Ned Maddrell, the Last Native Speaker of Manx

January 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm (Death, Elocution, Linguistics, Modern World, The Ancient World, The United Kingdom) (, , , , , , , , , )

The coat of arms of the Isle of Man

Situated in the Irish Sea between Ireland and England, the Isle of Man is, according to its government’s website, “An internally self-governing dependent territory of the Crown which is not part of the United Kingdom.” Inhabited since the 7th millennium BC, the island has hosted a variety of cultures practicing diverse traditions.

Although the island’s official language is currently English, the native tongue was, until recent decades, the peculiar Goidelic language of Manx Gaelic (insular Celtic languages are split into two groups: Manx, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic are dubbed Goidelic, while Breton, Cornish, and Welsh are dubbed Brythonic. The two groups are widely believed to share a common precursor) . This historically significant era came to an end on December 27, 1974 when Ned Maddrell, the last native speaker of Manx, died at the age of ninety-seven.

Ned Maddrell

Fortunately for the sake of cultural preservation, Maddrell allowed linguists to record him speaking Manx in the late 1940s when he was one of only two living native speakers. Upon the 1962 death of the other native speaker, Sage Kinvig, Maddrell became something of a celebrity in linguistic circles. Students of Goidelic languages flocked to him in order to learn what they could of the imperiled language before his death. Maddrell’s willingness to expound upon Manx proved invaluable to its preservation, even if only for academic purposes. Here is an example of spoken Manx, available to us due in no small part to Maddrell:

To put the demise of Manx in context, here is part of a speech by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the United Nations from February of 2009:

Some further reading:

An article that discusses the origins of Manx as well as its last native speakers

Some information about the Isle of Man from its government’s official website

A look at insular Celtic languages that distinguishes between Goidelic and Brythonic

An article with links to many different endangered languages

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2 Comments

  1. William A. Loeb said,

    Andrew:

    This is fascinating. What inspired your investigation?

    Bill

  2. bexy said,

    LORNA SMELLY M’SALT

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