Extinct or not extinct: the wonderful story of the Manx language

Extinct or not extinct: the wonderful story of the Manx language

By: Desi van der Kleijn

A few weeks ago I was browsing the map on the Endangered Languages Website (www.endangeredlanguages.com) to find some inspiration for this assignment when something very special caught my eye.[1] In the Irish Sea, somewhere between England and North-Ireland, lays the Island of Man. The language spoken on the island is called Manx. For a long time Manx was lying dormant or was even called extinct by some experts. However, Manx escaped from its near-death situation and is now awakening again.[2] I immediately knew I wanted to write my blog post about Manx the minute I found out about this special language. I wanted to know more about this language and island and most of all I wanted to find out how exactly the Manx language was saved. The information I found I will share with you, the reader of this blog post.

Manx is a Goidelic or Gaelic language and has got a strong similarity to sister tongues such as Irish, Scottish, Breton and Cornish. The language is also heavily influenced by the English language. Manx first appeared in written form in 1610. The Manx language was the majority

language on the Island of Man until in 1765 the Revesting Act was adopted, which meant that the island was sold to the British Crown. The Manx language became more and more overshadowed by English and the Islanders began to raise their children only in English. Poverty and economic decline were linked to the Manx language and slowly but surely people stopped speaking in Manx. But luckily even throughout the decline people started preserving the language and in 1899 the Manx Language Society was founded. In 1979 a Manx-English dictionary was published and in 1985 the Manx Parliament adopted Manx as the official language. In 1992 the Manx Language Project proposed Manx to be taught as a subject in school. All these efforts unfortunately were not enough: in 2009 Manx was declared extinct by UNESCO. Some experts even stated that Manx should have already been declared extinct in 1974, after the passing of the last native speaker. Although the language was not spoken anymore, Manx kept on living in the hearts of the inhabitants of the Island of Man and people were determined to resurrect the language. [3]

Manx fiercely awoke from its near-death situation with a group of new native speakers. This group are children of parents who learned Manx as their second language. The parents of these children play the role of language activists and try to save the language by raising their children bilingual by bringing them up both in English and in Manx. The Manx people not only raise their children bilingually but also try to make Manx resurrect by using education, technology and social media. On the island all the schools have Manx as a subject and there are also schools that teach entirely in Manx. The Manx people furthermore use very modern techniques to boost their language. They for example post videos on Youtube of songs sung in the Manx language and they use Twitter to tweet in Manx and spread the language. There is also a very modern website (www.learnmanx.com) on which you can learn Manx on different levels and in different ways and find information about the language.  Not to mention that the Manx Language Society provides classes at the Isle of Man College and they publicize books and resources in and about Manx.[4] We are thus easily able to say that the whole of the Manx community is trying to help save and resurrect their language and this really appeals to me. No top-down approach is being applicable here, instead the entire community works together to protect their beloved language.

We all know that language extinction nowadays is happening all over the world. It is a tragedy that so many languages are disappearing but the story of the Manx language luckily shows us the other side of the medal. It is a story that hopefully sets an example for all the languages lying dormant or going extinct worldwide. It shows us that we can achieve loads if we work together and show passion, love and dedication for a language. The story of Manx is a unique one, but hopefully not for long.






  • Minority Rights Group International (unknown), United Kingdom – Manx,


[1] Endangered Languages Project (unknown)

[2] Harrison (2015)

[3] Minority Rights Group International (unknown)

[4] Manx Language Society (unknown)