A Bit on the Celtic Languages: Welsh, Cornish, and Manx

@SHI comments on this post.

SHI: A Welshman fluent in his native tongue must be the saddest person around.

Why would a Welshman be sad? 20% of the population speaks Welsh now.

SHI: I believe the last native Cornish speaker died sometime in the 19rh century.

Cornish supposedly died out in the late 1700’s. The last speaker was said to be a woman,  a  fishmonger or seller of fish. But incredibly enough, it actually looks like it lingered on all the way into the early 20th Century or maybe later. A recent article I read said that actually Cornish never really died and has always been with us.

SHI: Manx must be doing well though. A separate island breeds isolation and preservation.

Manx died out in 1974, but it’s been revived lately too with 2,500 speakers. Some speakers are even raising their kids in Manx! There are now ~35 native speakers who grew up speaking Manx!

There is a Manx-native school too. The last speaker was Ed Mandrell, a fisherman who died in 1974. He was the last native speaker of Manx, not the last speaker of Manx. At the time that Mandrel died, there were ~300 second language speakers who could speak it more or less fluently but were not native speakers. So Manx actually never even went away! That second language speakers learned it as students.

Mandrell speaking in 1964. He’s talking to Brian Stowell, who learned Manx when he was older. However, Stowell is still alive and he is one of the best modern Manx speakers out there, with a large vocabulary.

That English accent of Mandrell’s is a kicker. It sounds very much like Scots, the English-like language still spoken in parts of Scotland. It’s actually not English at all. It’s a separate language and English and Scots have ~41% intelligibility. They split 500 years ago. Modern speakers from Man sound a lot like Scousers or Liverpudlians.

There are speakers in the comments saying that they speak Irish, and they can understand a lot of his Manx. Manx was created after all by a movement of Irish speakers to the Isle of Man. One commenter says it sounds a lot like Ulster Irish, his dialect of Irish.

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4 thoughts on “A Bit on the Celtic Languages: Welsh, Cornish, and Manx”

  1. Gawd, I can’t understand a word of Mandrell’s speech. I can understand a few words of spoken Russian, Polish, or Romanian, but not the warped accents of native Britons.

    How many British accents do you follow anyway? Apart from Received Pronunciation of course, which is spoken by less than 3 percent of that country.

    Generally, the accents around London and Southeast England are manageable; even there, some of the working class speech requires patient listening. I had to use subtitles to understand the dialogues of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. I’ve never had to use subtitles to understand any US or Australian television programs or movies.

    I have trained myself to pick up a bit of Cockney rhyming slang, but that’s about it. Even Estuary English can be hard for those who aren’t used to how they make identical sounds out of OWL/VOWEL, REEL/REAL, OIL/ROYAL, FILL/FEEL, PULL/POOL.

    As we move north around that island, it gets progressively more difficult. Most non-Brits have a very hard time following Midlands, Scouse, or Geordie accents. Scotland, absolutely no way!

    The Welsh are the only ones that speak English clearly.

    1. No, it was a Byrthonic language like Welsh, Cornish and Breton. I forget the name of it. There may have been a few of them. I don’t think much is left of them in English today.

      Also this was before the Roman invasion too because after that a number of the English spoke Latin.

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