A Word on Manx Spelling

O Goireasan Akerbeltz
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Gearr leum gu: seòladh, lorg

I think a short note on Manx Gaelic is called for.

We've had an email or two about Manx. Comments like "why can't we spell like Manx, it's so much easier" are not unheard of in learner's classes, so it's time to clarify a myth or two.

Now, Manx spelling was cooked up between a guy called Thomas Wilson who printed the first book in Manx in 1707 and a (presumably) mad priest. Thomas hadn't exactly invented it though. The credit for that probably goes to the Welsh Bishop John Philips who translated, but never published, the book of common prayer, around 1610.

Philips' translation of the Lord's Prayer starts like this: Aér aîn ta anys neau. Kasserick gy rou t'enym'. And so on. When this was eventually published, in 1765, the spelling had changed somewhat: Ayr ain, t'ayns niau. Casherick dy row dt'Ennym.

I know some people argue about Philips having been Welsh, but there is no doubt that the orthography is based to a large extent on English. In a purely Welsh based system there would have been no need to spell [iː] and [uː] as ee and oo as Welsh is equipped with clear vowels.

Popular system? Maybe, but it may just have been a case of who got there first and who had the better marketing strategy - remember VHS and Betamax? And it was no doubt aided by the fact that a native speaker of any language can accommodate for a mad writing system simply because he already can speak the language. Bit like English spelling really.

So, is Manx spelling really easier than the traditional Gaelic systems? The simple answer is no, definitely not. It simply looks easier because there's a familiar look to it. That comforts English speakers when they see it whereas Gaelic and Irish look decidedly alien. But, in actuality, when you have to get down to the nitty-gritty of it, when you're learning Manx or even just trying to learn how to pronounce it, you very quickly run into a wall. A very solid wall. With iron spikes on it. Glass on top. Something that looks like a Gabon viper wriggling on it. OK, I think you get the picture.

I shall illustrate this with a few examples:

Manx
Spelling
To an English speaker,
this looks like its
but in Manx
it actually is
Scottish Gaelic
Equivalent
uinnag [winag] [uɲag] uinneag
thallooin [θaluːin] [ta'luːɲ] talamh
roltage [rəʊltɪʤ] [rol'tɛːg] reultag
faasaag [faːsaːg] [fə'zeːg] feusag
dy bragh [daɪ brax] [də brɛː] gu bràth
shiaght [ʃiaxt] [ʃex] seachd
lhiabbee [ljæbiː] [ʎaːbi] leabaidh
cabbyl [kæbil] [kʲaːvəl] capall
laghyn [læxin] [laːən] làithean
caggey [kægi] [kaːɣə] cogadh
poosey [puːsi] [puːðə] pòsadh
trome [trəʊm] [trobm] trom
bane [beɪn] [bɛːdn] bàn
huitt [hjuːit] [hoʒ] thuit

Enough examples I think. Clearly, it's not easy, certainly not any easier than Gaelic spelling, although it can provide hours of amusement. It certainly isn't as regular as Gaelic spelling which, as I've stated elsewhere, is an extremely powerful and accurate tool for writing Gaelic.

Actually, Manx orthography is more difficult because it *looks* like English; so, one could easily be misled into thinking that it IS pronounced like English. So you have to be doubly careful not to!

Hopefully, we can now put this argument to rest. Whether or not this system is adequate for Manx is up to the Manx people to decide. But it certainly won't do for Gaelic or Irish. And that aside, let us remember that the very idea of learning a language-that-is-not-English is about learning a different way of doing things. If you want everything to be like English, well, then what are you learning a language-that-is-not-English for?



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