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Dr Christopher Lewin

‘An Abominable System’? Manx Orthography in its Historical Context

This seminar will examine the development of the two principal orthographies used in Manx Gaelic writing from the seventeenth century onwards, that of Bishop John Phillip’s manuscript translation of the Book of Common Prayer (c. 1610), and that of the eighteenth-century printed texts, most notably the Manx translation of the Bible (completed 1772).

Although it has long been derided by Celtic scholars and Manx language activists alike as ‘an abominable system, neither historic nor phonetic’ (O’Rahilly 1932), ‘an English monstrosity’ (Jackson 1955), and ‘a historical abomination’ (Fargher 1979), quantitative linguistic research demonstrates that there is considerably more regularity in Manx spelling than has been previously assumed, as well as significant innovations to represent phonological contrasts and developments not found in English or, sometimes, the other Gaelic languages. The Manx orthographies are revealed to be a valuable resource for tracing historical sound changes, unparalleled in other Gaelic dialects where conservative literary standards tend to obscure developments in the vernacular language.

The presentation will focus on a case study of the Manx orthographic representation of reflexes of the Gaelic vowels ua(i) */ua/ and ao(i) */əː/, a particularly complex area of Manx phonology. It will be argued that a full and fair assessment of Manx orthography requires careful consideration of the historical sociolinguistic context in which it was created, and that apparent redundancies and ambiguities in its representation of the phonological system may be functional and intelligible within this context.
 

Handout

 

Zoom details:

Seminars begin at 1pm Wednesdays - please join the waiting room ten minutes before to allow us time to admit you (and say hello!); the room will be locked ten minutes after the start of the seminar.

https://zoom.us/j/6086570437

Meeting ID: 608 657 0437

The full programme of seminars can be found here.