?
(no change)
(no change)
/ʃ/ (no change)


Like most Insular Celtic languages, Manx uses Verb Subject Object word order: the inflected verb of a sentence precedes the subject, which itself precedes the direct object. However, as noted above, most finite verbs are formed periphrastically, using an auxiliary verb in conjunction with the verbal noun. In this case, only the auxiliary verb precedes the subject, while the verbal noun comes after the subject. The auxiliary verb may be a modal verb rather than a form of bee ("be") or jannoo ("do"). Particles like the negative cha ("not") precede the inflected verb. Examples:

Hug yn saggyrt e laue urree.
put- the priest his hand on her
"The priest put his hand on her.
Va ny eayin gee yn conney.
were the lambs eat- the gorse
"The lambs used to eat the gorse.
Cha jarg shiu fakin red erbee.
not can you- see- anything
"You can't see anything.

When the auxiliary verb is a form of jannoo ("do"), the direct object precedes the verbal noun and is connected to it with the particle y:

Ren ad my choraa y chlashtyn.
did they my voice hear-
"They heard my voice.

As in Irish (cf. Irish syntax#The forms meaning "to be"), there are two ways of expressing "to be" in Manx: with the substantive verb bee, and with the copula. The substantive verb is used when the predicate is an adjective, adverb, or prepositional phrase. Examples:

t' eh agglagh
is it awful
"It is awful."
t' eh dy mie
is he well
"He is well"
t' eh ayns y thie-oast
is he in the ale house
"He is in the ale house."

Where the predicate is a noun, it must be converted to a prepositional phrase headed by the preposition in ("in") + possessive pronoun (agreeing with the subject) in order for the substantive verb to be grammatical:

t' eh ny wooinney mie
is he in-his man good
"He is a good man" (lit. "He is in his good man")

Otherwise, the copula is used when the predicate is a noun. The copula itself takes the form is or she in the present tense, but it is often omitted in affirmative statements:

Is /
Manninagh mish
Manxman me
"I am a Manxman.
Shoh 'n dooinney
this the man "This is the man."

In questions and negative sentences, the present tense of the copula is nee:

Cha nee mish eh
not me him
"I am not him."
Nee shoh 'n lioar?
this the book
"Is this the book?"


Manx began to diverge from Early Modern Irish in around the 13th century and from Scottish Gaelic in the 15th. The language sharply declined during the 19th century and was supplanted by English. In 1848, J. G. Cumming wrote that "there are ... few persons (perhaps none of the young) who speak no English", and Henry Jenner estimated in 1874 that about 30% of the population habitually spoke Manx (12,340 out of a population of 41,084). According to official census figures, 9.1% of the population claimed to speak Manx in 1901; in 1921 the percentage was only 1.1%. Since the language had fallen to a status of low prestige, parents tended not to teach the language to their children, thinking that Manx would be useless to them compared with English.

Following the decline in the use of Manx during the 19th century, Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh (The Manx Language Society) was founded in 1899. By the middle of the 20th century only a few elderly native speakers remained (the last of them, Ned Maddrell, died on 27 December, 1974), but by then a scholarly revival had begun to spread to the populace and many had learned Manx as a second language. The revival of Manx has been aided by the recording work done in the 20th century by researchers. Most notably, the Irish Folklore Commission was sent in with recording equipment in 1948 by Éamon de Valera. There is also the work conducted by language enthusiast and fluent speaker Brian Stowell, who is considered personally responsible for the current revival of the Manx language.

The first native speakers of Manx (bilingual with English) in many years have now appeared: children brought up by Manx-speaking parents. Primary immersion education in Manx is provided by the Manx government: since 2003, the former St. John's School building has been used by the sole Manx primary school, the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh (Manx language-medium primary school). Degrees in Manx are available from the Isle of Man College and the Centre for Manx Studies, while the University of Edinburgh offers an Honours course on the Culture, History, and Language of the Isle of Man.

Manx-language drama groups also exist, and Manx is taught as a second language at all of the island's primary and secondary schools and also at the Isle of Man College and Centre for Manx Studies. Manx is used as the sole medium for teaching at five of the Island's preschools by a company named Mooinjer Veggey, which also operates the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh. The first film to be made in Manx - the 22-minute long Ny Kiree fo Niaghtey (The Sheep Under the Snow) - premiered in 1983 and was entered for the 5th Celtic Film and Television Festival in Cardiff in 1984. It was directed by Shorys Y Creayrie for Foillan Films of Laxey, and is about the background to an early 18th century folk song.

In the 2001 census, 1,689 out of 76,315, or 2.2% of the population, claimed to have knowledge of Manx, although the degree of knowledge in these cases presumably varied. Manx names are once again becoming common on the Isle of Man, especially Moirrey and Voirrey (Mary, properly pronounced similar to the Scottish Moira, but often mispronounced as Moiree/Voiree when used as a given name by non-Manx speakers), Illiam (William), Orry (from the Manx King), Breeshey (also Breesha) (Bridget) and Aalish (also Ealish) (Alice), Juan (Jack), Ean (John), Joney, Fenella (Fionnuala), Pherick (Patrick) and Freya (from the Norse Goddess) remain popular. Although Manx is commonly used for written slogans by local businesses, and appears on departmental letterheads and promotional materials within the Isle of Man Government, it is not used as a spoken language within the business community, or spoken within the Government.

Manx is used in the annual Tynwald ceremony, with new laws being read out by Yn Lhaihder ('the Reader') in both Manx and English.

Manx is recognised under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. It is also one of the regional languages recognised in the framework of the British-Irish Council.

Little secular Manx literature has been preserved. Arguably, no trace of written Manx survives from before the 1600s, but the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible were translated into Manx in the 17th and 18th centuries. A tradition of carvals, religious songs or carols, developed.


The spelling of Manx, unlike that of Irish and Scottish Gaelic, does not represent the Classical Gaelic orthography, and is based on the Welsh and English orthographies (seen, for example, in the use of 'y' and 'w' and in combinations such as 'oo' and 'ee'). For example, 'Isle of Man' if written using the Irish orthography would be written as Oileán Mhanainn or in the Scottish orthography as Eilean Mhanainn, whereas in the Manx orthography it is written as Ellan Vannin. The Irish name for the Isle of Man is Oileán Mhananáin, and the Scottish name is Eilean Mhananain - the three versions are pronounced in a similar way.

If any distinctively Manx written literature existed before the Reformation, it was unidentifiable or lost by the time that widespread literacy was being seriously advocated, so when attempts were made (mainly by the Anglican church authorities) to introduce a standardised orthography for the language, a new system based partly on Welsh, and mainly on the English of the 1700s was developed. It is commonly supposed that it was simply invented by John Phillips, the Welsh-born Bishop of Sodor and Man (1605-1633) who translated the Book of Common Prayer into Manx. However, it does appear to have some similarities with orthographical systems found occasionally in Scotland, also based on English orthographical practices. For example, the Book of the Dean of Lismore and the Fernaig manuscript are written in Scottish Gaelic using a similar system of spelling. However, it must be noted that the Book of the Dean of Lismore is based on the orthography of Scots, and not Southern English.


Manx IPA English Irish
Scottish Gaelic
Moghrey mie Good morning Mochthrath math
Fastyr mie Good evening Feasgar math
Gura mie ayd,
Gura mie eu
Thank you (singular),
Thank you (plural)
Go raibh maith agat,
Go raibh maith agaibh
baatey [ˈbeːðə] boat bàta
barroose [bəˈruːs] bus (none; from English barouche)
blaa [blɛː] flower bláth blàth
booa [buːə] cow
cabbyl. egh [ˈkʲaːβəl]. [ˈex] horse capall, each capall, each
cashtal [ˈkɑʃtʲəl] castle caisleán, caiseal caisteal
creg [kreɡ] rock creig creag
eean [jiːdn] bird éan eun, ian
eeast [jiːs] fish iasc iasg
ellan [ˈelʲan] island oileán eilean
jees [dʒiːs] pair dís dithis
kayt [kʲet̪] cat cat cat
moddey [ˈmɑːðə] dog madra, madadh madadh
oie [ei] night oíche oidhche
shapp [ʃap] shop siopa
thie [t̪ɑi] house tigh, teach taigh
ushtey [ˈuʃtʲə] water uisce uisge



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  • Ó Cuív, Brian (1944). The Irish of West Muskerry, Co. Cork. Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies. ISBN 0-901282-52-9.
  • Ó Sé, Diarmuid (2000). Gaeilge Chorca Dhuibhne. Dublin: Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann. ISBN 0-946452-97-0.
  • Thomson, Robert L. (1992). The Celtic Languages. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23127-2.
  • Williams, Nicholas (1994). Stair na Gaeilge in ómós do Pádraig Ó Fiannachta. Maynooth: Department of Old Irish, St. Patrick's College. ISBN 0-901519-90-1.

See also

External links

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