Page last updated at 13:18 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

UN declares Manx Gaelic 'extinct'

Manx museum
The Manx language is "alive and well", according to experts

The Isle of Man's native language has been declared officially extinct by a United Nations organisation.

Manx Gaelic is one of 200 languages to have become extinct during the last three generations, said Unesco.

It features in its Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, which the organisation hopes will help preserve under threat languages and dialects.

However, Manx experts say the island has "hundreds" of speakers among its 80,000 inhabitants and remains alive.

Unesco's online digital tool lists about 2,500 endangered languages around the world, but can be corrected and updated through contributions from its users.

Unesco ought to know better than to declare Manx a dead language
Jennifer Kewley-Draskau, author

Director-general Koichiro Matsuura said: "The death of a language leads to the disappearance of many forms of intangible cultural heritage, especially the invaluable heritage of traditions and oral expressions of the community that spoke it - from poems and legends to proverbs and jokes."

In a statement about its atlas, the organisation said: "Among the languages that have recently become extinct, it mentions Manx (Isle of Man), which died out in 1974 when Ned Maddrell fell forever silent."

The Manx language was thought to have died out in the mid-19th Century but there are now believed to be about 600 active speakers.

The Isle of Man has a Manx-speaking primary school, Bunscoill Gaelgagh, which opened in 2001 and has more than 50 pupils.

'Alive and well'

Unesco admitted that certain languages shown as extinct in its atlas are being actively revitalized, and could once again become "living languages".

But Jennifer Kewley-Draskau, author of the handbook Practical Manx, said the "extinct" claim was potentially misleading.

"Unesco ought to know better than to declare Manx a dead language," said Ms Kewley-Draskau.

"There are hundreds of speakers of Manx and while people are able to have productive conversations in the language then it is very much alive and well."

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