Last Native Manx Speaker Dies
Languages are precious things, unique social creations – as any linguist is aware it is often the case that the meaning of words can be translated, but not every nuance, not the entire sense. Thus the death of Ned Maddrell in December 1974 was a particularly tragic event, he being (then) the last truly native speaker of Manx.
Maddrell was raised in the Manx-speaking village of Cregneash at the south-western tip of the island, near Port St Mary but in the late 19th century when he was born a relatively remote spot where the language still thrived. He was a sailor and fisherman, able to keep his language fresh even when away from home by conversing with Gaelic speakers during his sea voyages.
Until the late 18th century Manx had been spoken by nearly all Manxmen and –women, but economic and social pressures saw English overtake and eventually overwhelm the tongue. The story has a happy ending, however, as Maddrell left a legacy of recordings (some made at the behest of Eamon de Valera) of great value to those wishing to revive the language; and those keen on reviving Manx had begun to learn and teach it decades before Maddrell died. Thus Man now has Manx classes in many schools, several hundred people can speak it fluently, and some children are being brought up again as true native speakers – the language effectively brought back from the dead.
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