Map of Manx Speaking Areas

The shaded parts represent the districts in which Manx is most spoken.

I MUST preface this paper with a few remarks relative to its object and contents, for it seems to me to stand in need of some sort of explanation and apology. In March, 1873, I read a paper before this Society on the now extinct Celtic language of Cornwall. In this paper, which, as the President's report for that year expressed it, was " more of the nature of a report than of research," I endeavoured to place before the Society in a collected form an account of the language, its history and literature, and of the various sources of information on the subject. I propose in the present paper to do the same with regard to the fast-dying Celtic dialect of the Isle of Man ; and herein I have very little to offer, save certain statistics which will appear in the course of the paper, that has not been already written or printed elsewhere, though not hitherto collected into an accessible form.

N.B. — In the course of this paper, so as to avoid confusion from the use of the word Gaelic, which is equally applicable to three of the Celtic dialects, I shall speak of that of the Highlands of Scotland as Scotch.

The language of the Isle of Man belongs to the Gaelic branch of the Celtic family, in which it occupies almost exactly the same place as that which was once held by Cornish in the Cymric branch, that is to say, it holds a middle place between Irish and Scotch, inclining considerably to the latter. The analogy between the two cases is very striking. Irish, like Welsh, is a literary and cultivated tongue, and one that has been from an early period reduced to rule, and not allowed to form itself how it pleased in the mouths of illiterate peasants. Scotch, like Breton, has not had quite the same advantages, though it also has not been entirely neglected; while Manx, like Cornish, has simply been allowed to go to pieces, and, until quite recent times, has never been worked upon in any way, and, like Cornish, in its decay it has preserved the characteristics of the less cultivated of its fellows. In support of this statement I have the evidence of five Manxmen of the lower class — three fishermen, a farm labourer, and a carpenter (i.e. a boat-builder), all of them men of fair intelligence, though unlearned, who, without any leading questions, told me, as the result of their own experience, that Scotch was easily intelligible to them, while Irish was quite a foreign tongue, in which words were frequently understood, but sentences never. Moreover, as far as I have seen, it appears in the written language that in only one case (that of the " ellipsis " initial mutation) has a form been retained in both Manx and Irish that has been dropped in Scotch, with the exception of certain ecclesiastical terms, such as names of festivals, etc., which Scotch has lost on theological rather than philological grounds. In some cases, however, words, even names of common things, differ considerably, but these are not sufficiently numerous to make much difference.

In appearance on paper Manx differs considerably from either of the other two, but that is chiefly owing to its attempted phonetic system of orthography, and the consequent absence of the multitude of silent letters that so encumber Irish and Scotch. It would not be easy to give any regular rule for the real differences, but the following are some of the principal ones

1. A general contracting and softening down of words, such as — as for agus (and), ayr for athair (father), chiarn for tigearn (Scotch), tigearna (Irish), (lord), etc.

2. A change of an initial t to ch (pronounced as in the English word church) in the case of what Irish grammarians call the slender sound. This change occurs also in later Cornish. Thus chiarn for tigearn, chenney for teine (fire), cheh for teth (hot), etc.

3. A change of an initial d to j (pronounced as in English). Thus Jee for Dia (God), jannoo for dean (make), jough for deoch (drink), etc.

4. A change of v (mh or bh) to u or w, as slieu for sliabh (hill), niau for neamh (heaven), etc.

I noticed a tendency in colloquial Manx to another change common also in later Cornish, but I have never seen it written, and only met with it in the case of one word (though in the mouths of several people), so that it cannot be included as a rule. This was the insertion of a d before the n in the case of the word shen ('that), making it shedn (Cornish pedn for pen, ladn for lan, etc.).

Of the grammatical variations I shall speak, as occasion shall serve, in their place under the head of grammar.


I propose to give only a very short sketch of the grammar of Manx, chiefly for the sake of comparisons with that of Irish and Scotch; and for a general view of the principles of the language. I will refer any one who may be desirous of further information to Kelly's Manx Grammar, published by the Manx Society in 1859, and to that prefixed to Cregeen's Manx Dictionary, published at Douglas in 1835. Both of these are in the Library of the British Museum.l

1 At the time of reading this paper, Prince L. L. Bonaparte told me of the existence of another and a really good Manx grammar in Dr. Heinrich Leo's "Ferienschriften " (Halle, 1847). This grammar is intelligibly and scientifically arranged, and is not, like the other two, an attempt to reduce Manx to Latin rules. It is, however, of no use as regards pronunciation, though under the head of "Buchstaben" there are some valuable orthographical comparisons with Irish and Scotch.

The Orthography. — Until comparatively modern times Manx was never a written language, or if it was so, all traces of its existence as such have vanished. When, however, about the seventeenth century it became so, a system of spelling was adopted which, based upon English with a dash of Welsh, aimed at being phonetic, instead of, like Irish and Scotch, preserving the etymology of words. As a matter of fact it succeeded very well in not preserving the etymology; but unless the pronunciation has materially altered, its other object was not such a success. The orthography of the Scotch MS. of the sixteenth century known as the Dean of Lismore's Book has a certain amount of resemblance in principle to that of Manx.

As a general rule consonants have very much the same force as in English, save for a sort of universal aspiration of everything, but the following are exceptions : —

c and g always hard.

ch, when occurring as an aspirate mutation, or in the middle or end of a word, is a guttural, but very slight, being hardly more than a rather strong h. (When it begins a word as a radical letter, it is almost always sounded as in English.)

gh, a strong deep guttural.

dd as dd in Welsh, or th in the English word that.

ll has sometimes the same sound, or nearly so, as in Spanish.

x and z are wanting.

The vowels vary much more, and mostly have several sounds apiece : —

a single has generally the sound of the first vowel in the English word father, especially if it end a syllable. This rule admits of many exceptions, wherein it is sounded as ay in may. If it is followed by a consonant and a silent e, it always takes the latter sound. With a doubled consonant it is generally short, as a in man.

aa has two sounds: (1) if followed by a consonant and a silent e, or if ending a word, as ay in may; (2) if followed by a single or doubled consonant without a silent e, as a in man. .

e generally short, as in pen. When followed by a consonant and a silent e, or when written with a circumflex accent, it is pronounced long, as ea in mean.

ee is always as a long e in English.

i is generally short, as in in, but occasionally it takes a long e sound (as in the word reeriaght, kingdom, where it is the accentuated vowel).

o is generally short, as in on, but sometimes it takes the sound of the English aw, as in moddey (a dog), pronounced mawdhâ Before a consonant and a silent e it is long.

oo is pronounced as in English, or else has the force of u. before a vowel. It is, in fact, almost an exact equivalent of the Welsh w.

u almost always short, as in us.

w, sometimes used with the same sound as in English.

y has the same force as in the Welsh word Cymru, or as u in until.

Besides the simple vowels, there are about as many diphthongs and triphthongs as the permutations of seven vowels, taken two and three together, will form. For the pronunciation of these, as far as I can make out, there must needs be as many rules as there are words containing them, for the variations seem endless, and any attempt at a general rule is utterly futile.

The values that I have given for the letters are merely approximate, for clear definite vowels seem quite impossible to a true Manxman, and there is a tendency to a universally diphthongal pronunciation among them. Manx phonology would be a subject of itself, and a very good test of the capabilities of the " Visible Speech " system, and the task is not made any the easier by the age (and consequent toothlessness) of so many of the native speakers.

The Initial Mutations. — These partly grammatical and partly euphonic changes of the first letters of words are much simpler and fewer in the Gaelic than in the Cymric branch of Celtic. In Scotch, the system of " ellipsis," as it is called, — a change like the middle mutation in Welsh with some letters, and the nasal with others, which is used in Irish, — is wanting, save in the case of the letter s ; but in Manx there is a second form of change, resembling phonetically the " ellipsis," used only in two instances, viz. after the article in the genitive plural, and after the possessive pronoun nyn (plural possessive of all three persons), while the letter s has a special mutation all to itself, like that of Scotch.

The other mutation, called the aspirate in Irish and Scotch, is practically the same in the three dialects, though the non-phonetic nature of the other two of them makes the appearance on paper very different to that of Manx. This change partakes of the nature of the middle mutation of Welsh in some letters, and of the aspirate in others. The following is a table of the Manx system : —





Ph (f)


C K or Q

Ch (guttural) .



H I.


Ch (soft)














No change,


Silent .




No change.



No change.or T.

The Article. — The definite article, answering to an in Irish and Scotch, is y before a consonant, and yn before a vowel. Its only inflexions are ny for the genitive singular of the feminine, and for the plural of all cases, answering to the Irish na, and Scotch na and nan.

The Nouns. — The two native Manx grammars divide the Nouns into five declensions, but there is no particular reason for it, except that they are so divided in Latin. They would go just as well into five hundred as far as any natural division is concerned. However, there may be said to be two declensions — masculine and feminine. The only inflexions are the genitive singular and the plural of all cases. All other cases are formed by prepositions.

The genitive singular is formed in one of three ways: by modifying the root vowel; by adding ey to the root; or by both. There are, however, many variations and irregularities. Usually, masculine nouns take the first, and feminine either the second or third of these forms. In some cases there is no change at all. The following will serve as examples of each: —

1. Doarn, a hand; gen. Duirn, masc.
2. Sooill, an eye ; gen. Sooilley, fem.
3. Cass, a foot ; gen. Coshey, fern.
4. Caggey, war ; gen. Caggey, masc.

The plural is formed as a general rule by adding yn (Scotch an), but some monosyllables form it by modifying the root vowel. Thus : —

Awin, a river, Awinyn.
Fer, a man, Fir.

Some nouns ending in agh change it to ee, as. — Claasagh, a harp, Claasee.

And others add nyn to that, as : — Raantagh, a slave, Raanteenyn.

The genitive plural, when preceded by the article, takes the second mutation, which answers to a similar use of ellipsis in Irish.

The Adjectives. — These have few or no peculiarities. They follow the substantives, and in the case of feminine nouns take the aspirate mutation. The plurals are formed after the same rules as those of nouns. The comparison, barring the usual irregularities, is very simple, consisting of one change serving for both comparative and superlative, formed by prefixing s' to the positive. In the use of comparatives the particle ny is placed before the s', and treated as a separate word. The native Manx grammars consider this s' to be a contraction of smoo (more) ; but the following comparison with Irish and Scotch will show that this opinion is erroneous. In Irish the usual comparative particle is nios, and the superlative is. In Scotch na's is used in the same way as nios, and the derivation of smoo is evident, by its being written is mo in Irish.

The Numerals. — In sound these are almost identical with those of Irish and Scotch, though in spelling they differ very

much. The best way to speak of these will be to give some of them in each language.







1. un unnane





onan, idn

2. daa, jees


do, dha, dis

dau, dwy

daou, diou


3. three


tri, teora

tri, tair

tri, teir


4. kiare



pedwar, pedair



5. queig






6. shey






7. shiaglit






8. hoght






9. nuy












11 unnane-jeih

aon dheig

aon déag

un ar ddeg




dha dheig

do déag

dau ar ddeg



20. feed






1 Taken down from the mouths of old people at Newlyn, Penzance, 1875.

The ordinals are mostly formed by adding oo to the cardinals. This answers to the Irish mhadh and Scotch amh in sound, and if, as is probable, it is derived from the older Gaelic unaspirated form mad, it is of the same root as the Welsh fed, Breton ved, and Cornish ves. In the government of numerals, the usual Celtic rule of taking a noun in the singular holds good in Manx: thus daa cass (two feet), not daa cassyn.

The Pronouns. — The personal pronouns are indeclinable, but when, as in the other Celtic languages, they coalesce with any propositions that precede them, they take a different form to their original one. The following table will show this system : —




SING. —.

1st Pers


ym, as in marym, from marish (with).


2nd „


yt, as in rhyt, from rish (to).

yd, as in fogd, from fo (under).


3rd ,,


This is formed by the preposition itself without pronominal affix.


3rd (fem.)


ee, as in doe, from da (to).


1st Pers.


in, as in voin, from voish (from),.


2nd „


iu, as in erriu, from er (upon).


3rd „


oo, as in lioroo, from liorish (by).

The possessive forms of the pronouns are of two sorts : either the simple possessives, my (my), dty (thy), e (his or her), followed by the aspirate mutation, and nyn (our, your, or their), followed by the second mutation ; or else the compound form of the pronoun with the preposition ec (at) following the qualified noun.

The forms thus obtained are : —



1st person, my or ayn.

nyn or ain

2nd„ dty or ayd.

nyn or eu.

3rd „ e or echey.

nyn or oc.

„ (fem.) e or eck.

nyn or oc.

The relative is generally not expressed. The opening sentence of the Lord's Prayer will show the construction used

Ayr an, t'ayns (ta ayns) niau

Father at us, art in heaven.

The Verb. — The Manx verb is exceedingly simple in its construction, being entirely without any personal inflexions, unless a certain contraction in the first person of the future may be so termed. Tense inflexions exist, but they seem to be little used, and their place is supplied by various tenses of auxiliaries, followed by the root (usually a noun used as a verb). Thus, in the verb coayl, to lose (or as a noun, loss), the following are the principal tenses : —


ta mee coayl.
ta ou coayl, etc., etc.


(1). va mee coayl, etc
(2). chaill mee, etc.
(3). ren (from jannoo, to do) mee coayl, etc.


ta mee er-choayl, etc.


caillee ym.
caillee ou,
etc., etc.


caill. Plur.: cailljee.


coayl (usually used with the preposition dy, (to) ).


er choayl, = upon losing (having lost).
caillit = lost.

From this it will be seen that there are two roots : one, originally a noun, from which the compound tenses are formed; and the other, formed by a modification of the root vowel, from which the Imperative, Simple Past, and Future are formed. The Subjunctives, etc., are formed by various auxiliaries, and the Passive by the verb substantive and passive participle.

In verbs beginning with a vowel, the prepositions dho, and ag, used in Scotch, appear in the form of d and g joined to the root. Thus in the verb insh (to tell), Scotch innis, we find the Imperative insh, the Past (simple) dinsh (Scotch dh'innis), and the Infinitive ginsh (Scotch ag innis).


There is no early literature in existence in Manx, though tradition speaks of the Isle as having been once the great seat of learning of the Gaelic Celts. Whatever may have been written there in early days has either perished, or has been so mixed up with the literature of the Irish language as to be indistinguishable from it. The only composition now known that may possibly belong to that shadowy period is a single fragment written down in the year 1789, by one Peter John Heywood, from the recitation of an old woman in the parish of Kirk Michael, and now forming part of a collection relating to Celtic matters by Professor Thorkelin of Copenhagen, preserved in the British Museum (Add. MS. 11215). This fragment is a real Ossianic poem. It relates how Orree, the enemy of Finn McCumhail was a prisoner in Finn's house, and how the women of the household, on a day when Finn had gone a hunting, tormented Orree by tying his hair down to the ground as he lay asleep, and how he in revenge set fire to the house and burnt them all, and was promptly punished by Finn by being torn in pieces by wild horses. Whether a Scotch version of this poem exists I do not know, but I have been unable to find one. However, in Hugh Miller's " Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," the story, exactly as it occurs in Manx, is given as a legend of Cromarty and Caithness. In a letter that accompanies the poem the transcriber says that many more Ossianic poems were known among the Manx people, but no others seem to have been preserved.

The real existing literature of the Island, however, consists of a large number of ballads and carols, only a very small part of which has been printed. The Carols, or " Carvels," as they are locally called, are well worthy of notice, and their use is as follows

On Christmas Eve the churches are decorated, and the whole buildings generally filled with large congregations, each bearing a lighted candle, and services take place which consist entirely of carol singing. Any member of the congregation who pleases gets up and sings one, and some of the country folk have an almost unlimited supply, collected in MS. volumes, which, for fear of their being sung by some one else, the possessors keep most carefully to themselves. This singing goes on till midnight or thereabouts, and ends with what is called the " Parting Verse " : —

" Te traa goll thie dy goll dy lhie
Te tayrn dye traa ny lhiabbagh
Ta'n stoyl to foin greinnagh shin roin
To geignagh shin dooin dy ghleashagh."

Which is in English: —

It is time to go home to go to bed,
It draws towards bed-time.
The bench that is under us creaks with us,
It is needful for us to move.

The carvels themselves do not of necessity refer to Christmas, and, indeed, from what I can gather, they mostly fulfill the saying of Lope de Vega, and

" representan en dos horas
hasta el final juicio desde el genesis."

I was unable to procure even a sight of these carvels, but I heard of several old people who possessed large volumes containing them; and Mr. George Borrow, in an advertisement of a book on the Isle of Man, never I believe completed, speaks of having been able to obtain two of these MSS., and. according to his opinion they are worth preserving. The festal service at which they are sung is known as " Oiel Vorrey," and of this expression I heard two derivations: one, which made it out to be a contraction o£ " Oie laa Vorrey " (the night of the day of Mary) ; and another, " Oie eaill Vorrey " (the night of the feast of Mary). Manx etymologists are rather fond of what Lewis Carroll calls "portmanteau words," and I think it is more likely that the word is merely feaill (feast), with the f dropped, as it would be when aspirated.

The most important ballads have been printed, some on single leaflets, and others in the Manx Society's Publications. Of these I will now give a short notice.

The earliest is the song of Manannan Mac y Lheir, which tells of the conversion of the Isle by St. Patrick. It is supposed to have been written in the sixteenth century, but there is no particular evidence save tradition to that effect. — (Manx Society's Publications, vol. xvi.)

" Baase Illiam Dhõne," (The Death of Brown William). This is a long and dismal ballad set to a beautiful but very melancholy tune, on the death of William Christian, the Receiver General of the Island, who was shot by order of the Countess of Derby in 1662, and is estimated as a traitor or a martyr, according to the views of the estimator on the subject of the great rebellion. — (Manx Society's Publications, vol. xvi.)

" Mylacharaine." — This is the best known of all Manx Songs, and directed against a certain man called Mylacharaine, who was the first to give a dowry to his daughter, the previous custom having been for the intending husband to pay money to the father of the bride. The song laments the change on the score of its tendency to substitute avarice for love. The tune is very beautiful, but not of so comic a character as the words. — ('Manx Society's Publications, vol. xvi. and a leaflet printed in Douglas at the office of the Herald Newspaper.)

" Ny Kirree fo Sniaghtey " (The Sheep under the Snow), a short song, of which the name describes the subject. — (Manx Society's Publications, vol. xvi. and a leaflet.)

" Arrane mysh ny baatyn skeddan va caillit ec Doolish, 'sy vlein 1787, Sept. 21" (Song on the Herring Boats that were lost from Douglas in the year 1787, Sept. 21). This is published by the Manx Society (vol. xvi.).

" Vannin Veg Vean " (Dear little Mona), a song chiefly relating to fisheries. I obtained a copy printed at Douglas on a single sheet, in which it is said to have been taken down from the recitation of Mr. Harry Quilliam, of Peel, by the Rev. J. T. Clarke (now of Cardeon, North Wales).

" Coontey Ghiare jeh Ellan Vannin ayns Gailck " (short account of the Isle of Man, in Manx). Written by Joseph Bridson in 1760. — (Manx Society's Publications, vol. xx.)

There are a few other pieces of less importance published in vols. xvi. and xxi. of the Manx Society's Publications, and these, with what I have given, and what may exist in MS. and tradition, form the whole original literature of the Manx tongue. But there is some amount of translated literature, and as almost all of this is printed, I will go through it in order of date, having, I think, been able to make a complete list of all Manx publications.

The earliest translation into Manx has never been printed. This is a version of the Prayer Book of the Church of England, made by John Phillips, Bishop of Sodor and Man. From the fact that it contains a prayer for Charles I. and his Queen, but not for their son, the date must be placed between 1625 and 1630. This translation is mentioned by Challoner, Sacheverel, Bishop Wilson, and others, some of whom speak of a translation of the Bible made at the same time, but the existence of this is doubtful. This MS. is still in existence, having been exhibited at a meeting of the Manx Society in 1863 by the Rev. W. Gill, Vicar of Malew.1

1 It is now in the possession of the Rev. Hugh Gill, the present vicar of Malew. The handwriting is in appearance very like that of Welsh MSS. of the same date, and the difference of language is very slight from that of the present day. There are, however, differences of spelling, the chief of which is the use of w for oo (following the Welsh use). The first sentence of the Creed of S. Athanasius will serve as a specimen.

Present version.Quoi-erbee saillish dy v'er ny hauail ; roish dy choilley nhee te ymmvrchagh dy gum eh yn Credjue Cadjin.

Bp. Phillips' version.Quoi erbi sailish ve er na hawayl; roish dy ghwlly redd te ymmyrtysliagh gy gwmm e yn kredin kasherick.

The following is a list of all books (as far as I can discover) that have been printed in 'Manx: —


The Principles and Duties of Christianity. By Thomas Wilson, Bishop of Sodor and Man. 1707 (




The Knowledge and Practice of Christianity. By the same.


S..Matthew's Gospel in Manx. 1748.


The Gospel and Acts in Manx. 1763.


The Prayer-Book of the Church of England in Manx. 1765, 1777, 1840.


The Epistles and Revelation. 1767.


Lewis' Catechism, and Bishop Wilson's Prayers for the Fisheries. 1768.


The Christian Monitor. 1763, 1768.


The Bible (except the Apocrypha). 1771-1775, 1819.


The New Testament. 1775.


Aght giare dy beet gys tushtey. (An Explanation of the Church Catechism.) By Daniel Cowley.


Sharmanyn liorish Thomas Wilson, aspick. (Sermons by Bishop Wilson.)Translated by J. Corlett.3 vols.


Pargys Caillit. A Translation of parts of Milton's " Paradise Lost."Thomas Christian.1796.


Banglanyn y Chredgue Chreestee. (The 39 Articles in Manx.) Prayer-book and Homily Society.1822.



Six of the Homilies of the Church of England. Prayer-Book and Homily Society.No date.



Yn Creed Lioar Gailckagh. A Manx Spelling and Reading Book for the useof Sunday Schools.London, 1818.


Coyrle jean as Graihagh da Eeasteyryn Ellan Vannin. (Serious and affectionate advice to Manx fishermen.)No date.


a. Carrey yn Pheccagh. (The Sinner's Friend.)
b. Aarnyn goit voish scriptyr ta soilshaghey ynsagh as our myn yn chredjue chreestee.
c. Taggloo cranes eddyr bochil amney as fer jeh e hioltane, liorish Thos. Vivian, saggyrt jeh Cornwood, Devon. (Religious Tract Society.) No date.


Cooney dy Gheddyn Aarboo son Baase. (Help to prepare for death.)
Coontey jeh Saggyrt William Tyndall.(Story of William Tyndall.)
Coyrle Saggyrt da Cummaltee ya skeery echey mychione padjer foshlit (Advice of a Priest to a Parishioner on Public Worship.) Bristol Religious Tract Society, 1829.


Hymnyn ny arraneyn moyllee son Paitchyn, liorish J. Watts. Lioar ny Hymnyn, liorish watts, Wesley, etc. No date.


Joseph boght (poor Joseph).Cooutey jeh Dumrnallcs as Baase maynrey Jamys Covey. Liverpool. No date.


Padjer y looder (the Swearer's Prayer).Douglas.No date.


Form of Family Prayer. By Bishop Wilson.S.P.C.K. 1845,

The following volumes of the Manx Society's Publications refer to the Manx language : —

VOL. II. A Practical Grammar of the Ancient Gaelic or Language of the Isle of Alan. By the Rev. John Kelly. Edited by Rev. W. Gill of Malew.

VOL. XIII. Fockleyr Mauninagh as Baarlagh. By John Kelly. (Manx-English Dictionary.) English-Manx Dictionary, from the Dictionaries of Cregeen and Mosely (unpublished), and from the Triglott of Dr, Kelly. Edited by Rev. W, Gill and Rev. J. T. Clarke.

VOL. XVI. Mona Miscellany. A Collection of Songs, Proverbs, Customs, Superstitions, etc., collected by W. Harrison.

VOL. XXI. A similar collection.

VOL. XX. contains among other things, Thomas Christian's translation of Paradise Lost, and Joseph Bridson's Account of the Isle.

Of these printed books, the most important are, the Bible, Prayer Book, and Bishop Wilson's Sermons. It will be as well before I leave the subject of literature to say something on the Manx translation of the Bible, for that is undoubtedly the greatest monument of the language.

In the time of Bishop Wilson it had been a constant source of complaint among the Manx clergy that they were the only church in Christendom that had no version of the Bible in the vulgar tongue. Wilson set to work to remedy the defect, and, with the assistance of some of his clergy, managed to get some of the Bible translated, and the Gospel of St. Matthew printed. Bishop Hildesley, his successor, with the help of the whole body of Manx clergy, completed the work, and in 1775 the whole Bible was printed. The translation was made with great care and much consultation ; but it appears to have aimed at being more of an explanatory translation than is usually the case, and in some instances unwarrantable liberties are taken with the text. As instances of this, the following may be cited: —

Joshua ii. Rahab is called hen-oast (a hostess or inn-keeper).

Judges xv. Samson's foxes with firebrands tied to their tails are explained (according to a theory that "foxes' tails " was a bit of Hebrew slang) to be sheaves of corn.

1 Kings xvii. In the account of Elijah and the ravens, the word hewbrew - ravens (ravens) is very rationalistically translated "cummaltee Ureb " (the people of Oreb)..

Job ii. 9. In our version Job's wife is made to say, " Curse God and die." In the Manx version it is, " Guee gys Jee dy ghoaill dty vioys," (Pray to God to take away thy life). Some other passages, in which ancient and oriental similes do not altogether accord with modern ideas of propriety, are considerably softened down, so that the Manx Bible almost realizes the idea of a "Bowdlerised" version of Holy Writ. Of the Manx Prayer-book there is little to be said, save that the rubrics and preliminary matter are in English, and the Ordination Services and Thirty-nine Articles are omitted.


The only records that we have of even the existence of the Manx language before the seventeenth century consist of names of persons and places on Runic stones, and in the Chronicon Manniae and the Rent-roll of 1511. The inscribed stones, of which there are a good number in the Isle, are always in Norse, sometimes very bad Norse, but never in Celtic, while the other records are in Latin.

In the year 1604 John Phillips, Rector of Hawarden, in Flintshire, was consecrated Bishop of Man. Of his translation of the Prayer-book I have already spoken. This seems to be the first recorded instance of the language being written, and it is supposed that the orthography was partially settled at this time.

In Speed's Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain, published in 1627, the language is mentioned as follows: —

" The wealthier sort, and such as hold the fairest possessions, do imitate the people of Lancashire, . . . howbeit the commoner sort of people, both in language and manners, come nighest unto the Irish."

James Challoner, in a work entitled A Short Treatise of the Isle of Man, forming part of his Vale Royal of England or the County Palatine of Chester, published in 1656, after mention made of Bishop Phillips and his translation, has the following short statement : "Few speak the English tongue."

The edition of Camden's Britannia, published in 1695, with additions, has, among those additions that relate to the Isle of Man, the following: —

" Their gentry are very courteous and affable, and are more willing to discourse with one in English than in their own language." (In these respects there has been no noticeable alteration up to the present time; at least such is my experience.) And

" Not only the gentry, but likewise such of the peasants as live in the towns, or frequent the town markets, do both understand and speak the English language."

William Sacheverell, sometime Governor of the Isle, writing in 1690, says

" In the Northern part of the Island they speak a deeper Manx, as they call it, than in the South."

The next statement of importance is that of the great Bishop of the Isle, Thomas Wilson. In his history, written early in the last century, he mentions Phillips' Prayer-book, and says that it would have been of no use in his (Bishop Wilson's) time. He then says (in a chapter on the clergy)

" The clergy are generally natives, and, indeed, it cannot well be otherwise, none else being qualified to preach and administer the sacraments in the Manx language; for English is not understood by two-thirds at least of the Island, though there is an English school in every parish, so hard is it to change the language of a whole country."

At this time, though a translation of the Prayer-book had been made, there were no books printed in Manx, and the natives did not read their own language. Bishop Wilson attempted to reform all this, and under his directions certain religious books were published. In the churches Manx services were the rule, an English service being in some parishes never to be heard; but since there was no Manx Bible and Prayer-book, the clergy were in the habit of translating extempore from an English copy. This gave rise to numberless varieties of renderings, and many stories _are told of absurd mistakes made by clergy who were insufficiently learned in one or other of the languages. For instance, I heard of one man who, in the Gospel for Palm Sunday, carefully translated the mocking speech of the Roman soldiers,

" Clagagh sniaghtey, Ree ny Hewnyn."

(The first expression being literally " stony snow," i.e. hail. And again, in the Advent Sunday Gospel:

" Lheiy sharragh assyl,"


" Lhiy sharragh assyl."

(i.e " a calf the foal of an ass," instead of a colt.)

In 1755, after nearly sixty years of work in the diocese, Bishop Wilson died, and Mark Hildesley reigned in his stead. In the course of negotiations of this Bishop's with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge for the publication of a Manx translation of the Bible, a paper was issued in 1764 by the Society, containing the following statement: " The population of the Isle is 20,000, of whom the far greater number are ignorant of English." After this time, the language began gradually to decrease. At the beginning of this century, in many parishes, on three Sundays a month, services were held in it, then two, and later only one, and at last, about thirty years ago, it ceased to be taught in schools, and gradually the number of churches where it was found necessarily dropped off, until at last only three or four still kept it up, and now only one does so. The introduction of Englishmen as clergy, and their ignorance of the language, may have something to do with this, and though several have learnt it sufficiently for conversational purposes, that is very different from being able to take a service in it. I am inclined to think that if Thomas Wilson were Bishop of Sodor and Man now, he would not be content to allow Kirk Arbory to be the only Church where a Manx service could be heard, and I believe there are several of the clergy who would hold Manx services if they could trust their own power to do it ; meanwhile the Wesleyans in many instances use Manx in their meeting-houses, and make considerable way in consequence. This last bit may seem rather irrelevant, but I wish to show that the disuse of the Manx services is not necessarily the result of their being no longer needed.


In November, 1874, I addressed a letter to each of the clergy of the Isle of Man, containing the following questions relating to the existing amount of spoken Manx : —

1. — Is English or Manx the prevailing language in your parish ?

2. — If English, about how many persons speak Manx as their mother tongue ?

3. — How many can speak no English, and of what ages and class are they ?

4. — Do you ever preach or perform Divine Service or any part of it in Manx ? if so, how often and what part ? and is a knowledge of Manx necessary in your parish work ?

5. — Which language do children of the present generation learn ? Do they grow up with a knowledge of both ?

6. — Is the Manx of the present day substantially the same as that of Kelly's grammar, etc., and of the Manx Bible and Prayer-book, and are these easily intelligible to the present Manx speakers ?

The answers to these questions I have tabulated as will be seen by the annexed Table

Name of Parish.


Number speaking Manx habitually.

Number speaking no English.

Language spoken by Children

Language used in Church.

Answers to the Question, "Is Manx necessary in Parish work?"


Lezayre Sheading,






Kirk Bride


about 440

about 12

English and a little Manx.

English. Until 3 or 4ys.ago Manx four times a year

(Living vacant.)

Kirk Andreas






Not necessary.

Kirk Lezayre




English only.

English(Manx used in 1852.)

Not necessary.

Michael Sheading.


Kirk Michael




English and Manx.


Useful but not absolutely





English only.


Useful. [necessary.





English and a little Manx.

English (Manx used 14 or 15 years ago)


Gafff Sheading


.Kirk Lonan




English only.


Necessary. [necessary.

Kirk Maughold




English and Manx.


Desirable, not absolutely

Total of North








Glenfaba Sheading.


Kirk German




English only.

English (No Manx for 30 years.)

Hardly necessary.

Kirk Patrick






Not absolutely necessary.

Kirk Marown






Hardly necessary.

Rushen Sheading


Kirk Rushen







Kirk Arbory




English and Manx.

English. Manx on the 4th Sunday morn. of month.


Kirk Malew.




English only.

English (Private Communions with old people sometimes Manx.)

Not absolutely necessary.

Middle Sheading.





Kirk Santon






Not necessary.

Kirk Braddan





English (Manx sentences occasionally introduced).


Kirk Onchan







Total of South




(N.B. — These statistics are exclusive of the town of Douglas.)








In addition to the answers, the following interesting notes were supplied by some of the clergy

From the Rector of Kirk Andreas. — Children pick up a little Manx when they leave school. Old people, so to speak, " dream in Manx." Servants like to keep it up as a class language not understood by their masters.

From the Vicar of Kirk Arbory. — Dissenters make considerable way owing to the neglect of Manx by the Church. (I have received a good deal more information from the Vicar of Kirk Arbory, which is scattered about in various places throughout this paper.)

From the Vicar of Lonan. — Manx is preferred by the country people (in parochial ministrations), as they can understand every word, which they cannot in English.

From the Vicar of Kirk Michael. — The English spoken is that of the Authorised Version of the Bible, and is good and grammatical. (This, I find, does not apply to those whose mother tongue is Manx; their English being uniformly bad and ungrammatical. The Vicar of this parish also supplied me with a good deal more information.)

From the Vicar of St. George's, Douglas. — In country parishes one finds three generations in one cottage. The old speaking Manx only, the middle Manx and English, and the children English only.

Of course these statistics can hardly be taken to represent a perfect philological census of the Island, and it would be very difficult to obtain such a thing by answers from different people, as each man (as regards my second question at any rate) would have his own standard to judge by, and I am very sure that the standards vary considerably. Still I think they may be said to give a fair approximate view of the philological state of the Isle of Man in the year 1875.

In April last I visited the Island myself, and was present on the fourth Sunday after Easter at a service held in the parish church of Kirk Arbory in the Manx tongue. The congregation consisted of fifty-three persons, almost all of them above fifty years of age. It was evident that these very much appreciated the benefits of a service in their own language, for they join in it very heartily. Still I noticed that before and after service, such of the congregation as remained talking together in the churchyard and near it, almost always spoke in English. Indeed, I heard but little Manx talked during my stay in the Island, excepting when done for my edification, though the English of many of the old people showed plainly that they must be more at home in Manx.

Kirk Arbory is the only church in which Manx is regularly used, and that only on the last Sunday morning in each month. The Rev. W. Drury, vicar of Kirk Braddan, told me that he sometimes introduced bits of Manx into his sermons, as he expressed it " to clinch the matter," for the benefit of the older people ; and if he happened to see many such present, he would say the Lord's Prayer or give the Blessing in Manx. He also told me that in the summer he often preached sermons in the open air on Douglas Quay to fishermen and sailors in a mixture of Manx and English.

I was told by many that in the Manx of the present population there was a very considerable admixture of English, but of this I was little able to judge, and it seemed to me that English was only used where no Manx word existed. In my walk to Kirk Arbory from Castletown and back, to attend the service just mentioned, I had the advantage of the company of a very intelligent old fisherman (whose acquaintance I had made the day before on Castletown Quay), Thomas Kenvig by name, and he was one of the real Manx speakers, though his English was tolerably fluent. As we crossed the railway, I asked him if there was any Manx word for it, to which he answered, " No, to be sure, and I'm thinking there wasn't English for it a hundred years ago."

" Why not call it ' raad yiarn' (chemin de fer) ? " said I (this, I found afterwards, was the word actually used by Mr. Drury of Kirk Braddan in his translation of the Manx Railway Act).

"Yes, that would do," said he, " and I'll be telling you what we'll call train. There is steamer, that goes on the say, is same in both, is English and Manx too, so we'll call it 'steamer thallooinagh' (land steamer)."

Later on, the question being suggested by the action, I asked the Manx for " to smoke a pipe," and his answer was, "Same, same in both."

"But," said I, " if you were to ask me what I am doing now, and I wished to answer you in Manx, what should I say ? "

To which he replied, "Ta mee smokal pipe," and he certainly considered that he was talking Manx, and not English, in saying it.

During the whole of my tour I only met with one person who could not speak English, though I went into a good many cottages on various pretexts of resting, asking the way, etc., so as to find some such person if possible. This was a woman of about forty, in a cottage on the road between Ramsay and Kirk Andreas, not far from the latter village. I went in to ask the way to the Rectory of Kirk Andreas, and on asking in English, received for answer, " Cha vel Baarle ayms " (I have no English), or some variation of that expression. However my next speech, " Cre raad gys Thie-Saggyrt jeh Kirk Andreas ?" (what road to the priest's house of Kirk Andreas ? ) was sufficiently understood to secure for me a most voluble discourse in Manx, from the gesticulations rather than from the words of which I gathered the required information.

From the shape and situation of the Island, the phenomenon of a gradual receding of the boundary line between the two languages, so clearly to be seen in the case of Cornish, Welsh, or Scotch, is totally absent in Manx. One cannot speak of any district as the Manx-speaking part of the Island, though it prevails in some districts more than in others, and those furthest from the four towns of Douglas, Ramsay, Peel and Castletown have preserved more of it than the rest. Still there is but little difference on that account, since no place in the Island is more than ten or twelve miles at the most from one or other of these towns. On the whole, the "Manxest" parts of the Isle are Dalby, a hamlet in the parish of Kirk Patrick; Cregneesh, and the neighbourhood of Spanish Head; in Kirk Rushen ; the parish of Kirk Bride ; and the north part of Kirk Andreas ; and the hill country at about the junction of the three parishes of Lezayre, Maughold and Lonan.l If there ever comes to be such a thing as a single Manx district, it will probably be the west coast from Peel to Spanish Head.

The language certainly received its deathblow when it ceased to be taught in schools and its use was discontinued in most of the churches. Those who speak it now are all of them old people, and when the present generation has grown up and the older folk have died off, it will cease to be the mother tongue of any Manxmen. It is now almost exactly in the same state that Cornish was in at the time at which Edward Lhuyd wrote his Archaeologia Britannica (1709), and though that survived in a sort of way for another century, for all purposes of conversation it was dead in less than half that time. The only public or official recognitions of Manx at present are the solitary monthly service at Kirk Arbory ; the promulgation of the "Acts of Tynwald " in Manx and English, without which they do not become law; and the carol singing of " Oie'l Vorrey." How long these will last it is hard to say ; but there is a decided feeling on the part of the people, especially among the Manx speakers themselves, that the language is only an obstruction, and that the sooner it is removed the better.

The English spoken by those to whom it is the native tongue is good, and, as may be imagined, is proper modern English, and not a provincial dialect derived independently from Old English. There is, however, a tendency towards Scotticisms (here I use the word in its ordinary sense), and those who speak Manx best frequently translate Manx idioms literally into English. Indeed, I expect there is often a very confused idea of language among the " diglott " portion of the community.

It is in the names of persons and places, as is the case in Cornwall, that the Celtic language will last longest. With the exception of a few Norse names mostly ending in by, as Sulby, Dalby, Jurby, etc., all the farms, hills, parishes, etc., at the beginning of thie paper. have Manx names. The following are the principal topical prefixes : —

Balla, a town, or farm, answering to Tre in Cornwall, and quite as common. To this is added generally some descriptive epithet, the commonest (I believe every parish has its instances) being Ballavooar (the great farm) and Ballaveg (the little farm).

Slieu, a mountain, answering to the Irish sliabh or slieze, generally followed by a noun in the genitive, as Slieu Chiarn (the Mount of the Lord), Slieu ny Farrane or Fraghane (the Mount of the Spring).

Cronk, a hill, as Cronk y voddee (the Dog's Hill), Cronk ny Irey Lhaa (the Hill of Day-break), etc. Purt, a port, or answering to Portk in Cornwall, and gate as an affix in the Isle of Thanet, an opening in the cliffs.

Other common prefixes are glen, a valley, generally one with a stream flowing through the middle of it. Craig or carrick, a rock, and ken or kione, a head.

As in four out of the six divisions of the Celts, Manx family names are mostly patronymics. Originally these began with Mac, but the first two letters have been dropped, and we find now the following forms: Quayle for Machale (son of Fayl), Qualtrough for MacWalter, Kermode for MacGhermot (son of Dermot), Kissack for 'MacTsaac, Quain for MacJuan (son of John), etc. In the Rent-roll of the Island dated 1,511, this corruption had not yet taken place, and indeed at that time it is probable that these were not family names, but real patronymics (as in Iceland at the present day, and in Wales as late as the seventeenth century). This idea is supported by the fact that when women are mentioned, they are described not as Mac (or Mc), but as Inneen. (Inn), i.e. daughter. Some of these patronymics have been anglicised into words ending in sort, and one family (that of Harrison) is still called by Manx speakers by its Gaelic equivalent Kentraugh (McEantraugh). Another form of surname is a word formed with the prefix Myl (answering to Mal in Scotch in such words as Malcohn, etc.). This means "servant " or " worshipper." Thus Mylechrest (worshipper of Christ), Mylrea (servant of the king), etc. These, with a few from nicknames, and a very few from names of places, form the whole nomenclature of the Isle.

In conclusion, I must acknowledge certain obligations which are due to those whose help I have received. I beg to thank the clergy of the Diocese of Sodor and Man in general for their kind and prompt answers to my paper of questions; answers which show that in many instances they must have cost not a little trouble; and particularly I thank the Revs. J. Qualtrough, W. Kermode, and R. Airey, Vicars of Kirks Arbory, Maughold, and Michael, for the exceeding kindness and attention with which they received me, a perfect stranger, going among them with no sort of introduction, save a common interest in the Manx language; and to them I am indebted either directly or indirectly (through their putting me in the way of getting it) for a good deal of the information contained in this paper. I also thank Mr. Thomas Kenvig, fisherman, of Castletown, for considerable help towards understanding the pronunciation and colloquial usages of Manx; and should other philological inquirers find their way to the Isle, I strongly recommend them to get some conversation with him.

1 See Roman figures n the Map

 Manx Note Book   [History Index]

see under H140

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
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