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Language Revitalization on the Isle of Man and the Ryukyu archipelago in Japan

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

The Isle of Man is a self-governing British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland. Culture Vannin is a foundation established by the government of the Isle of Man, a self-governing British Crown Dependency that is not a part of the United Kingdom, but whose residents are British citizens. People on the Isle of Man are experiencing and reclaiming the Manx language, an Indigenous language on the island. People used to call the Manx language extinct since “the last speaker” passed away in 1974. However, during my visit, I met a lot of people who are speaking Manx in school, in their work and in their social life. At Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, a school on the Isle of Man, the language that is deeply interrelated with hundreds of years of local history is now becoming a part of the island’s future. All children in all Isle of Man schools are now able to learn the language.


Books available for children in Manx (Culture Vannin)


Rob Teare, 'Isle of Man Government Manx Language Officer, who learned Manx directly from one of the fluent speakers and from archives and recordings says that we should be kind to learners but strict to the language to keep using our traditional ways of speaking. Ruth Keggin Gell, the Manx language development officer at Culture Vannin, introduced me to a variety of books available in Manx. They are translated by speakers and Robert is one of them. Ruth says, “we are doing everything for the language to be accessible for everyone.”


On the other side of the world, the Ryukyuan languages are also experiencing language revitalization. Ryukyuan languages are sister languages to Japanese and have traditionally been spoken on the islands of the Ryukyus. Among these different islands, each island and communities have different linguistic varieties. As a heritage speaker of Yaeyaman and Okinawan, I am learning those vernaculars. Despite some issues around orthography and language attitudes, there is a hope that younger generations will learn these languages just as the people on the Isle of Man did. Linguists nowadays use the term language reclamation to include the voices of those who are learning minority endangered languages. In the process of language reclamation, it is also important to discuss the right to use minority languages in different contexts. How we talk about languages matters.

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