19th August 2009
UNESCO accepts Manx language is not ‘extinct’
THE global cultural body UNESCO has agreed to change its classification of the Manx Gaelic language as ‘extinct’ following protests from the Island led by Chief Minister Tony Brown MHK.
The 2009 edition of the organisation’s Atlas of World Languages in Danger listed Manx as effectively dead, prompting a letter from the Chief Minister setting out the various reasons why the language should not be so regarded.
Mr Brown wrote:
‘I would like to register the serious concern and disappointment of the Isle of Man Government, on behalf of the Manx people – especially those who have made such great efforts to keep our language and culture/heritage alive – with regard to UNESCO’s categorising the Manx language as extinct.’
The Chief Minister’s Office has now received a letter from UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, accepting the points made on behalf of Manx and confirming that its classification will be changed from ‘extinct’ to ‘critically endangered’, with an indication that it is in the process of revitalisation.
Responding to the news on behalf of the Isle of Man Government Minister Phil Gawne MHK, who is a fluent Manx speaker, said:
‘This is tremendous news for the Manx language and demonstrates the effectiveness of Government, Manx language bodies and individuals working together to correct a clear injustice. When Manx speakers heard the initial decision of UNESCO to classify our language as extinct we were dismayed, to say the least. I was pleased that the Council of Ministers readily agreed to support the language and that the Chief Minister wrote a firm letter to UNESCO asking for an urgent rethink of its position. The Chief Minister’s letter added weight to the large number of letters and e-mails sent by Manx speakers including several letters from children who attend the Bunscoill (Manx language school) in St John’s. The children asked the simple question – if our language is extinct then what language are we writing in? I am particularly pleased that the example of the tremendous change in fortunes of our Manx language has forced UNESCO to rethink its classifications. This is an important boost for the world’s thousands of minority languages as the rejuvenation of the Manx language demonstrates clearly that decline to extinction is not inevitable. UNESCO has been persuaded to concede that there is life after death by changing the classification of Manx from ‘extinct’ to ‘critically endangered’. This ground breaking change in thinking from UNESCO recognises the massive dedication and hard work of many Manx speakers, Manx language organisations and Government over the past few decades. Our language is very much alive – well done UNESCO for recognising it!’