[Yn Lioar Manninagh Vol 1 p129/139]


By A. W. MOORE, M.A., F.R.H.S.

(Read 1887.)

The Manx is a dialect of the Goidelic branch of the Celtic language—a branch which is represented also by two other dialects, the Irish and the Scotch Gaelic. There is no doubt that, during the early period of the Celtic occupation of the Isle of Man, the language of the inhabitants was substantially identical both with that of Ireland and that of the Gaels of Scotland, though probably showing such slight divergences as naturally arise whenever a population is spread over a wide area of territory. At the present day the mutual difference between the three dialects is considerable, though the resemblance between Irish and Scotch Gaelic is greater than that which either of them bears to Manx. In their written forms, indeed, the dissimilarity between Manx and its sister dialects is so wide that an Englishman, on comparing a passage, for instance, in a Manx Bible with the corresponding passage in the Irish or Gaelic version, might sometimes fail to perceive that the language had any affinity whatever. If, however, the two passages were read to him slowly and distinctly by natives of the respective countries, he would easily recognise that they differed merely as dialects of a common language. The striking difference in the two languages, as written, is largely due to the diverse principles on which their orthography is framed. The Irish language (the orthography of which is mainly followed in Scotch Gaelic) was reduced to writing at least as early as the eighth century, and its spelling still, to a great extent, represents the pronunciation of that period, though, even before the separation of the three dialects, the sounds had undergone very important changes. The modern Irish orthography, therefore, contains an abundance of silent letters, and of letters which no longer represent, phonetically, the actual corrupted pronunciation, and it was, in addition, based on the analogies of the contemporary English spelling, which was very imperfectly suited to render the peculiarities of Celtic sounds. The real differences which exist between Manx and its kindred dialects, as they are actually spoken, are to some extent the natural result of their separate development, although they are also due, in part, to the fact that Manx has borrowed a certain number of Scandinavian and English words. The following specimen verse from the Manx, Irish, and Scotch Gaelic Bible will give some notion of the relation between the three languages

Manx.—Son lheid y ghraih shen hug Jee dan theihll, dy dug eh e ynrycan vác v’er ny gheddyn, nagh jinnagh quoi-erbee chredjagh aynsyn cherraghtyn, agh yn yea ta dy bragh y chosney.

Irish, — Oir is mar so do ghrádhuigh Dia an domhan go dlug sé a einghen Meic fein,ionnus gidh be chreideas ann, nach rachadh sé a mugha, achd go mbeith an bheatha shiorruidhe aige.

Gaelic,—Oir is ann mar sin a ghrádhaich Dia an saoghal, gun d’thug e ‘aon-ghin Mhic fein, churn as ge b'e neach ach reideas ann, nach sgriosar e ach gum hi a’bheatha shiorruidh aige,

English,—For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. (St. John iii, 16,)

The earliest evidence which we have of the existence of a Manx language1 is found in a few names of persons and places on the Runic Stones, in the Chronicon Manniæ (1017-1376), in the Statute Law Book (1417), and in the Manorial Rolls of 1505 and 1515. It is, however, not until near the end of the sixteenth century that we find the language mentioned by English writers. It is somewhat interesting to observe that the first authors who refer to it were aware of its essential identity with Irish. The earliest English book in which it is mentioned is Camden’s " Britannia,"2 published in 1580. Camden says that the inhabitants of the north of the Island speak like the Scots, and those of the south like the Irish. Whether there really existed any such difference of dialect between the two divisions as is he asserted it is impossible to ascertain. The statement is, perhaps, has rather on intrinsic probabilities than on actual evidence. It is, however worth noting, as Camden’s account of the Isle of Man was, in part, supplied by John Meryk, bishop of the Island from 1577 to 1599, who would be competent witness for the fact that two different dialects were used in the northern and southern districts, though we cannot regard him as an authority on the question of their respective degree of resemblance to Irish or Scot Gaelic. At the present day there is scarcely any difference between the Man spoken in the different parts of the Island.3

In Speed’s "Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine" (1627), the author observes that " the common sort of people, both in their language and manners, come nighest unto the Irish, although they somewhat relish and savor of the qualities of the Norwegians." This interesting remark would be still more noteworthy, if we could suppose that Speed’s informant had arrived at his conclusion without knowing the history of the Island ; but this is not very probable.

The next writer in order of date whom we are able to quote is Chalonner who was appointed by Lord Fairfax one of the two Commissioners for governing the Island in 1652, and who was Governor in 1659 and 1660. He was a close observer of manners and customs. He remarks that " their language is the very same with that of the Scottish-Irish. * * * Many words are derived from Latin and Greek, and some of pure English. Chaloner adds that "few speak the English tongue." The knowledge of English must, however have made great progress during the seventeenth century, as, in Bishop Gibson’s translation of Camden (1695), it is stated that the gentry " are more willing to discourse with one in English than in their native language " ; and that " not only the gentry, but likewise such of the peasants as live in towns or frequent the towns market, do both understand and speak the English language." Gibson repeats Chaloner’s statement respecting the character of the Manx language, and says that "the people are styled Manks-men and their language is Manx." This appears to be the earliest extant mention of this name, which is possibly derived from Manninagh. the native word for a Manxman (an adjectival formative from Mannin, the name of the Island.)

Sacheverell, who was Governor of the Isle of Mann in 1692-1696, and who wrote about the beginning of the eighteenth century, says—" The Manks language, according to the best information I could get, differs no more from Irish than Scotch from English, though Bishop Phillips,4 a native of North Wales, who translated the Common Prayer into the Manks tongue, observe most of the radixes to be Welsh." It is remarkable that he should have been acute enough to discover the resemblance between the Manx and Welsh disguised as it is by sound changes. Of course, the likeness between these two languages is less—not, as Phillips supposed, greater—than that between Welsh and Irish.

Bishop Wilson remarks that the clergy are generally natives, the English language not being understood by two-thirds at the least of the population. Bishop Hildesley, Wilson’s successor, repeats this statement, and in his will (1772) he directs that his funeral sermon should be preached in Manks, " for the benefit of the greater part of the hearers."5 In 1756 the London Chronicle, referring to the subscriptions received by Bishop Hildesley, then newly appointed, and by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge " For the promulgation of the Gospel and the circulation of books of devotion in the Manx tongue," states that the population of the Island was then 20,000, very few of whom understood English.

In 1798, however, we learn, from Feltham, that English was generally understood by the lower classes, although they were "more ready at, and more attached to, their Manks," 6

About the beginning of the present century, the period of the commencement of the emigration which has since so largely denuded the Island of its native population, the author of an anonymous MS., among Dr. Kelly’s papers, laments the rapid disuse of the language, and its consequent decline in grammatical purity. The same testimony is borne by George Borrow, 7 who, writing in 1825, expressed the anticipation that in sixty years Manx would cease to exist as a spoken language, a prediction which has not been fulfilled. In the preface to Cregeen’s Manx Dictionary (1835). the author remarks that " numerous corruptions have crept into the dialect in general use, and so many Anglicisms have been adopted that the language is seldom spoken or written in its original purity."

In 1869, the Rev. Wm Gill writes as follows :—" The decline of the spoken Manx, within the memory of the present generation, has been marked.* * * In our churches the language was used, by many of the present generation of clergy, three Sundays in the month. It was afterwards restricted to every other Sunday, and is now entirety discontinued in most of the churches. * * * It is rarely now heard in conversation, except among the peasantry. * * * Let it not, however, be thought that its end is immediate. Among the peasantry it still retains a strong hold. * * * In English, even where they have a fair knowledge of the tongue, they speak with hesitation and under restraint. In Manx, they are fluent and at ease. There is little probability, therefore, of their soon forgetting their chengey-ny-mayrey (mother-tongue)."

The number of persons who speak nothing but Manx is now extremely small. In 1884. the Rev. E. B. Savage was able to find only eight. It may be of interest to mention their names and places of residence :—
Two persons, named KEGGEEN, at Craigneish, in the Parish of Rushen.
WILLIAM KINLEY, of Ronague, and JANE COSTAIN (aged over 80), of Cronk-y-dooiney, both in the Parish of Arbory.
JOHN CLAGUE (aged 73), of Ballavarrane, in the Parish of Lonan. He returned to his native place in 1883, after having lived seventeen years in Douglas.
JOHN COWLEY, of Ballacannell, in the Parish of Lonan.
JOHN OATES (aged 80), in the Parish of Ballaugh.
THOMAS MYLECHARAINE (aged 80), of Cronaberry, in the Parish of Onchan.

It is thus substantially correct to say that the whole population of the Isle of Man now speaks English. Manx, however, is still far from being an extinct language, although visitors to the Island seldom discover the fact, the people are very shy of making use of their native tongue before strangers. In Glen Rushen and the remoter parts of the parishes of Bride and Jurby, is still the ordinary means of communication among the inhabitants, and other places it is fluently spoken by many who also speak English—even in the towns, to which the country people often resort in their old age.

Its ultimate extinction is, of course, certain ; but the process may be slower one than most persons suppose. In the meantime, it deserves more careful study than it has yet received from Celtic philologists, and from who are interested in the character and customs of the population of the Isle of Man.

The principal sources from which a knowledge of the Manx language can be acquired are the Manx Prayer Book, written by Bishop Phillips, early in the seventeenth century, the Bible published in 1772, and the Grammars and Dictionaries written by Kelly and Cregeen.8

This MS Translation 9 of the Prayer Book is the earliest work in the Manx Language now extant, as we learn from a letter of Bishop Phillip’s to the Earl of Salisbury, written in 1610, in which he complains of the treatment he had received from the Governor, that it was completed in that year. The Bishop writes, " I, with my clergy did this year purpose to have perused the Mannish Book of Common Prayer by me translated, so with our uniform consent to have made it ready for the printing * * * but I was both hindered from that and other religious labours, and in some extremity occasioned to come out of that Isle." This Prayer Book does not seem to have been received with a favour by the Bishop’s contemporaries, for we find the Vicar-General stating that they " could not read the same Book perfectly, but here and there a word," and that " few else of the clergy can read the same book for it spelled with vowels where with none of them are acquainted." Nor was it well thought of 90 years later, as Sacheverell then wrote " it is scarce intelligible to the clergy, themselves, who translate it off-hand more to the understanding of the people." Bishop Wilson, writing in 1720, also remarks "that it is no use to the present generation," and his opinion is all the more curious, as in the " Principles and Duties of Christianity," which was published him in 1699, being the first book published in the Manx Language, many the words are spelled in the same way as by Bishop Phillips, though orthography on the whole more nearly approaches that of the Bible of 1772. Presumptuous as it may seem, the writer, after having carefully perused the Prayer Book in question, ventures to differ entirely from the above mentioned opinions, as he has read portions of it to Manxmen by whom it has been for the most part easily understood. It is, therefore, difficult to explain the attitude of Phillips’ contemporaries, except, perhaps, on the ground of jealousy on account of its being the work of a stranger ; while Sacheverell must have acquired his information at second hand, and it would seem probable Bishop Wilson never perused the MS. The older Manx is more phonetic than the modern, and it is a much more direct and simple translation, avoiding periphrases, circumlocutions, and many of the corruptions which abound in the latter. The chief divergence, as far as the actual words are concerned is in the particles, which are, of course, very important in fixing its idiomatic character. Without perusing it, no one can form any idea of what may called classical Manx, and it is to be hoped that this opportunity may soon be given to students by its publication under the auspices of the Manx Society. We insert a specimen of each version for the sake of comparison

The Lord's Prayer

Bishop Philips’ Version.

Aer run ta ayns neau, kasserick gy row t’ænYm, gy jig dy ririyght, t’agnys gy row eant er talu, mar te ayns neau, toer duin ‘u nan arafl gygh la as loyi uin nar loghtyn mar ta shuinyn loyi dausyn ta ianu loghtyn flan yei : as na hId shuin ayns mioulaghey; agh lifrée shuin vei olk, erson leyts yn ririyght, yn gniart as y gloer erson gybragh, as gy-bragh. Amen.

Modern Version.

Ayr am, t’ayns niau ; Casherick dy row dt’Ennym. Dy jig dty reeriaght. Dt’aigney dy row jeant er y thalloo, myr te ayns niau. Curdooin nyn arran jiu as gagh laa. As leih dooin nyn loghtyn, myr ta shin leih dauesyn ta ja nnoo loghtyn nyn’oi. As ny leeid shin ayns niiolagh ; agh livrey shin veih olk : son lhiats y reeriaght. as y phooar, as y ghloyr, son dy bragh as dy bragh, Amen.

The 23rd Psalm "The Lord is my Shepherd."

Dominus regit me.

1. She yn chiarn my voghil y keragh:

shenyfá gha vod f~im ye aym er red erbi.


2. ni é mi veaghey ayns pastyr glass : as liédji é mi magh rish lietty ny huiskaghyn dy gyrjaghey.

3. chyndai e m’anym : as ver e magh ml ayns kassanyn ny káyrys, erson gráyi y ænym.

4. gy jaru, ga ta mi gimiaght tryid kÓyn dy ski~ yn váys, gha gÓyni agil d’olk erbi:

erson ta us mârym, ta dthy latt as dthy loyrg dy my gyrjaghy.


5. ni Us arlu bôyrd rûyms nan yoisyn ta dy my húa : tôus em’ ally my ghian rish úil, as hi my ghapan låyn.

6. agh ni êiri dthy ghúghys graiguill as dthy vyghin mish ully lághyn my hyyl : as niym vághey ayns tei yn chiarn erson gybragh.

Doininus regit me.

I. She’n Chiarn my vochilley : shen-y-fa cha beem feme nhee erbee.

2 Nee eh faassaghey mee ayns pastyr glass : as my leeideil magh rish ny ushtaghyn dy ooraghey.

3. Nee eh m’annyni y hyndaa : as my choyrt lesh magh ayns ny cassanyn dy ehairys er graih e Ennym.

4. Dy jarroo, ga dy ~‘el mee shooyl ayns coan scadoo yn vaaisli, cha goym aggle roish olk erbee : son ton uss marym : ta thy lhatt as dty lorg dy my gherjaghey.

5. Nee oo boayrd y yannoo aarloo roym syns yn enish ocysn ta er my heaghney : t’ou sr ooilaghey my chione, as bee my chappan ane.

6. Agh eiyree dty chenjallys ghraihagh Is dty vyghin orrym ooilley laghyn my yea:Is neem’s thaaghey thie’n Chiarn choud as veem bio.

The only copy of this MS. now in existence, which is in possession of the Rev. Hugh Gill, Vicar of Malew, seems to have been written between 1625 and 1630, as there is a prayer in the Litany for Charles I. and his Queen, but not for their son, afterwards Charles II., who was born in the latter year. The early portion of this MS., as far as the beginning of the Athanasian Creed, is missing, but, excepting that three or four pages are torn out. the remainder, to the 9th verse of the 144th Psalm, is in a good state of preservation. All the rubrics are in Manx instead of in English, as in the modern version. In 1772 the Manx Bible was published, and this work, which we owe to the exertions of Bishop Hildesley, is regarded as the standard of orthography and of correctness of grammar and idiom.

The first who reduced the language to grammatical rules was John Kelly, born at Douglas, Isle of Man, in 1750. He was not only a good classical scholar — though his philological disquisitions would not pass muster at the present day — but had an unsurpassed knowledge of this native tongue. He revised the translation of the Bible into Manx, which arduous task he completed in 1772, when only 22 years of age. In 1794 he graduated LL.B. at Cambridge and in 1799 LL.D. In 1804 he published "A Practical Grammar of the Antient Gaelic, or Language of the Isle of Mann, usually called Manx." It is a praiseworthy production, but fails in its attempt to reduce Manx to Latin rules. For instance, it gives five declensions when there are practically only two—the masculine and the feminine. In 1808 he Completed his Triglot Dictionary ; the annexed specimen will give a good idea of his method :—




Light.10 f. sollys, sollyssid, soilshey, soilshaght, glass, glassyntee, leayr, coleartys, loss, lossey, lossan, loan, loan-dyrnee, lion, trilinn, leas, falleas, isa, cainle, gab, goall, chenn, chenny, chenny-cheabane, gillid, minjeiglossanagh.

Solus, soillsid, la coinnioll, trillsidh.

Sollus, souse, les, leos, reil, fosdharc, glinn, forcha, glus, gogor, soils-eachd.

It was printed as far as " lightning," when, unfortunately, a fire at the printer’s reduced the whole impression to ashes, excepting one copy. This copy with the MS., as far as " valuable," is in the possession of the Manx Society.

In 1835 appeared " A Dictionary of the Manks Language, with the corresponding words or explanations in English, . . . . by Archibald Cregeen," This Dictionary, which its author, in his Preface, modestly calls a " Vocabulary," is, though very imperfect, perhaps the most trustworthy guide a student of the Manx Language can have.11 Unfortunately, the counterpart, " English rendered into Manks," never appeared. The " Outlines of the Manks Grammar," prefixed to the Dictionary, which treats of the letters and their sounds," " of Verbs," " of Plurals," " of the Termination of Verbs," " of Adjectival Nouns," " of Peculiarities," " of Mutable Initials," are practical, concise, and, in the main, correct. Prince Lucien Buonaparte, no mean judge, considers Cregeen’s Dictionary much more valuable than Kelly’s. Cregeen was a man of great natural powers, but he had not had the advantage of a good literary training. He was a fervent admirer of his native tongne, of which he wrote—" I cannot but admire the construction, texture, and beauty of the Manks language, and how the words initially change their cases, moods, tenses, degrees, &c. It appears like a piece of exquisite network, interwoven together in a masterly manner, and framed by the hand of a most skilful workman."12

In 1859 the Manx Society reprinted Dr. Kelly’s Grammar, with an Introduction by the Rev. William Gill, Vicar of Malew, and in 1866 they issued a Dictionary, both Manx-English and English-Manx, which was edited by the Revs. W. Gill and J. T. Clarke, from the Triglot of Dr. Kelly, referred to above. The Rev. Wm. Gill had the superintendence of the: whole, and wrote the Manx-English portion entirely, while the Rev. J. T. Clarke, who was assisted by Mr. Ivon Moseley, is mainly responsible for the English-Manx. If the Editors had confined themselves to reproducing the Manx portion of the Triglot, with some pruning of Kelly’s exuberance of words, the Dictionary would have been a more satisfactory one ; but, unfortunately, they have introduced numerous strange etymological explanations of their own, such as —" ar, an old word for water," " aal-caayr, the city or place of Baal," " Bwoaillee " from " Boa-oayl-oie," " the abode of the cattle by night," &c., and there are, moreover, many omissions, Many of the English-Manx explanations are still more fantastic. The Rev. William Gill, however, was, undoubtedly, the best Manx scholar of the latter part of the nineteenth century, and the Rev. J. T. Clarke, who is still living, though not so well versed in the grammar, is unrivalled in his colloquial knowledge of the language, so that it is not likely that any other Manxman could have done the work as well. Since this date no book has appeared in the Manx Language, though some Ballads and Carols have been published in the Manx Society’s Miscellanies, in the Mona’s Herald and the Manx Note Book.



1 The Ogam inscriptions, of about the 6th century, are pure Irish.

2 Except when otherwise stated, the references to English writers are taken from Vols. II. , VI. , X. , and XVIII. of the Manx Society’s publications.

3 An acute observer would, however, perceive that the Manx of the Southern part of the Island was somewhat softer than that of the North.

4 See post

5 Life of Bishop Hildesley,by Butler.

6 John Edward Harrison, Vicar of Jurby (1818-1858), one of the best Manxmen (i.e., with the best knowledge of Manx) of this century, thought Feltham the most reliable of all writers on the Isle of Man.

7 Author of " The Bible in Spain."

8 For other Manx Books, &‘c. , see paper on Manx Literature, Yn Lioar Mannin Vol. I., No. 7, pp. 110-15.

9 Or rather a copy of it, see next page.

10 Several of these words appear to have but a faint connection with "light."

11 He received considerable assistance from John Edward Harrison, formerly Vicar of Jurby, and also frequently consulted the Rev. William Drury, late Vicar of Braddan.

12 Introduction to Dictionary.


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