Desktop version

Home arrow History

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font


<<   CONTENTS   >>

Linguistic theories: extinction or survival?

Given that the earliest written evidence of Manx Gaelic postdates the Norse period by many centuries, any Norse loanwords in that language, prima facie, cannot be drawn upon for specific diagnostic power concerning medieval Man. Indeed, if Norse had extinguished Manx Gaelic, then any such loanwords are most likely evidence of borrowing having occurred elsewhere, and these words simply being introduced to Man along with the rest of the Gaelic language. Thus, if any linguistic evidence for the survival of Manx Gaelic through the Scandinavian period exists, it has to meet the following conditions:

i. Features that can be attributed to Norse influence are exclusive to Manx Gaelic and not attested in the other Gaelics, for otherwise there can be no way of knowing the feature has survived in Manx Gaelic.

ii. Lack of attestation in the other Gaelics is assumed to be due to that particular feature never having appeared in the other Gaelics.

Thus, the survival hypothesis needs evidence of Norse influence that only appears in Manx Gaelic, and is otherwise unattested, and likely to have never been attested, in Scottish Gaelic or Irish. Moreover, for Norse influence to have survived exclusively in modern Manx Gaelic, it is assumed that some degree of bilingualism persisted through the Scandinavian period. This is because the survival of such linguistic markers depends upon either the continuity of Norse/Manx Gaelic bilingualism or continuity in communities of monolingual Manx Gaelic speakers retaining any Manx Norse influences in their speech.

There is, however, a possible means for Manx-specific Norse linguistic influence to appear in Manx Gaelic under the extinction scenario. This would be the case if Manx-specific loanwords were borrowed by incoming Gaelic speakers before Norse ceased to be spoken, perhaps even with Norse speakers bringing their loanwords with them as they themselves shifted through a period of Norse/ Gaelic bilingualism.34 Unfortunately, not enough is known of population movements and sociolingüístic conditions on the Isle of Man during this period to be able to assess the likelihood, and so a further assumption must be made, in addition to the two listed above:

iii. That the borrowing of loanwords into Manx Gaelic did not occur solely at a time-limited language frontier between incoming Gaelic speakers and declining Norse speakers.

In short, if one is to assume extinction, there is no way of knowing when in the period of Norse occupation the extinction occurred. Neither is there any way of knowing over what period the language was absent nor the duration of Norse/ Gaelic bilingualism following the réintroduction of Gaelic speakers to the island, assuming that Gaelic was reintroduced while Norse was still spoken.

Pre-occlusion: Kenneth Jackson's fugitive unexploded d

In 1894, John Rhys was the first to identify and record examples of ‘pre-occlusion’, a well-recognised phonological quality in Manx Gaelic that is not shared by the other Gaelic languages.35 In 1932, Carl Marstrander recorded examples of this same quality, in which stressed single-syllable words ending in voiced —h and -/ were pronounced with an inserted ‘if sound before the final —n and -/, words ending in voiced final -in showing an inserted ‘b’ and those with voiced final -y an inserted y.3<’ This particular linguistic characteristic was also noticed by Kenneth H. Jackson 20 years later, and he called it, rather charmingly, a ‘kind of fugitive unexploded d'. He described it as happening across both the north and the south of the island, with it occurring ‘before -n and -nn [...] when final in stressed monosyllables’.37 He also noted that it occurred before final -rn, and suggested that, while there are also forms recorded without the inserted ‘’ before final -m and y before final -y, but he did not observe the dental insertion before final -/. More recently, George Broderick also explores this behaviour, also known by the linguistic term ‘pre-occlusion’, which refers to the point at which the inserted sound is produced, and the nature of the sound: a brief occlusion, or closing of the stream of air, immediately prior to the production of the final ‘nasal’ (-«, -in, -y) or ‘liquid/lateral’ (-/) sound.38 The inserted sound varies according to the nature of the final consonant of the word, where ‘if, 'b', or y are produced in the same place in the mouth that is used to produce the nasal or liquid/lateral sound.

Examples of‘d-insertion’ identified by Marstrander include ben ‘woman’ [bedn], grian ‘sun’ [grldn], jeeill ‘damage, harm’ [d’zîdX], and tneeyl ‘louse’ |mïdX|; by Jackson oam ‘barley’ [o:dn], and doam ‘fist’ [do:dn]; by Broderick earn ‘barley’ /o:[dN]n/, keayn ‘sea’ /k’o[dN]n/, shooyll ‘walking’ /s’u:[dL]l/, and keeill ‘church’ /k’i|dL|l/.39

There is no way knowing for certain why or how this behaviour arose, and it is possible that it arose organically on the Isle of Man, not from outside influence. Pre-occlusion occurs in a small number of other northern European languages, including Cornish, Saami, Faroese, Icelandic, and some dialects of Norwegian.4" It also occurred historically in both Old Icelandic and medieval Norwegian dialects, manifesting as a ‘f inserted in stressed word-final syllables ending in -nn, -rn, -11, and -rl. Examples in Old Icelandic include steinn ‘stone’ |steitn|, barn ‘child’ [partn], heill ‘whole, healthy’ [heitl], and bail ‘boy’ [khartlj.41

Stefan Karlsson dates the Old Icelandic form to the fourteenth century, arising from two related phonological changes evidenced in manuscript transmission.42

But such a date might present a challenge for a link between Norse and Manx Gaelic, given that it post-dates Scandinavian rule on Man. While Stefan Karlsson is talking about Icelandic language characteristics a century and more after the period of Norse rule on the Isle of Man, it is important to bear in mind that spoken language behaviour necessarily pre-dates the written form, and the fourteenth century cannot be a terminus post quern. The questions as to how far back, prior to taking written form, the usage can be projected, and how far afield, geographically are not readily unanswerable. But if Manx Gaelic pre-occlusion did not arise on its own, then Jackson’s ‘fugitive unexploded d’ could stand as a signpost for the survival of continuous spoken Manx during the Scandinavian period and on into modern times.43

 
<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics