Books from the Isle of Man

Two years ago our trip to the Isle of Man was cancelled, as was the rest of our European holiday. I was most eager to set foot in a Manx bookstore yet would have to wait until international travel was back on. While still at home I wrote down a list of bookstores in Douglas and visited them all. I was excited about the Manx bookstore experience, but ended up being disappointed by the poor selection. I found not a single book about learning the Manx language, nor any books published in Manx in any of the three bookstores along Castle Street and Strand Street, the main pedestrian-only shopping area in Douglas. As is typical in some parts of Europe (like Paris), parts of the same stretch of street are often called different names, thus Castle and Strand are part of one long retail strip. I had a feeling that the language books would be found in the Manx Museum shop, and I was right.

Four language books were for sale and I bought them all:

Manx Words by Harrison and Adrian Cain was 182 pages long where all the Manx words were printed in red, which made it easy to read. The first 137 pages served as a Manx dictionary where each word was used in a sentence to give it context. The appendices dealt with irregular verbs, pronouns and prepositions, days and months, numbers, and placenames, with an English-Manx index at the end.

Manx Phrases by Adrian Cain was 125 pages long and its Manx phrases were all printed in dark blue, which didn’t give much colour variation with the English in black. Chapters were divided by themes and included phrases one might associate with them, such as Learning Manx; Going to School; Douglas; The Weather; Christmas; Going Shopping, among many others. Each chapter ended with a half-page passage about the subject matter in Manx and translated into English.

Manx is Fun! A New Course in Manx Gaelic for the Beginner by Paul Rogers was a brief 91 pages using cartoons to illustrate situations involving spoken Manx. A short grammar and vocabulary were at the end.

Pocket Manx in its 32 pages provided very basic lists of essential words, pertaining to verbs, questions, the time, numbers and so on, with a Manx-English dictionary at the end.

Profile of the Isle of Man: a concise history by Derek Winterbottom was published in 2007 and on sale at the museum shop. It covered prehistory, the Celts, Vikings, the Kingdom of Man and up to the present time.

The museum had an exhibit on the Manx language which included audio passages which you listened to on a telephone receiver. I could follow along with the accompanied Manx printed text easily–I do not speak a word of Manx–yet the other languages in this branch of the Celtic family, namely Irish and Scots Gaelic, have an orthography that do not correspond to predictable English phonology.

I enjoyed my time in the museum’s library and archives, where I found many Manx dictionaries and books on the Manx language. My search in the bookstores for a Manx translation of Le Petit Prince, Yn Prince Beg, was in vain, although I did find a copy at the museum library. When I returned home to Canada I ordered one from the publisher, although it would have been nice to buy one while on the island. The only books I saw published in the Manx language were in the Henry Bloom Noble Library. [Update: my copy of Yn Prince Beg arrived in the mail on November 17.]

My first Manx books however were acquired several years ago by my former manager on a trip to the island. She has Manx heritage (her birth surname is Kneen, a very Manx name at that) and I asked her to pick up some things for me. It surprised me that I found none of them for sale anywhere on the island (excluding the last one, below, which I bought in Paris). She brought back four books:

Practical Manx by Jennifer Kewley Draskau is the thickest book among the four, at 294 pages. I found it interesting in that the author chose to cover lenition and nasalization in the first two chapters before other aspects of the language.

English-Manx Pronouncing Dictionary by J. J. Kneen provided phonetic transcriptions of the Manx words, for example “dog, moddey (mawtha)”. As you can see from the spine this is a slim book of 113 pages, unidirectional only. I wanted a dictionary but wouldn’t have asked my former manager to lug one home that busted her weight allowance. Since dictionaries were for sale during the time my former manager visited the island, I wonder if there were any larger ones, or even bidirectional ones, for sale then too. Excluding the books I bought which incorporated a small dictionary within them, unfortunately I saw not a single separate English-Manx, Manx-English or bidirectional dictionary of any length for sale on the island.

Manx Idioms and Phrases / Idiomyn as Raaghyn Gaelgagh by John Joseph Kneen, the same author as the dictionary above, was printed on letter-sized paper and formatted as two columns per page. One column gave an English sentence or word, all of which were grouped according to theme, and the second column gave the translation into Manx.

Conversational Manx by John Gell was printed in a ridiculously small font. I will need a magnifying glass to get through this one. It consisted of a series of graded lessons in Manx and English, with text and translations and notes afterward.

Dornleor Manaveg by Padrig Ar Besko is a Breton book about Manx, which I bought in 2009 from the Coop Breizh store in Paris. I wrote about my visit to this store but unfortunately didn’t bother to write a post about what I bought there. It included a short Breton-Manx dictionary at the end.

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