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Ellan Vannin/Oileán Mhannan

March 6, 2013

Another long silence and my apologies. Traveling around Europe while having fun is simply not conducive to keeping up on my blog. It has been three weeks since I posted last and in that time I have traveled to the Isle of Man, London and Berlin bookended with stays in Conamara (western Co. Galway). I’d like to focus on the Isle of Man in this post. Adrian Cain from the Manx Heritage Society brought me over to experience the community there and give insight in the Language Hunting. I flew on a prop jet from Dublin, which only took 45 minutes and as the plane descended onto to the island we passed through heavy fog. As legend has it, Mananán Mac Lir, the sea god, pulls his misty, foggy cloak around the island to protect it from invaders (some help that was!). The fog soon parted and there below us was the Calf of Man, which is a large island off the southwest coast of the main island. Many familiar (Irish) scenes of green fields, stone fences and old cabins ensued as I was whisked off to Port St. Mary where I stayed at the Patchwork Café, which is a hotbed of Manx language. I often heard salutations and short snipets of conversation in Manx while I drank tea and there’s an open class that runs there weekly.

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Adrian brought me to several of his classes for adults around the island. He suspects he has nearly 100 adult students alone and there are several other such teachers on the island so there’s an obvious interest in the language beyond what I had expected. I’m not the least bit upset about being proven wrong and this was a common occurrence, I’m happy to say. Of real interest to me was how willing people were to come to classes during their lunch breaks! I visited two such classes and spirits were high and there was often laughing and smiles. Not to say that this doesn’t occur with the Irish language but if it does, I haven’t seen it yet!

The open evening class at Patchwork Café included a mixture of speaking abilities. Adrian had organized a type of table game that allowed students to create sentences based on an action, a person and a tense. I’m eager to include this in my teaching as well. Adrian was a very talented teacher, incorporating humor, repetition, Q&A and a generally safe/light hearted mood. It’s not surprising that I found he incorporated any techniques that Language Hunting also utilizes and I think this is likely the case that drew him to wanting to learn more about Language Hunters.

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Speaking of Language Hunters (www.languagehunters.org), Adrian is working on creating a summer program in 2014 since Port St. Mary will be the Manx Town of Culture that year and there will be fund allocated to support such a program. His interest is in training the youth who have come through the Manx immersion primary school. They are now in the middle and high school level where Manx is offered only as a class in itself. His idea is to train these young speakers in Language Hunting in order for them to teach their peers as a way to bring them into the fold, so to speak. They are a very enthusiastic and talented group of students (many of them are already studying the other Gaelic languages on their own accord). Teaching their peers would afford them a safe situation to have fun while learning the language while also disarming the guilt often associated with not having ability within one’s own native language. Mind you, the last Manx speakers died out in the 1920s and the revival really only began in the 1980s so there’s little reason any youth should feel guilty about not knowing Manx. Regardless, It’s hoped that these youth will be the new face of the language while the initial revival group ages. I THINK THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING IDEA EVER!!! So excited to see what theses guys can do with an already enthusiastic language community.

My trip to the Manx immersion primary school was also very exciting. It is located near Peel on the mid-western coast of the island in a very cool, old national school located (symbolically even) directly across from Tynwald, where in early July members of the government gather to promulgate law and receive special petitions. It’s a ziggurat-like structure with at least three terraces. The school has nearly 60 students from across the island and when I arrived it was a swarm of activity. Some students were singing and dancing to Manx songs, while others were gearing up for a game of football outside. Very brave considering it was hovering around 30F for the entirety of my stay. I took many pictures and chatted with several members of staff including the radio presenter Bob Carswell. We had an extraordinary conversation about radio, the cultural linguistic implications of presenting a minority language program to a vastly English speaking population, the transition of media technology away from radio listening to other forms of media like podcasts, downloads, computer streaming, etc. He gave great insight into the attitude of people in general toward the language. Many who speak against the teaching or funding of Manx are often ignorant of the language in general and see it not as a money drain but a threat to conservatism and the otherwise Norse identity with which many on Mann choose to identify. They do this for obvious reasons relating to romantic notions of the Viking age as opposed to the poverty and otherwise agrarian subsistence of the Gaelic speakers of the not-so-distant pass.

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I also visited the Manx museum in Douglas, the capitol city. It’s a well-organized museum that contains artwork, archaeological materials of early settlers, exhibits illustrating social change and ONE small room showcasing the Gaelg (Manx Gaelic). While Manx is a very visual language around the island, i.e. bilingual signs, etc. in a museum dedicated to Mann, one would expect a bit more respect and honor to the language. And while the exhibit was nice, it showcased an aspect of the language with which most Manx would find it difficult to identify–rural, older speakers. I could go into more cultural linguistic theory here on why this is bad…but I won’t.

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Overall, I had an amazing visit to the Isle of Man and was so heartened by their revival and language community. There were so many things that were quite different from the Irish experience, which has lead me to consider the Irish question in a different light. I look forward to returning in October for their language week. Adrian has equipped me with the Learn Manx app for both smart phones and tablets, which they developed and is available FOR FREE so we’ll see how much Manx I can pick up between now and then. In general, I understand every third word so I think I’ll manage well. We shall see.

Adrian is also an accomplished Irish speaker so I say to him GO RAIBH MÍLE MAITH AGAT, A CHARA AGUS ÁDH MÓR AR AN GAELG!

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3 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on The Language Hunters' Blog and commented:

    No, I have not forgotten how to type.

  2. Interesting. Now I want to go to the Isle of Man. Have you really never met people learning Irish that were having fun? I mean I never have but thought you might have in your travels. Not liking the fact that you will be returning there in October though cause that means you won’t be back here 😦

  3. Gingerale permalink

    I saw Oileán Mhannan, and I thought “Oh! They spell it the same as in Irish.” I skipped over Ellan Vannin, seeing Ellan, and thinking that was the name of a friend of yours there, of whom I’d surely read in your post. After reading the post I thought “How come we never heard about Brían’s friend Ellan… oh.”

    Ceart go leor, I’m working on my reading skills.

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