First published in Web Journal of Modern Language Linguistics. © 2000 Michelle Heanue.
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This book joins a number of recent and current studies into the relatively immature area of investigation of precariously placed speech forms, which has come to be classified under the rubric of language obsolescence, contraction or death. Although not uncommon, the language death process remained for a long while a much neglected area of inquiry and it was precisely this neglect of the extinction process by researchers and the resultant dearth of comparative material that was the impulse for the present work, which states as its aim the contribution "to a better understanding of the phenomenon of language death".
The book is a fine-grained study of the beleaguered Manx language, which the author discusses in terms of language shift. It is a continuation of A Handbook of Late Spoken Manx, a work in three volumes dealing with the latter stages of Manx from a formal linguistic standpoint, and is essentially a synthesis of the results of the research Broderick carried out for these volumes. The author takes consideration of both the sociohistorical and sociolinguistic situation of Manx as well as providing a detailed account of the formal linguistic changes that took place in the run up to and during the last phases of its eclipse by English. This is an ambitious and difficult task, not least because of the fact that all the native speakers of Manx had, in fact, passed on by the time of Broderick¹s embarkation on this project (the last reputed native speaker of Manx Gaelic died on 27 December 1974).
The book is divided into five chapters. In the first relatively short chapter the author sets out the parameters for the discussion to follow. After a brief discussion of the phenomenon of language death in general, and the demise of the Insular Celtic languages in particular, Broderick presents the model he has adopted for his investigation of the Manx situation. He refers to it as the GAMM model (Gaelic-Arvanítika-Manx model), a slightly modified version of the GAM model (Gaelic-Arvanítika model) constructed by Hans Jürgen Sasse in 1992 and based on the works of Nancy Dorian on East Sutherland Gaelic and on Lukas Tsitsipis¹ and Sasse¹s own work on the Albanian dialect Arvanítika spoken in Greece. This framework strongly recommends itself for an investigation into the extinction process, as it takes account of both sociolinguistic and formal linguistic issues, yet it is an approach found in only a very limited number of studies to date. I would like to think that now Broderick has shown the way, we may look forward to further studies of this nature.
Following the GAM model, Chapter 2 investigates the combination of extra-linguistic factors which triggered off the process that resulted in the eventual displacement of Manx by English. The author explores such issues as the language policies of the Anglican Church and the secular authorities on Man but concludes that it was not, however, rigorous action from within, but rather a complex network of external (predominantly socio-economic) factors in operation from ca. early/mid- 18th century and particularly in the 19th century which increased Manx¹ exposure to English and thus gave real impetus to its decline in use as a community language. In an interesting and informative sub-section of the chapter and citing from an impressive range of primary sources (newspaper reports, letters etc.), Broderick documents contemporary attitudes towards Manx during the 19th and 20th centuries. These serve to illustrate that Manx did not simply disappear overnight in the face of great pressure, but like a great many threatened languages, showed an astonishing persistence before succumbing to the dominant language. While it can be concluded from these records that Man enjoyed a period of bilingualism during which Manx and English became closely associated with different domains, a separate section on language compartmentalisation, in accordance with the GAM model, is conspicuous by its absence from this book. A more systematic account of the capitulation of the various linguistic domains (insofar as this is possible), or at the very least a paragraph summarising what can be gleamed from these records would have made for greater ease of comprehension and a more complete picture of the Manx experience.
The somewhat awkwardly placed third chapter provides a comprehensive overview of the studies carried out on language and language use in Man to date. Details of the various grammars, dictionaries and didactic works of Manx are provided, along with a section devoted to the sound-recordings of native Manx speech made from the early 20th century onwards, without which the present work would not have been possible. While it undoubtedly makes for an interesting read, such a chapter has, however, no apparent place in the GAMM framework and it might therefore have been more logical to include it before the author¹s analysis of the extinction process begins, instead of interrupting the flow of this discussion. Moreover the relevance of some of the details to the issue in hand is at best questionable (for example, the fact that the van containing the equipment to carry out the Irish Folklore Commission Recordings was covered in cow dung on its arrival in Douglas!) and this section would have benefited from some careful editing, I feel. That said, it does provide us with a necessary, albeit somewhat skeletal and patchy profile of the speech community and clearly illustrates Manx¹ detailed documented history from the 17th century onwards, thereby explaining Broderick¹s success in producing such a neat account of the language.
Chapter 4 sees the author revert back to the GAM model and deals with the formal linguistic phenomena, or according to the Sassian framework, the "structural consequences" that emerged in the threatened language as a result of changes in speech behaviour. This is by far the densest chapter of the book, both quantitively and analytically. Broderick¹s previous studies of Manx stand him in good stead in this section and with the aid of examples taken predominantly from A Handbook of Spoken Manx he shows the destructive effect the language death process had across the entire spectrum of Manx. While focusing predominantly on the developments in Manx from the 18th century onwards in this section, Broderick also discusses some of the inner linguistic processes of language change which are believed to have taken place before the dominant language put its stamp on the indigenous language of Man (e.g. morphological changes in plural and case marking). In his fascinating and thorough investigation into the effects of the steadily decreasing use and eventual non-use of Manx (until the revival), Broderick clearly documents the patterns of simplification and reductive aspects of language death that are to be seen in the phonology, morphophonology, morphology, morphosyntax and syntax of Late Manx. In addition, the increase in English lexical borrowings is recorded, and it is noted that many of the assimilated lexical items were, in fact, "manxified", highlighting Manx¹ initial resistance to the expanding language. In a brief discussion at the end of this section the not insignificant amount of transfer (phonological, lexical, syntactic) from the shrinking language into the one of wider currency is also demonstrated.
All the examples in Manx are followed by their phonetic transcription, a parsed version of the example, an English translation, and a comparison with Irish, Scottish Gaelic or Old Irish, if appropriate. That said, this section is not for the linguistically faint-hearted and while the book hitherto would be of interest to both the general reader and linguist alike, the lay reader would be left floundering from this point, I feel. This could in part be resolved by the addition of a glossary at the end of the book in which such technical terms as lenition could be clearly explained. Overall, this reviewer feels that while familiarity with a Celtic language is by no means a prerequisite, it certainly makes for greater ease of comprehension throughout this section.
Despite much debate about the retention/abandonment of Manx throughout the period of its decline during the 19th century, it was not, however, until the decline was more or less complete in the closing years of the 19th century that the people of Man followed the example of their Irish counterparts and began to do something concrete about the situation. As the story is then to a certain extent one of language maintenance as well as language shift, due attention is paid to this aspect in the final relatively short chapter. Broderick documents the measures taken over the past century in an attempt to restore the Manx language but concludes that the future of Manx ultimately lies with the school authorities and children themselves.
Generally speaking the book is well-written. The material is for the most part clearly presented and easily retrievable and there are regular recapitulations of the sections, particularly in the formal linguistic section. These strengths are, however, blighted somewhat by the not infrequent occurrence of typographical errors and the tendency in Chapter 3 to obscure the main points by masses of detail. Additionally it is felt that a slight rearrangement of the order of the chapters and some of the paragraphing would serve to aid clarity. The omission of a section dealing expressly with the changes in speech behaviour induced by the increase in exposure to English is also slightly worrying, as in doing so Broderick seem to fly in the face of the framework he favoured for his analysis.
In conclusion my overall impression is that Language Death in the Isle of Man is a well-conceived and interesting book, which will be welcomed by researchers working in the field. Anyone who has ever worked in a community where a language is dying will find patterns he knows all to well in the description offered here, and while a single case of language death can only be suggestive at most of general trends, the observations recorded here should prove useful and illuminating to any linguist engaged in this fascinating area.