Extinct Languages are Cool

In the 19th and 20th century, Manx was perceived by its speakers as useless to find a job beyond the Isle of Man and was progressively seen as backwards. The lack of popularity of Manx at home and the new urgency then felt to speak English led the language to a sharp decline until UNESCO recorded the language as extinct in the 1990s. The Manx government has since invested much in its revival, and with great success.

In this BBC article and video, it is interesting to note that new comers to the isle embrace the revival of Manx as much as, if not more than, the locals themselves, and that they too feel that it reinforced a sense of belonging to the place.

Some parents have also enrolled their children to the bilingual school as an opportunity to develop their general linguistic skills, which should help them learn other languages later on. The best news of all is that the children enjoy learning it and like to use Manx as a secret language with their friends, making the parents want to learn the language too to understand what their children are plotting. One teenager also said that she liked the idea of helping to keep the language alive – a thought that reveals an unusual level of awareness and an unexpected sense of responsibility from someone so young.

Maybe introducing foreign languages to young children as secret codes to be shared with friends, and to teenagers as use-it-or-lose-it treasures is a good approach to motivate them to study languages.

Similarly, Silbo Gomero, a whistling language from La Gomera, a Canary Island, has become a compulsory subject in local schools. As a long-distance communication tool through a little accessible landscape of deep ravines and valleys, this could also prove more reliable than mobile phone reception.

Update (01/03/13): The BBC TV programme Friends and Heroes has been translated into Manx and will start in that language this Spring. It will be the first children’s programme in Manx.

Isle of ManPhoto: facebook.com/VisitIsleofMan

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