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Loanwords and their semantics

Approximately 60 words in Manx are likely to have derived from Old Norse, across a range of semantic domains, as listed in the accompanying Appendix.44 These loanwords can be arranged into semantic groups reflecting the broad range of cultural, social, economic and political activities and conditions that one might expect to find in medieval Man: there are six loanwords concerned with farming, seven with fishing, ten for maritime activities and objects, eight relating to social circumstances, twelve for terrestrial conditions and topography, nine relating to settlement characteristics, four for tools and a small group of two miscellaneous terms.

These semantics seem fairly straightforward: maritime, farming, and fishing loanwords certainly reflect what is known about the geographies and cultures of the medieval agrarian coastal British Isles, and many of these words are shared with Irish and Scottish Gaelic. Beyond these subsistence categories, loanwords that can be viewed as specific to, or reflecting, social conditions help paint a picture of the conditions under which they were borrowed, where shared interests and activities took place. Signs of such can be found in terms relating to markets, neighbours, currency, positions of authority, law, and social intercourse between the two language groups. But taken at face value, the words do not advance the survival versus extinction issue, for almost all of these words are also found in either Irish, or Scottish Gaelic, or both. However, there is a small subset of four loanwords that might offer some support for the survival thesis, however speculative: three of these are only found in Manx (ON h^judsimi, halssimi, a halter —> Mx ousym, oalsunt, a halter, a fetter; ON far-tdlmi, farar-tdlmi, hindrance or delay —> Mx fartum (an), fartiman, a long line (from shore), and ON grind, a gate —» Mxgrinney.

These are the only loanwords in the wide Gaelic loanword lexicon (approximately 450 such words), which are exclusive to Manx Gaelic. Although absence of evidence to the contrary cannot be construed as evidence that these words were never in the other two languages, if we do indeed assume these to be exclusive, then they may be indicators supporting the survival hypothesis. There are no ready means for judging the probabilities either way, but the exclusivity of the Manx attestation against the considerable extent of historical lexical collection in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic absent these words strengthens the case for such exclusive usage.

The fourth loanword in this subset is ON Impelía —> Mx cabbal, a chapel. Unlike many other loanwords in Manx, this is not a word concerned with the typical semantics of medieval maritime and rural island life; rather, it is a word imbued with important social and institutional values. Unlike the other three loanwords discussed above, this word is also found in Scottish Gaelic, as caibeal, and there is a small cluster of related words across the three languages: alongside Manx cabbal and Scottish Gaelic caibeal, we have Old/Middle Irish seipél, the forerunner to Modern Irish séipéal, and Scottish Gaelic also has seipeal.

These words fall into two phonological groups: those with initial unvoiced velar stop |k| (i.e. words sounded with initial ‘hard’ c—, Manx cabbal and Scottish Gaelic caibeal) and those with initial unvoiced post-alveolar fricative [f] (i.e. words sounded with initial ‘soft’ sh—, the Irish forms and Scottish Gaelic seipeal). Lexicographers usually consider both the Manx and Scottish Gaelic forms to be borrowed from Latin capella, while the latter are usually derived from Middle English or Old French chápele. However, the fact that this loanword is not exclusive to Manx and that there are related words in Irish presents a challenge for how we might approach the Manx term. The c- form is attested in the earliest Manx and Scottish Gaelic lexicons, whereas the s- form is Irish usage and does not appear to be in use in Scottish Gaelic, judging from the lexical record, until perhaps the mid- to late-nineteenth century.45 In fact, William Shaw’s dictionary of 1780 is the only one among eight Scottish Gaelic lexicons between 1741 and 1832 to include seipeal, and this dictionary was criticised for containing ‘more words strictly Irish than Gaelic’.46 The status of the s- form as Scottish Gaelic, historically, has to be considered doubtful.4'

Such historical geographic differentiation of the forms in Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx implies a sociolingüístic commonality between Manx and Scottish Gaelic that is not shared with Irish. The historic Old/Middle Irish form appears to be an English or French borrowing (perhaps English via Old French), whereas the etymology of the Manx and Scottish forms may shed some light on Norse influence. As noted, the common etymological view is that the c- form of the word is derived from Latin capella. However, Norse kapella and Latin capella are phonologically indistinguishable, and the Norse word itself is a loanword from Latin. A case can be made for the word having come into Manx directly from Norse-speaking people, indeed from a particular subgroup of Norse speakers, when one considers who might have been the actual Latin speakers bringing the word to the Manx vocabulary.

The historical sociolinguistics of loanwords emphasises the social conditions under which words are borrowed, and it is self-evident that the adoption of ecclesiastical loanwords is to be associated with the spread of religious institutions and the embracing of religious discourse at the community level. The many Latin loanwords in Manx could certainly have been introduced over an extended period, from a variety of sources and influences. Latin was the language of both church and administration, and there were certainly later continental, Anglo-Norman and English Cistercian influence among the ecclesiastics of the Isle of Man.48 But from the mid-twelfth century the ecclesiastical authority on the Isle of Man was the Norwegian See of Niòarós, under whose jurisdiction Man fell during the Norse period. In this circumstance, it is possible that the word cabbal arose as a loan from both Norse kapella and Latin capella, two forms indistinguishable as either Norse or Latin, under the influence of presumably bilingual Norse/Latin ecclesiasts in positions of authority.49

The possibility that the loanword can be tied to Norse speakers might also account for the semantics of cabbal, as opposed to the other widespread Manx term for an ecclesiastical establishment, the keeill, or ‘church’. The term keeill is itself a loanword from Latin cella, and it is a Latin loanword also attested in Old and Middle Irish as well as Scottish Gaelic, with meanings including ‘cell’, ‘church’, and ‘monastic foundation’.50 Perhaps the post-reformation importance of the ‘chapel’ in the British Isles may be part of a socio-linguistic explanation for later usage of caibeal and seipeal as against other terms, such as eaglais and cill, although it is acknowledged that in modern usage keeill has the semantic of the parish church. But the possible differentiation of cabbal from the smaller monastic keill on the Isle of Man from the pre-Norse and Norse period suggests a need to further explore the semantics appropriate to that time.5

Loanwords like the Latin-Norse capella/kapella reveal the fluid nature of linguistic use at language boundaries, particularly when there may be more than two languages involved, such as with Norse-speaking ecclesiastics who also had Latin. A definite attribution of this loanword to one language is suboptimal when we consider the sociolinguistic interactions between Manx Gaelic speakers, some of whom may themselves have been bilingual or trilingual in Norse and/or Latin. It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that the first use of cabbal as a loan arose under Norse/Latin/Manx Gaelic multilingual conditions, where ecclesiastical authority may have brought a need to differentiate Norse-influenced ecclesiastic practices and attributes from those associated with the keeill.

Thus, cabbal, as a Norse/Latin loanword in Manx, stands a good chance of predating any hypothetical extinction of Norse on the Isle of Man, and its survival as such may indicate survival of the spoken language more generally, although there can be no certainty, given that the form also exists in Scottish Gaelic. Nevertheless, the absence in Irish of the c- form still speaks of possible Norse/Latin influence that did not subsist in Ireland, where there was no such Norwegian ecclesiastical authority, as obtains for the Isle of Man and the Hebrides.

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