Manx (Gaelg /gɪlg/) is a Gaelic language which originated and is predominantly still spoken in the Isle of Man. Having developed from Middle Irish it is closely related to Irish and Scottish Gaelic, but it has also seen influences from Old Norse and English.
Until around 1800 Manx was the primary language of the people of Mann, but economic pressures and an influx of migrants from the north west of England in the 19th century forced the language into a swift decline and it was replaced by English. By 1950 there were only around ten native speakers of Manx remaining but by that point a revival had already begun. In 1899 Yn Cheshaght Ghailckagh was set up to help preserve and teach the language, ensuring that valuable resources would still be available when the popularity of Manx grew again in the late 20th century. In 2001 the Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, a primary school dedicated to teaching in Manx alone, was set up and in the same year over 1,500 people claimed to have some knowledge of Manx.
Phonology and Orthography
Unlike Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Manx orthography is not based on the conventions of Middle Irish but was developed on its own from the 16th century and is based on English and Welsh systems. Like English, modern Manx spelling is inconsistent and not entirely phonetic.
|High||i, y, ae, oi [ɪ i]|
ee [ɪː iː]
|u [ʊ u]|
|Closed Mid||e, ay, ei [ɛ e]|
e, aa/ea, ai [ɛː eː]
|a, u, y [ə ɨ]||o, oh [ɔ o]|
|Low||a [a æ]||a [ɑ]|
Where vowels are given in pairs, the first represents vowels adjacent to broad consonants, and the second to slender consonants.
The following diphthongs occur: ie /ai/, ai, aai /ei/, oai, oi /oi/, ui /ui/, aew, ou /eu/, eu /iu/, ia /iə/, ooa, ua /uə/.
b /b bʲ/
|t /t tʲ/|
d, tt /d dʲ/
| c, k, qu /k kʲ/|
g /g gʲ/
|Nasal||m /m/||n /n nʲ/||ng /ŋ/|
|Tap||r, rr /r/|
|Fricative||f, ph /f/|
|s, ss /s/||sh /ʃ/||ch, gh(t) /x xʲ/||h /h/|
|Approximant||l, ll, lh /l lʲ/||y /j/|
Some consonants have two qualities: slender when i or e follow, broad elsewhere.
Manx has two initial consonant mutations, lenition and nasalisation.
|g||gh, y||n’gh, ng|
|t, th||h||d, dh|
- when g is a broad consonant (i.e. followed by a, o, u), its lenited form is gh; when is it followed by i (or e) it is lenited to y. Some writers use gh for both.
- the consonant clusters sl, str and sn are lenited to l, tr, n.
- eclipsis causes an prefixed n- to be added to initial vowels.
Manx also has an h- prefix, which is added to initial vowels following certain pronouns, articles and particles (e.g. e habane ‘her ankle’).
There is no indefinite article in Manx.
The definite article is declined in the following ways:
|Masc Sg||Fem Sg||Plural|
|Nom/Acc/Dat.||y, yn, ‘n||ny|
The basic form is yn (e.g. yn dooiney “the man”), but this is often reduced to y before a consonant (e.g. y dooiney). The form ‘n is used after a vowel (e.g. da’n dooiney “to the man”)
Nouns are masculine or feminine in gender.
Plurals may be formed by:
- changing an internal vowel: kione “head” → king, boayrd “table” → buird
- changing -agh → -ee: Frangagh “Frenchman” → Frangee
- adding the suffix -yn: thie “house” → thieyn
- adding -yn with some internal change: feeackle “tooth” → feeacklyn
- adding -aghyn, with or without internal change: braar “brother” → braaraghyn, çhengey “tongue” → çhengaghyn
The distinction of case in nouns has now largely been eroded. Some nouns have a separate genitive singular form (e.g. baase “death”, gen. baaish) but in most cases the nominative singular may be used instead. The dative singular survives only in a few set phrases, e.g. ry-chosh “on foot” from cass “foot”). Only one genitive plural remains: keyrragh from keyrrey “sheep”).
Adjectives are usually placed after the noun they qualify though shenn “old” and drogh “bad” usually come before, causing lenition (e.g. shenn dhooiney “old man”).
Some adjectives have a plural form, used when qualifying a plural noun, which takes -ey, e.g. beg “small” → beggey, trome “heavy” → tromey.
Adjectives form the comparative in a number of ways:
- by adding -ey: meen “fine” → meeney
- by internal change: garroo “rough” → girroo
- by changing -agh → -ee: booiagh “pleased” → booiee
- with the adverb smoo “more”: smoo jesh “tidier”
The simple pronouns are used after forms of “to be”. After ta, the 2s form is ou.
Manx has a t/v contrast between the second person pronouns, in which the plural form shiu is often used as a polite form with a singular subject.
The possessive adjectives may be replaced by the article with the preposition ec ‘at’ following the noun (e.g. e hengey ‘his tongue’ → y hengey echey; nyn gayt ‘their cat’ → y chayt oc).
Many verbs in Manx are conjugated with the auxiliary ve “to be”. Forms of “to be” itself is conjugated using a standard form followed by the simple personal pronoun. The forms are:
|Present||ta, t’||vel||cha nel||nagh vel|
|Past||va, v’||row||cha row||nagh row|
The usual construction is a form of ve + personal pronoun + verbal noun, e.g. ta mee creck “I sell”, v’ee creck eeym “she was selling butter”. In present and imperfect constructions, a verbal noun beginning with a vowel is prefixed with g-, e.g. ta mee geeck “I am paying”.
The past tense of verbs can be formed with the preterite of the auxiliary janoo “do”, e.g. ren ad creck “they sold”.
The imperative may also be formed with janoo “do”. In the singular the form is jean and the plural is jean-jee (sometimes replaced with jean-shiu in colloquial speech). E.g. jean-jee creck “buy!”.
Like all Celtic languages, some Manx prepositions are ‘conjugated’ according to person, number and gender (in the 3rd person singular only). The personal forms are given below in the order 1s, 2s, 3sm, 3sf, 1p, 2p, 3p:
|ass ‘out of’||ayns ‘in’||da ‘to’||ec ‘at’||er ‘on’|
|fo ‘under’||gys ‘to’||jeh ‘of’||lesh ‘with’||mysh ‘about’|
|rish ‘to’||harrish ‘over’||liorish ‘by’||marish ‘with’||roish ‘before’|
Manx also makes use of compound prepositions, which usually consist of a preposition + noun, or a noun alone and are conjugated using the possessive adjectives, e.g:
- mychione ‘concerning’: my-my-chione, my-dty-chione, my-e-chione, my-e-kione, my-nyn-gione
- son ‘for the sake of’: er-my-hon, er-dty-hon, er-e-hon, er-e-son, er-nyn-son
- lurg ‘after’: my lurg, dty lurg, ny lurg, nyn lurg
Candide by Voltaire
Ayns Westphalia, ayns cashtal Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh, va scollag aeg cummal da va dooghys er choyrt ymmyrkey feer villish. Va e huarystal soilshagh e annym. Va briwnys fondagh echey, as aigney oney; she er yn oyr shoh, er-lhiam pene, dy row eh enmyssit Candide. Va smooinaght ec shenn sharvaantyn y thie dy row eh ny vac da shuyr y çhiarn liorish dooinney-seyr mie as onneragh va baghey er-gerrey, nagh baillish y ven shoh y phoosey, er-y-fa nagh voddagh eh shickyraghey firrinys ny tree feed kerroo as unnane-jeig er e scape, son dy row cooid-vooar jeh’n villey-clienney echey caillit ayns cragh ny heashyn.
In a castle of Westphalia, belonging to the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, lived a youth, whom nature had endowed with the most gentle manners. His countenance was a true picture of his soul. He combined a true judgment with simplicity of spirit, which was the reason, I apprehend, of his being called Candide. The old servants of the family suspected him to have been the son of the Baron’s sister, by a good, honest gentleman of the neighborhood, whom that young lady would never marry because he had been able to prove only seventy-one quarterings, the rest of his genealogical tree having been lost through the injuries of time.
- Goodwin, E. & Thompson, R. (1987) First Lessons in Manx, Yn Chesaght Ghailckagh, St Judges, IOM
- Voltaire, Candide, from http://www.learnmanx.com/ accessed February 2012