Manx in Gaelic orthography

Christopher Lewin


This article discusses a number of attempts which have been made since the eighteenth century to represent Manx in versions of the usual Gaelic orthography, in place of the native English-derived system in general use. Examples are found in three contexts: 1. the antiquarian work of Charles Vallancey (1731–1812) and James McLagan (1728–1805); 2. publications in the language revival and pan-Celtic contexts in the twentieth century; 3. transliterations in academic or pedagogical settings. Extracts from texts in Gaelic orthography are examined and linguistic questions relating to the writers’ orthographic choices are critically assessed. It is noted that dilemmas with no straightforward solution frequently arise from the tensions between Manx pronunciation and Gaelic etymology. Difficulties are also apparent in relation to Manx words and forms which do not exist, or are uncommon, or have different meanings in Irish or Scottish Gaelic. Another problem which means that these texts are less effective for inter-Gaelic communication than might be expected is lack of knowledge of Manx, the other Gaelic languages, or their historical correspondences on the part of the writers. These are challenges which would be difficult to overcome in any hypothetical effort to develop a Gaelic spelling system for regular use among Manx speakers — a consideration which partly explains why it has not happened to date, despite widespread pan-Gaelic sentiment among revivalists. Indeed, although there is significant dissatisfaction with the Manx orthography within the revival community, it appears unlikely that a Gaelic-based system will ever gain mainstream acceptance. It should be added that it is now more commonly understood among scholars and revivalists that the English-based system is less arbitrary and unsatisfactory than often assumed in the past. Nevertheless, it is possible that limited use of Gaelic-based spelling for Manx will continue to be made in specific contexts of the kind discussed in this article.

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ISSN: 2009-8626