[From Manx Soc vol 2, Kelly's Manx Grammar]


The Manx Grammar, like the language itself, was fast hastening to decay. The original and only edition had become extremely scarce; insomuch that a copy could with difficulty be found from which to re-edit the work. At this crisis The Manx Society opportunely intervened for its preservation. The Society was formed in 1858, "for the publication of National Documents of the Isle of. Man." Among the first works to which it turned its attention was Dr. Kelly's Manx Grammar, which it deemed deserving of a place among its early publications. In the restoration of this book, the Society acknowledges its obligations to a lady, a warm friend of the Island and a relative of the deceased author, for the generous donation of half the cost of the impression.

Besides the Grammar, Dr. Kelly had prepared two works of great labour, and, in a philological point of view, great value,--a Manx and English Dictionary, and a Triglot Dictionary of Manx, Gaelic, and Irish, based upon English. These works are still lying in manuscript, but complete, and ready for the press.

The Society considers the publication of these too heavy an undertaking for its present funds; but it is not without hope that it may at some future, perhaps not distant, time be able to aid in giving them to the world, and that the present publication may open the way to such a result.

This reprint of the Grammar is an accurate transcript of the original work, with corrections only of errors of the press and of some obvious inaccuracies of the pen. The old plan of making an English Grammar was to reduce the structure of the language to a rigid conformity to Latin and Greek, in the number and names of cases, and of moods and tenses. In Manx the same thing was thought imperative. The modern rule is, to have just as many cases, and as many moods and tenses, as there are actual variations of the words, without the admission of prepositions or of auxiliary verbs. To this rule the laws of grammar seem to require the Manx, as well as the English, to be conformed. As, however, the adoption of such a principle in the present instance would involve the rearrangement, to a considerable extent, of the Grammar, it is thought advisable not to attempt the change, but to give the work in its original integrity. Dr. Kelly's Grammar thus presented, especially viewed as an original production, unaided by any pre-existent grammar, cannot fail to strike the intelligent reader as reflecting the highest credit on the author's industry and ingenuity.

The object of this reprint is not to uphold the Manx as a spoken language,--that were a hopeless attempt, were the end ever so desirable; but to afford some assistance to the student of this interesting branch of the ancient Celtic, and to obtain for it, when its lifetime is gone by, a place among the records of the dead languages of Europe. The decline of the spoken Manx, within the memory of the present generation, has been marked. The language is no longer heard in our courts of law, either from the bench or the bar, and seldom from the witness-box. The courts are indeed still fenced in Manx, according to ancient traditionary form; and the Island laws are still promulgated in that language on the Tynwald Mount, where the last lingering accents of the Gaelic in Man--once the language of Europe, the universal language of the British Isles--will probably be heard. 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 entirely discontinued in most of the churches. In the schools throughout the Island the Manx has ceased to be taught; and the introduction of the Government system of education has done much to displace the language. It is rarely now heard in conversation, except among the peasantry. It is a doomed language,--an iceberg floating into southern latitudes.

Let it not, however, be thought that its end is immediate. Among the peasantry it still retains a strong hold. It is the language of their affections and their choice,--the language to which they habitually resort in their communications with each other. And no wonder; for it is the language which they find most congenial to their habits of thought and feeling. 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).

A language thus dear to the peasantry from its innate adaptation to their use, possesses at the same time no small recommendations to the attention of the philologist and antiquary, and especially of those whose office it is to instruct the people in morals and religion. A few of its distinctive qualities may be here noticed.

The language is peculiarly forcible and expressive, as far as the range of its vocabulary extends. For the purposes of devotion it is especially adapted.* There is a solemnity and simplicity in the Manx Liturgy of which the intelligent worshipper cannot but feel conscious. In the Manx Scriptures the idiom of the language seems to bear a strong affinity to that of the originals, especially of the Old Testament.

The poetical capabilities of the language are beautifully exhibited in many of the effusions of the native muse. The following fugitive production of the pen of a late native clergyman (the Rev. T. Stephen), which appeared many years ago in an Island newspaper, and is now (at the time of writing this Introduction) probably lost to every person but the Editor, will bear comparison, for pathos and idiomatic beauty, with any passage that can be produced from English poetry:--

"As cre ta gloyr, agh aalid ennym vie,--
Ennym! ta myr y ghall ta sheidey shaghey?
Shoh moylley'n pobble, my she moylley shen.
Son cre ta'n pobble, agh yurnaag anreaghit,--
Earroo neuchinjagh, ta son jannoo mooar
Jeh nheeghyn eddrym nagh vel toilchin scansh,
As coontey cadjin reddyn ta feeu arrym?
Ta'd moylley as ta'd ooashlagh shen nagh nhione daue;
As shen ta'd gloyragh jiu, ta'd jiooldey mairagh;
Cha 'soc eer quoi, agh eer myr tad'yr leeidit;
Fer er fer elley geiyrt, myr guoiee trooid doarlish
As cre'n cooilleen t'ayns soiagh vooar nyn lheid?
Dy veaghey er nyn ennal,--goo yn sleih!
Marvanee lheaystagh, myr y gheay neuhiggyr!
Quoi echey ta resoon veagh blakey lurg oc?
Lioroo dy ve lheamysit te moylley."

Literal translation:--

"And what is glory, but the radiance of a name,--
A name! which, as a vapour, blows unheeded by?
This is the people's praise, if praise it be.
For what is the people? An entangled skein,--
A fickle mob, who greatly prize
Things vain and worthless;
While they contemn what merits veneration.
They praise and they esteem the things they know not.
And whom they praise to-day, they blame to-morrow;
They know not whom, but just as they are led;
One following another, as geese through a gap.
And what advantage is in the esteem of such?
To live upon their breath,--the people's praise!
Poor wavering mortals, as the wind inconstant!
Their blame is commendation."**

The language abounds in strong figurative expressions. Of this the lines above quoted afford an illustration. The following are additional examples:--

The footpath of the sun (the zodiac).

Goll twoaie.
The going north (the rainbow, which always appears in or towards the north).

Feallagh ny firrinys.
The people of the truth (the perfect).

Cre-erbee t'eh dy yannoo, te cheet lesh.
Whatsoever he doeth, it comes with him (prospers).

Ny cur dty aigney lhieu.
Not give thy mind with them (consent not).

Shass er dty chione hene.
Stand on thy head own (rely on your own understanding).

Buitchoorys er hene.
Slaughtering on him-self (on his own account).

Goll sheese ny lhargagh.
Going down the declivity (failing).

S'mie lhiam shen dy-jarroo.
Very good to me is that indeed (very pleasing to me).

Shooyl ny thieyn.
Going on the houses (begging).

Ta'n ushtey cloie.
The water is playing (boiling).

Bock Yuan fannee.
The horse of John the flayer (one Juan, who flayed his horse, and took to his stick--a walking stick).

A bone little in the breast (remorse).

With me, with thee (an inconstant person).

Chengey lhiam, chengey lhiat.
Tongue with me, tongue with thee (blowing hot and cold).

In proverbial lore the Manx language has its traditionary stores. The figures which give point and beauty to its proverbs are, as in all primitive languages, taken from nature. The following will serve as specimens of its popular sayings:--

Keeayl chionnit yn cheeayl share,
Wit bought is the wit best,

Mannagh vel ee kionnit ro gheyr.
If it be not bought too dear.

Ta cree dooie ny share na kione croutagh.
Is a heart kindly better than a head crafty.

Tra ta un dooinney boght cooney lesh dooinney boght elley, ta Jee hone garaghtee.
When one man poor helps man poor another, God himself laughs (for delight).

Tra hig yn laa hig yn coyrle lesh.
When come the day will come its counsel with it.

Clagh ny killagh ayns kione dty hie vooar.
A church stone be in the head of thy house great (thy punishment be that of the man who commits sacrilege).

Ta'n aghaue veg shuyr da'n aghaue vooar.
Is the hemlock little sister to the hemlock big (a small sin is akin to a great one).

Laik lhiat ve marish y chioltane; agh ta'n eamagh ayd eamagh ny goair.
Thou wouldest fain be numbered with the flock; but is bleat thy the bleat of the goat.

Ta ynsagh coamrey stoamey yn dooinney berchagh; as te berchys yn dooinney boght.
Is learning the attire comely of the man rich; and it is the riches of the man poor.

Cronk ghlass foddey voym; loam loam tra roshym eh.
The hill green far away; bare bare when I reach it. ("Distance lends enchantment to the view."--CAMPBELL'S Pleasures of Hope.)

Myr s'doo yn feeagh yiow eh sheshey.
However black the raven, will find he a mate.

Eshin nagh gow rish briw erbee, t'eh deyrey eh hene.
He who will not take with (not allow) judge any, he does condemn him-self.

Caghlaa obbyr aaish.
Change of work is rest.

Easht lesh dagh cleaysh, eisht jean briwnys.
Listen with each ear, then do judgment.

Yn loam leigh loam aggair.
Summum jus summa injuria.

Shegin goaill ny eairkyn marish y cheh.
You must take the horns with the hide (Job ii. 10.)

In the study of the language, the antiquary will find scope for the exercise of his ingenuity in tracing the origin and signification of many of the proper nouns and peculiar expressions. To suggest a few hints in this direction:--

Gaelic, Gailck, Gaelgagh, evidently indicate the affinity of the language and the race to the old Celtic, or Keltic. "The Galic," says Mr. Shaw, in his Galic Dictionary, "is the language of Japhet, spoken before the Deluge, and probably the speech of Paradise."

Bretnee, or Brethnee, the Welsh, the old British; from breck, brith, spotted (Latin, the Picts).

Sasonee, or Saxonee, the English, the Anglo-Saxons.

Albin, Nolbin, Albinee, Alpinee, the Scotch (Albania).

Erinee, the Irish.

Frangee, the French, Franks.

Keeil, a church; probably from keyll, a grove; the Druids' grove being turned into a Christian church.

Laa-Boayldyn or Baaltine, May-day, when the inhabitants burn fires on the mountains; the day of Baal's fire, or of the sun,--from chenan, the sun, or chen or teinne (Scotch), the fire of the sun, which our ancestors worshipped as the medium of adoration of the Supreme Being. (See Kelly's Dictionary, Baaltine.)

Drui, a charmer, a druid. Hence, drus, an oak.

Druiaghtagh, an enchanter. (Jer. xxvii. 9.)

Cloagey-druiagh, a druidical cloak, supposed to confer on the person wearing it the power of healing, prophesying, and becoming invisible.

Malew, the name of a parish in Man; from Moyl-Loup, or Moylley-Lupus, in honour of Lupus,--the church being dedicated to St Lupus.

Ballakeeil-Woirrey, the estate of Mary's Church.

S'nioal, the name of the highest mountain in Man. (Cornish, niull, a cloud; Scotch, neull, a cloud.)

Padjer, prayer. (Latin, pater, Italian, padre, Cornish, padar, the Lord's Prayer--a going to the Father.)

Agglish, the church. (Greek, ekklhsia.)

Saggyrt, a priest. (Latin, sacerdos.)

Corp as annym, body and soul. (Latin, corpus et animus.)

Oirr ny marrey, the sea-coast. (Latin, ora maris.)

Airh as argid, gold and silver. (Latin, aurum et argenturm.)

Ennym, a name. (Greek, onoma.)

Paitchey, a child. (Greek, pias.)

Keayrd, a trade. (Greek, kerdos, gain.)

Meshtey, drunk. (Greek, mertos, full.)

Booa, a cow. (Greek, boaw, to bellow.)

Fer, a man. (Lat. vir.)

Colmane, a dove. (Lat. columba.)

Arroo, corn. (Lat. aro, to plough.)

Sollys, light. (Lat. sol, the sun.)

Peccagh, a person. (Lat. peccator, a sinner.)

Phadeyr, a prophet. (Gr. faw, to speak.)

Doeys, give me. (Gr. dosis, a giving.)

The habits of the people may be traced in many of the terms and peculiar expressions of their tongue:--

Staa, a band of three men making a hedge together--two of them cutting the sod, and one lifting.

Fer feayree, one above the number wanted at work, to cool while the others are working

Oie mooie as oie elley sthie,
A night out. and night another in,

Olk son cabbil agh son kirree mie.
Bad for horses but for sheep good.

Oashyryn-voynnee, stockings without soles, strapped under the foot, used without shoes.

Cooillee, the withdrawing-room; from cooill, a corner, as being but a corner of the great house (yn thie mooar) to which it is joined.

Carrane, a raw-hide sandal.

Chiollagh, the floor-hearth on which the turf or log was burned.

As in Scotland and Ireland, so in the Isle of Man, the patronymic is in common use:--

Mannanan-mac-y Lheirr.
Mannanan, the son of Lheirr (an ancient necromancer).

Dick (Dick), the son of Quayle (Quayll) the son of Bess (Vessey)(which Bess was no doubt a notable in her day, as Dick in his).

Men are also designated from their domain:--

Veih-hen, ta Ballacharnane Wooar cheet.
See, Ballacarnane the Great comes.

Or from their degree in society:--

Ta'n Donaghey ny ghooinney ooasle.
The Donaghey is a man honourable.

Or from some quality pertaining to them:--

Illiam Dhone, Swarthy William.
Juan Gorrym, Purple John.

Among the idiomatic forms which render the language deserving of attention may be enumerated the following:--

The article has a plural number:

Yn lioar. Ny lioaryn.
The book. The books.

The adjective follows the noun (its natural and proper place), except drogh, evil, and shenn, old, which go before the noun:

Yn dooinney mie. Ben aalin.
The man good. A woman fair.

The adjective has a plural form:

Red beg. Reddyn beggey.
A thing little. Things little.

Magher glass. Magheryn glassey.
A field green. Fields green.

Nouns have an emphatic form:

Dty obbyr hene. Dty obbyrs hene.
Thy work own. Thy work (emphatic) own.

Pronouns have an emphatic form:

English. Normal. Emphatic.
I, Mee, mish.
Thou, Oo, uss.
He, Eh, eshyn.
She, Ee, ish.

English. Normal. Emphatic.
Acknowledge him. Gow rish. Gow rishyn.

Pronouns are compounded with prepositions:

English. Manks.
Upon me; Orrym;
upon thee; ort;
with me; lhiam;
with thee; lhiat;
with him; lesh;
at him; echey;
to him; huggey;
to him (emph.) huggeysyn.

The initial letters of a word adapt themselves to the final letters of the preceding word, for euphony:

Manks. English.
Bea veayn (not bea beayn). Life long.
Billey dy vea (not bea). Tree of life.
Dty hie (not dty thie). Thy house.
Aym pene (not hene). At my self.

Nouns have a dual number when the numeral daa is used:

Manks. English.
Un hooil. One eye.
Daa hooil. Two eye.
Tree sooillyn. Three eyes.

The spelling of the Manx tongue had remained unsettled till 1772, when the Manx Bible was first printed. That translation has been since recognised as the standard of orthography. "The Celtic language," observes the writer of an anonymous manuscript among Dr. Kelly's papers, "everywhere losing ground, had degenerated in Man in a ratio proportionate to its narrow territory, and the increased intercourse of its inhabitants with Britain. In the Manx dialect many terms were lost, many Anglicisms adopted, many corruptions introduced. The translators had now an opportunity to apply the remedy. By due attention to the orthography and structure of the language, the connexion between roots and compounds might have been preserved, and its original energy and purity restored. But the translators did not consult the structure of the language. By adjusting the orthography to pronunciation, roots are wholly lost. . . . It must, however, be allowed, agreeably to the argument of a learned friend of mine, who was one of the committee of correction and publication, that had not the words been written as they are pronounced, the body of the people must have continued uninstructed. The Irish orthography would have presented insurmountable difficulties; it would have been to the multitude an unknown tongue."

The translators, therefore, adopted the wise alternative. They regarded the utility of their work rather than the elucidation of the language; and accordingly took the spoken sound as their rule of orthography.***

Upon a review of these notices of the language, it is presumed the reader who is capable of appreciating its qualities will be disposed to concur in the following eulogy upon the language, which is quoted from the introduction to the Manx Dictionary, by the late Archibald Cregeen, a native Manxman of great sagacity and judgment:--

"In concluding my observations and remarks, 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, equal to the composition of the most learned, and not the production of chance. The depth of meaning that abounds in many of the words must be conspicuous to every person versed in the language."

At the risk of exceeding the reasonable bounds of an Introduction, the Editor ventures here to introduce some notices of Manx literature and of the Manx people, which he is glad to be able to quote from a living authority of note. The author of The Bible in Spain, &c., in his advertisement of a book proposed to be published by him under the title of Bayr Jiargey, containing the narrative of his wanderings in the Isle of Man, in quest of Manx literature, thus writes.--

"The Manx have a literature,--a native vernacular Gaelic literature. This fact has been frequently denied, but it is now established beyond the possibility of doubt. Some time ago a gentleman went to Man with the express purpose of discovering whether the Manx had a literature or not. He possessed a slight knowledge of Manx, and was tolerably well acquainted with the Irish and Scotch Gaelic. The Manx tongue, it will he necessary to observe, is called Gailk, and is closely connected with the vernacular speech of the Highlands, and also with that of Ireland,--bearing a closer resemblance to the former than the latter. It has, however, certain peculiarities; amongst others, it has a dual number. The gentleman in question visited every part of the island on foot, and was a great deal amongst the peasantry of the mountain districts, whose confidence he contrived to win. He was not slow in discovering that they possessed a literature of their own, entirely manuscript. This literature consists of ballads on sacred subjects, which are called carvals, a corruption of the English word carol. It was formerly the custom in the Isle of Man for young people who thought themselves endowed with the poetic gift to compose carols some time before Christmas, and to recite them in the parish churches. Those pieces which were approved of by the clergy were subsequently chanted by their authors through their immediate neighbourhoods, both before and after the holy festival. Many of these songs have been handed down by writing to the present time. Some of them possess considerable merit, and a printed collection of them would be a curious addition to the literature of Europe. . . The carvals are preserved in uncouth-looking, smoke-stained volumes, in low farm-houses and cottages situated in mountain gills and glens. They constitute the genuine literature of Ellan Vannin. . . . Of the carval books the gentleman procured two, though not without considerable difficulty, the peasantry not being at all willing in general to part with their volumes. He says that in the whole world there is not a more honest, kindly race than the genuine Manx. Towards strangers they exercise unbounded hospitality, without the slightest idea of receiving any compensation. . . . It seems that the Manx language is falling fast into disuse; and it is probable that within sixty years it will have ceased to exist as a spoken language.

The Manx may occasionally prove of great use to the antiquary and philologist; some knowledge of it is indispensable for understanding some of the inscriptions on the runic stones."

In a letter from this author, the Editor is favoured with the following remarks, which deserve to be appended to the foregoing extracts:--

"The carvals are all in manuscript. There is, however, a small, but not uninteresting, poetic Manx literature existing in print, though not easily procurable. First of all, there is the grand historic ballad, in which the fortunes of the various races and families, which have at different times held the island, are narrated. Then there is the noble ballad concerning the death of Brown William, and the vengeance inflicted by God on his murderers and their progeny. Then there is the ballad of Molley Charane, the miser, a humorous and satirical piece of great poignancy; and the one of a similar character, and very little inferior to it in any respect, called Kirree fo Sniaghtey; or, the Sheep beneath the Snow. These four are the most remarkable compositions in the printed vernacular literature of Man: though there are other pieces of considerable merit,--for example, a little piece commencing with "Ushag beg ruy," and two or three elegies on drowned seamen. Besides original, the Manx language contains translated poetry. There is the Phargys Caillit of a rector of Marown, who flourished about the commencement of the present century; which is, however, not a translation of the whole of Paradise Lost, as the name would seem to imply, but consists of translations of particular parts of Paradise Lost into Manx rhyme, neatly and smoothly done, but with very little vigour, and not much fidelity. Then there is the Lioar dy Hymnyn, or Book of Hymns, from Wesley, Watts, and others, by George Killey, of Kirk Onchan; which is done in a manner which shews that the poor Methodist, who, singular enough, was parish clerk, possessed powers of versification of the very highest order."

The only other topic to which the Editor would now advert is the learning of the language. Though he is not prepared to recommend the study of Manx to the general reader, on account of the merits of the language, or for the stores of literature which it contains; he would yet strongly impress upon those whose sphere of duty lies, or is to lie, among the peasantry, the importance of possessing a knowledge of the tongue with which the country­people are most conversant. The younger clergy and candidates for the ministry, especially, should feel it imperative upon them to possess this qualification for intercourse with the people. If a knowledge of the language is no longer necessary for the ministrations of the Church, it is very important for the efficient discharge of the work of pastoral visitation. Much time is spent in learning two or three of the dead languages; why may not some pains be taken to master a living language, the knowledge of which would open to the minister a more easy access to the understandings of many of his flock, and recommend him to the hearts of all? Bishop Bedell learned the Irish language when upwards of sixty years of age, "in order," says his biographer, "that he might personally carry forward the good work of conversion" among his people; "and although he did not converse in that tongue, he was able to read, write, and translate it. The first Irish grammar that ever was composed was written by him." Bishop Hildesley also is related to have been "very fond of the language of the Island over which he presided; and not only used to read part of the service, but always dismissed the congregation with the Blessing in Manks. He frequently expressed a wish to be assisted in learning it, 'and this,' says Dr. Kelly, 'was my primary inducement for drawing up a Manks Grammar, and for composing a Dictionary also of that tongue, for the use of his Lordship and others;' which was in a great degree of forwardness at the time of his death." Bishop Short, in later days, though decidedly opposed to the continuance of the language, yet was so convinced of the importance of an acquaintance with it, for present purposes, that he instituted prizes at King William's College for proficiency in Manx.

In learning the language, the Editor would by no means recommend an application to the Grammar in the first instance. That would be found a perplexing and disheartening process. Let the student rather betake himself to some living Manx­speaking native, if he is fortunate enough to have such an advantage within reach, and learn the rudiments of the language, as a child learns its first vocables, from the living voice. Let him also, with the same assistance, read the Manx Bible side by side with the English, or one of Bishop Wilson's books,--as, e.g., his Principles and Duties of Christianity, with Manx and English in parallel columns; and when he has acquired some knowledge in this way, then he will find the benefit of the Grammar in reducing what may have appeared to him arbitrary changes of words to method and order.

October, 1859.


Vicar of Malew.

* An eminent Scotch nobleman is said to have expressed himself thus:--" If I wish to speak on philosophy, I employ the Greek language. If I utter commands, the Latin is best to express them. If I make love, I speak in French. But if I address my Maker, I have recourse to the Gaelic."

** The penultimate line of the English translation of the poem was omitted from the printed edition. It might be rendered as: What reasonable man would gaze after them?--Alan Cleary

*** There is one marked peculiarity which distinguishes the grammar of the Manx from that of other dialects of the Celtic language. The orthography or spelling of the Irish and the Scottish Gaelic is constructed on the principle of preserving the derivation of the words; and therefore the spelling often differs from the pronunciation. The Manx spelling, on the other hand, is based on phonography. The words are written as they are pronounced. The etymology of the words is often obscured and hidden by this system of spelling; but the spoken sound is preserved. Consequently, the Manx orthography will hand down to posterity the sounds of the spoken language better than the Irish and Scottish modes of spelling. The orthography of these dialects will preserve the etymology; while that of the Manx will hand down to future generations the phonography of a Celtic dialect.--REV. W. MACKENZIE.


index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2001