[From Mannin #1 p35]

Literary Manx and the Language of the Carvals.

To wax sentimental over the somewhat melancholy history of the so-called Celtic race is not a difficult matter. Some few centuries before the Christian era, the Celts were the rulers of practically the whole of Western Europe, and their language was at that time possibly spoken by a larger number of persons than any other branch of Indo European speech in Europe. A thousand or twelve hundred years later a very different picture presents itself. In the seventh century A.D., the speakers of Celtic are confined to the western and northwestern portions of the British Isles and the peninsula of Armorica, and the language of the Teutonic invaders has ever since been making headway at the expense of the earlier tongue, more especially during the last two or three centuries.

In the case of Ireland and Wales there is perhaps not so much reason to repine, seeing that these countries long retained a sufficient measure of political independence for them to be able to develop a national literature. But such was not the position of either the Isle of Mann or Brittany, with the almost necessary consequence, that for lack of aristocratic patronage Manx and Breton many centuries ago sank to the level of the peasant dialects of twentieth century Ireland.

In late medieval times we find a considerable amount of literary intercourse between Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland, and there is evidence that Irish bards not infrequently enjoyed for a season the hospitality of Scottish chieftains, whilst Highianders crossed Over to Erin in large numbers to graduate in the schools of poetry. As far as I am present aware, there is nothing to show that any of the numerous peripatetic poets of Ireland ever thought of favouring Mona with a visit in the ordinary course of their wanderings. Had the Island been under the rule of a native lord, the case would doubtless have been different, as may perhaps be gathered from a lament by Tuathal Macaward for N jail O’Donnell, who died in exile in Mann in 1439. In this poem Tuathal states that he is no stranger to the Island, and that he regrets that he has not been with his old patron at the close of his life. If the poet did actually visit Mann, it was doubtless in order to afford solace to the banished Ulster princeling.

When a language is little employed as a literary medium, it commonly, though not always, exhibits a marked tendency to rapid change. Some of the leading characteristics of Manx will be found summarised in the section on Manx Language of the article Celt, in the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol. V., p. 618,, Col. 1). In certain directions Manx has introduced the same kind of syntactical innovations as we find in Highland Gaelic, e.g., the curious use of the periphrasis with goll, "to go," to denote the passive. We may further note the confusion of present and future in the verb, and the tendency to displace is by ha (e.g., ta Ihiams: Irish, is horn). In other cases Manx is extremely original, as for example, in using the interrogatives quoi and cre as relatives. Manx agrees with northern Irish and Highland Gaelic in giving up the considerable variety of verb inflexions found in medieval Irish. The speech of Munster, on the other hand, is even at the present day remarkably conservative in this respect, preserving many endings which are elsewhere unknown.

Irish poets from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries in some instances employ both the inflected forms and those without a definite personal ending, and it can be shewn from the orthography of the Book of the Dean of Lismore that the spoken Scottish Gaelic of the beginning of the sixteenth century was substantially the same as the book-language of the present day.

When we turn to examine the written Manx that is regarded as standard, we find that it has abandoned certain synthetic verb-forms which are retained in the spoken Gaelic of Donegal and the Highlands, the most remarkable case being that of the Irish passive forms in -ar and -adh. There is unfortunately no means of ascertaining when such a loss took place in Manx. From a cursory examination of the earliest document we possess, viz, the translation of the Book of Common Prayer made by Bishop Phillips in 1610, it appears that the verb forms employed in this text are practically identical with those of the eighteenth century version. There are, however, vestiges of an earlier state of things which, as far as I am aware, have hitherto been ignored.

Several years ago in perusing the collection entitled "Carvalyn Gailckagh" issued in 1891, my attention was arrested by one or two forms which do not appear in any grammar of the language. I have had to content myself with running through those carvals which are dated, and the harvest is very meagre, though not without a certain importance for the history of Manx. On page 20 the following two stanzas occur:

Thousaneyn blein myr ruggyr Chreest,
Ren Abraham bannee
Boishal dy accan ye yn laa,
As ye ginnal ayns y cree.
Ny boghilyn chail ad bingys niau,
Chial ad ny ainlyn, neesht,
Gra "ayns Bailey Yavid ruggyr jeu,
Nyn Jiarn Saualtagh Chreest."

The form "ruggyr" which occurs in both stanzas, would correspond to an Irish or Scottish Gaelic "rugar," i.e., it is a present passive meaning "is born" *Ruggyr is found again on page 1, stanza 10. Again on page 4 we read:

As Prinse y Chee cheayll shen ny hi er gra, As dooyrt eh roo myr vader jeh gimraa, "She mish yn fer dy jarroo mish mee hene Nee dooiney reesht y yannoo seyr as glen."


Vader is the Irish preterite 3rd plural bhadar, ‘they were.’ This form seems to occur mis-spelt as varrad in stanzas 8, 9 and 11 on page 16, and as varad on page 20 stanza 11. These spellings are significant and are possibly to be attributed to the revision of the Manx text by Mr. W. J. Cain, who did not understand the forms. As the language of the Bible was taken as the standard, itis not unreasonable to entertain suspicions as to the accuracy of the restored text. It appears extremely probable that a competent Manxman with some knowledge of Irish would discover in the MSS. numerous other instances of old synthetic forms. I shall content myself with pointing out one more. In the last stanza but one on page 26 we read:

Deie eh son soiishey, iheam eh stiagh,
As huitt eh sheesh er craue:

"Gheiney cre taym dy yannoo dy
Chosney saualtys niau?"

This taym corresponds to Irish taim, atairn, which is used by the side of ta me. As far as I am aware, taym is not mentioned in any Manx grammar.

The forms cited above, though few in number, are not without considerable importance. In the absence of other evidence they appear to show that there existed in the Island a traditional ballad-style which preserved a number of archaisms in accidence and vocabulary. It is a universal feature of poetic diction that it invariably lags behind the language of prose. It cannot therefore be a matter for surprise that carvals composed less than two hundred years ago should preserve forms which are absent from the prose of the early seventeenth century. It is to be hoped that future Manx Grammarians will read through the MSS. of the oldest compositions of this nature and record any further interesting forms they may contain.


Cambridge, E. C. QUIGGIN.
April 3rd, 1913.


*A form of beirim, such as beirthear, be/rear, would be used In these two Instances in Ireland and Scotland.


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