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Thu Jan 31, 2013, 12:09 PM

Manx: Bringing a language back from the dead


Watch: Inside the Isle of Man school where children are taught in Manx

Condemned as a dead language, Manx - the native language of the Isle of Man - is staging an extraordinary renaissance, writes Rob Crossan.

Road signs, radio shows, mobile phone apps, novels - take a drive around the Isle of Man today and the local language is prominent.

But just 50 years ago Manx seemed to be on the point of extinction.

"If you spoke Manx in a pub on the island in the 1960s, it was considered provocative and you were likely to find yourself in a brawl," recalls Brian Stowell, a 76-year-old islander who has penned a Manx-language novel, The Vampire Murders, and presents a radio show on Manx Radio promoting the language every Sunday.

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Reply Manx: Bringing a language back from the dead (Original post)
geardaddy Jan 2013 OP
Recursion Jan 2013 #1
geardaddy Jan 2013 #2
Lydia Leftcoast Jan 2013 #3
geardaddy Feb 2013 #4
Igel Feb 2013 #5
Lydia Leftcoast Feb 2013 #6
refrescanos Jul 2013 #7
refrescanos Jul 2013 #8

Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 12:11 PM

1. Cornish seems to be making a comeback too

Really glad to see this.

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Response to Recursion (Reply #1)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 12:17 PM

2. Me too.

Cornish had it a bit tougher since they're having to kind of recreate it from documents, but it is making a comeback.

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Response to geardaddy (Original post)

Thu Jan 31, 2013, 05:20 PM

3. As a linguist, I can only applaud this apparently worldwide trend of resurrecting languages

I just finished reading the eBook version of In the Footsteps of Little Crow, having missed the newspaper version (for non-Minnesotans, this is a detailed and well-researched account of the 1862 Dakota Uprising in southern Minnesota that appeared serialized in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which shows that the paper isn't always worthless). The epilogue said that Dakotas are now interested in preserving and reviving their language, which is happening with a lot of tribes, including Minnesota's other major tribe, the Ojibwe.

It's happening in the Celtic regions, first with Irish--many years ago, I was in an Irish pub (McCafferty's) in St. Paul, treating my grandmother to one of their meat-and-potatoes meals, and a family walked in, speaking a language that I could neither understand nor identify. When the waiter came around to take their order, they switched to strongly Irish-accented English. Welsh has managed to stay alive, and if you click through the right links on the BBC website, you can find articles in Scottish Gaelic.

It's happening in Hawaii. When I was there in 1977 for a summer session at UH, place names and a few songs were the only evidence that the islands had ever had their own language. When I went back in 1991, the UH newspaper had daily columns in Hawaiian, a couple of people at the Fourth of July celebration gave speeches in Hawaiian, and the street and other geographical names were now spelled with the proper markings indicating long vowels and glottal stops. Taking their inspiration from the Maori, native Hawaiians had started a system of immersion schools.

It's happening in the former Soviet Union. Under the Soviets, all Latvians were required to learn Russian, but the Russians transferred in (until they made up nearly half the population) were not required to learn Latvian. Now ability to speak Latvian is required for citizenship.

It's happening among Australian Aborigines, at least among the tribes that still have speakers.

It's even happening among the Ainu in Japan, even though when I lived there in the 1970s, being Ainu or part-Ainu was something people tried to conceal.

So languages are dying out all the time, but there's a counter-offensive.

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Response to Lydia Leftcoast (Reply #3)

Fri Feb 1, 2013, 12:09 PM

4. That's interesting to hear about the Ainu

I'm glad they're taking the steps to preserve their language.

As you know, I'm well acquainted with Welsh and there is even "text speak" in Welsh now, which, as much as I don't text, I'm glad to see as I think it keeps the language relevant among younger speakers.

The Powhatan language was partially reconstructed for the movie "The New World" and local natives are taking that effort to teach their members.

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Response to Lydia Leftcoast (Reply #3)

Sun Feb 3, 2013, 12:14 AM

5. Expanding living languages is one thing.

Not always possible without a lot of changes in the language. Language planning's often needed, and when you have extensive bilingualism it's hard to keep them from mixing.

The two Sorbians have had a rough go of it. A lot of German influence that the purists have trouble keeping out. It's a hothouse language. A luxury language.

Even a lot of the documentation from nearly extinct languages is suspect. You get a small group of old women as your informants and that's going to happen. Imagine if you got a small group of old American women and had to document all of American English based upon that. Make it more realistic: It's a group of old American women who have been out of touch with English-language sources for the last 25 years. Now imagine that you want to *reconstruct* a viable resurrected American English based on just what linguistics could gather from those informants in a few years of summer research. The register and stylistic skew badly. The lexicon's warped and diminished. Even pronunciation's likely to be off.

Manx is gone. It lacks the registers, native speakers. They won't coin words based on living patterns but how non-native speakers interpret the fossilized remains of the language. The lexical base is mostly reconstructed. Same for Cornish, but worse.

Hebrew's often cited as a counterexample, but if you look at a lot of the phonology and how the original grammatical categories were interpreted, it's got a lot of Slavic. Modern Hebrew isn't a direct descendent of Tiberian Hebrew. In many ways, it's relexified Slavic. Granted, that's really Wexler's POV and a bit overstated, but it has some merit. Once it was resurrected, it took on a life of its own--but "resurrection" isn't exactly the right term.

Linguistic diversity for the sake of linguistic diversity is something that most speakers don't have much use for. In any event, the linguistic "monoculture" that we keep fearing keeps not happening--and even as it happens, it breaks up. Monocultures are temporary, transient.

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Response to Igel (Reply #5)

Sun Feb 3, 2013, 12:33 PM

6. What resurrecting a language does for the emotional well-being of the ethnic group is

priceless, though.

Many of these languages, especially the Native American ones, were wiped out by force, as children as young as six were taken out of their communities at an early age and placed in English-only environments, where their language and culture were constantly treated as inferior, for years on end year-round. (Pre-pubescent children can forget their native language if they're not exposed to it.) Studying their ancestral language after generations of being told that they are nothing is deeply meaningful to tribal members

Lakota and Ojibwe still have more than a few speakers and are taught at the University of Minnesota and a few other state colleges in the Upper Midwest and Plains states.

Hawaiian actually has an active community of native speakers on the island of Niihau, and it has always been used in music and dance.

If Ainu are reclaiming their language and culture, that is amazing. Back in the 1970s, when I lived in Japan, I heard people talking about how they would never approve of their children marrying someone from Hokkaido, because there were too many Ainu up there trying to pass as Japanese. A National Geographic article about the Ainu, written about that time, showed mostly old people, because so many younger people refused to be photographed in any way that would identify them as Ainu.

Aboriginal groups overwhelmed by outside settlers, no matter where--North America, northern Europe and Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Japan--are plagued with more than their share of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Reviving their languages, even just for ceremonial purposes or as an in-group secret language, does no harm and may go a long way toward reestablishing people's knowledge of and pride in their heritage.

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Response to Lydia Leftcoast (Reply #6)

Sun Jul 7, 2013, 11:51 PM

7. I definitely

Agree about emotional attachment to languages.
I read John 3:16 in Scottish Gaelic ( best I could) at my father's funeral.
Very calming
Very soothing
Very Powerful

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Response to refrescanos (Reply #7)

Sun Jul 7, 2013, 11:55 PM

8. and

I'm part- Manx also...supposedly

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