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21 April 2014
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Manx today
The history of Manx

The history of Manx

Manx Gaelic is a member of the Celtic group of the Indo-European family of languages belonging to the Goidelic branch (Irish, Scots and Manx Gaelic) and as such is derived from Old Irish.

It was first committed to writing in about 1610, when the Bishop of Sodor and Mann, John Phillips, caused a translation to be made of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. This seems to be the first record of the language being written. The orthography was partially settled at this time. The spelling is different from the traditional Gaelic system and is based on the English convention.

The first printed publication in the Manx language was initiated by Bishop Thomas Wilson who, by 1707, had his 'Principles and Duties of Christianity' with short and plain directions and prayers, translated into Manx.

It was reported in 1764 that, "The population of the Isle is 20,000 of whom the far greater number are ignorant of English". Hence the necessity for the Manx translation of the Bible which was completed by 1775. Usually only works of a religious nature appeared in print.

From the eighteenth century the use of Manx rapidly declined leading to the loss of Manx as a community language in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The Manx Language Society, founded in 1899 to promote and preserve the Manx language, has continued a programme of publishing books both in and about Manx Gaelic.

From 1901 onwards the question of language was included in the census papers, providing an indication of how the decline proceeded: (1901) - 4,419, (1911) - 2,382, (1921) - 896, (1931) - 531, (1951) - 355, (1961) - 165, (1971) - 284. In 1941 and 1981 the language question was not included in the census paper.

In 1985 the Manx language was given some official recognition, and a Manx Gaelic Advisory Council was set up to regulate and standardise the official use of Manx. Its duties include the translation into Manx of legislation passed by Tynwald and providing Manx versions of the titles of government departments, street names etc.

A revival in interest and support for Manx was now underway, and by the census in 1991, 643 people indicated their ability to speak Manx with a degree of fluency. The most recent census of 2001 shows a further increase to 1,689 people with a knowledge of Manx.

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