Manx Language Development Policy

The following submission was made in response to a call for views on the development of the Manx Language

20th September, 1995.

Dr, Brian Stowell
Department of Education
Murray House
Mount Havelock


I have been asked by the Committee of Mec Vannin to submit to you the views of Mec Vannin concerning the future development of Manx Gaelic. Coming as it does some ten years after the approval of the report of the select committee on the greater use of Manx Gaelic, Tynwatd has provided us with a timely opportunity to review the development of Manx to date and to consider the future.

To begin with, I think it is important to breifly review the current position of Manx Gaelic within the Manx population. It would appear that the hostility to Manx which used to be so prevalent in Mann is now waning. Most people broadly accept that the Manx government should support Manx Gaelic to some degree. Unfortunately, no statistics are available to reveal the level of interest that exists in Mann regarding Manx Gaelic, however, we do know from the 1991 census that 643 people speak Manx (just under 1% of the population). Also, the Gallup survey of 1990 indicates that 58% of the population knew some Manx, 3% could speak Manx very poorly, and 36% wished Manx to be taught in schools as an alternative subject. Armed with this information, we can discount the views of those who believe the Manx language is merely the preserve of a few nationalist cranks.

Mec Vannin views with some concern the fact that this report is being conducted within the Department of Education (D. of E.) and not by a select committee of Tynwald. It is felt that the D. of E. may not wish to address the broader concerns of Manx speakers outside of the educational issues, however, it is hoped that these concerns will prove to be unfounded.

Mec Vannin believes that the current D. of E. policy towards Manx has some degree of merit as a starting point, however, clearly it has many deficiencies. Indeed, the policy itself is not being strictly adhered to since Manx is supposed to be available to ALL children. The fundamental flaw that Mec Vannin sees in the department's policy is the treatment of Manx as a "heritage language." The idea of Manx as a heritage language may seem appropriate to theoreticians and academics, however, to the overwhelming majority of Manx speakers and language sympathisers, Manx is a living language! Mr. Cringle M.H.K. put the views of Manx speakers succinctly in the Tynwald debate of the 12th July, 1995, which led to this report, when he said, "What we really will be looking for... is some form of immersion within a living language..." To label Manx as a heritage language is the same as to label it a dead language.

It is Mec Vannin's view that alongside the current language programme, a unit should be set up to teach children through the medium of Manx Gaelic from reception class through to the end of their primary education. In the long run, what our language needs more than anything else is a number of very fluent Manx speakers, and Mec Vannin believes that the immersion method of teaching Manx is the most likely to fulfil this requirement. Currently, the department is in a position where it could run a pilot scheme for immersion teaching as there are a few Manx speaking children in primary education. Half a day a week initially of this kind of teaching would help to show possible pitfalls in such a scheme. It would also publicise Manx as a living language both in Mann and further afield and it would provide at least some support to those children who are struggling to speak Manx in an English speaking world.

For many years, Mec Vannin has supported the idea of pre-school Manx play groups and believes that the D.of E. should become involved in this area. Ideally, a full-time Manx pre-school teacher should be appointed to encourage parents to bring their children to Manx playgroups, and to set up and provide materials for such groups. Pre-school children are perhaps the most receptive to language learning, so the establishment of a number of Manx nursery schools would help with the general language development of of children as well as the development of the Manx language.

Perhaps the greatest problem with the running of the current Manx language programme is the lack of space within the school curriculum for Manx lessons. Mec Vannin agrees that Manx should not be made compulsory in schools, but believes that a permanent slot in each school's time-table could be made for Manx as follows:

A compulsory Manx Studies course (two half-hour lessons per week) should be part of all primary schools' time-tabling. The Manx Studies course would involve a study of Manx history, politics and culture (including an overview of the Manx language found in place names and traditional songs for example). Those children wishing to study Manx Gaelic could opt out of one of the Manx studies lessons to go to their Manx language lesson. These children would still receive some Manx studies from the second lesson each week. This would hopefully solve the problem of children who wish to learn Manx having to miss important material from the national curriculum, as well as providing a badly needed grounding in Manx studies for all children. Whether it be this idea or some other, it is vital to the Manx language programme that Manx is accorded a safe and permanent position in Manx schools.

Mec Vannin welcomes moves by the D.of E. to introduce a G.C.S.E. equivalent exam course in Manx. It is hoped that once the G.C.S.E. has become established, further steps in the educational ladder may be developed for Manx e.g. a Manx equivalent A level course and / or funding for research into the Manx language by students in further education. Perhaps a post could be
established at the Centre for Manx Studies, jointly funded by the D.of E. and Manx National Heritage (M.N.H.) for a researcher of Manx language. In the long term, Mec Vannin wishes to see the establishment of a Celtic Studies department within the College of Further Education (Isle of Man College) which would include courses in Manx.

Even from that inexhaustive list of proposals, it is clear that the D.of E.'s Oasier Gaelgagh (Manx Language Officer) has his work cut out. Clearly, greater man-power is needed within the D.of E. for Manx language education. However, I have only dealt, so far, with matters that are within the realm of the D.of E.

Largely due to lack of interest and support by governments over the last century, there is a large backlog of work to be done for Manx to survive as a living language into the next century. It is Mec Vannin's belief that a post should be created for a Manx language co-ordinator to liaise with the Manx language groups, government departments, language organisations and governments in other Celtic countries and the Manx public in general. This post could be joint funded by the Manx Heritage Foundation (M.H.F.), M.N.H., Manx language groups and possibly part funded by private enterprise. This language co-ordinator would be primarily required to raise the profile of Manx Gaelic both in Mann and abroad, and to encourage the greater use of Manx in all spheres of Manx life. Specifically, a language co-ordinator could help in the production of books, tapes and teaching materials for adult learners and develop learning programmes for use on computers. Also, a Manx-language co-ordinator could help in production of materials for broadcast and publication as well as providing a Manx language input into policy making within government departments.

Broadcasting and publication is, perhaps, the area which is most in need of government support. Good quality children's videos in Manx are desperately needed if children are to be encouraged to use Manx. Such videos could also be used to great effect with adult learners. Unfortunately, the technology required for dubbing children's videos into Manx are financially prohibitive to Manx language organisations and so, without government support, such ideas are unlikely to be progressed. With the establishment of an Irish television station next year, an opportunity may well arise for Manx language broadcasts. Perhaps some of the licence fee currently given to the B.B.C. could be better spent in funding Manx language television programmes.

More time should be made available on Manx radio for Manx language broadcasting. It is a disgrace that we even have to ask for this. Mec Vannin would like to see a Manx Gaelic column published weekly in the Manx newspapers - maybe such a column could be sponsored by the M.H.F. with, perhaps, a private business taking over in the long term.

The Manx Heritage Foundation, when it was set up, was supposed to be a great friend to the Manx culture and language. Whilst it is true to say that it provided some support for Manx, particularly with the initial funding of the Manx Language Officer, it does not appear to either understand or represent the views and wishes of most cultural activists. The Speaker of the House of Keys, speaking as the M.H.F. representative in the Tynwald debate on the Manx language of 12th July, 1995, could offer only limited support for the Manx Place Names Survey and a review of the use of Anglo-Manx dialect in Mann as current projects which the M.H.F. is supporting, both of only limited value to current language development. Whilst these projects may have some value to the future of Manx, they are primarily concerned with its past and certainly are not high on the list of priorities for Manx speakers and language enthusiasts. It is Mec Vannin's view that the M.H.F. should be re-organised so that it is more in touch with the people it is supposed to to be helping. At the very least, the M.H.F. should regularly meet with Manx cultural societies if not include representatives of these societies on its committee.

The Manx government has already gone a good way in its commitment to support Manx as far as possible where no financial commitment is required. In its approval of the report of the Select Committee on the greater use of Manx Gaelic, Tynwald has recognised the importance of the Manx language to the Manx Nation. Tynwald now needs to put its money where its mouth is.

The proposals listed in this submission would, of course, require a considerable increase in the current amount spent on Manx Gaelic were they to be implemented. However, as a percentage of total government spending, they would be quite small, certainly smaller as a percentage of total government spending than the percentage of Manx speakers to the total population of the Isle of Man.

Should you wish to discuss any matter raised in this submission further with my committee or myself, we would be only too please to do so.

Lhiats 'sy chooish,

Phil Gawne,
Cultural Officer, Mec Vannin.

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