Irish Language Blog

Logainmneacha Ceilteacha agus Náisiúntachtaí a Ceathair: Celtic Place Names and Nationalities 4 – The Isle of Man (Mann) and the Manx Posted by on May 6, 2009 in Irish Language

We’ve recently discussed the place names Albain (Scotland), Éire (Ireland), and An Bhreatain Bheag (Wales).  Today we’ll turn to the Isle of Man (IOM), an island which is not part of Britain nor of the United Kingdom, but which has been a British crown possession since 1828.  Under the auspices of the British Home Office, it is self-governing for internal affairs.  Below you’ll find some examples of how to use the place name and how to indicate that a person, thing, or, we can’t resist for this lesson, a cat, is Manx.  I’m sure you’ve seen or heard about the famous Manx cats which are gan ruball (tailless).   


The island can either be referred to using the word “island,” as in the Irish “Oileán Mhanann” and the Manx “Ellan Vannin,” or just by saying “Manainn,” which has the  possessive forms, “Manann” and “Mhanann.”  Likewise, in English, the island can be called simply, Man, sometimes spelled “Mann.” 


Manannach, a Manxman or Manx person.  Like the terms for Irish, Scottish, and Welsh, it can be made feminine, “Manannach mná,” but, as I’ve previously mentioned, this form is rarely used.  The feminine form basically means “a woman Manxman.” 


an Manannach, the Manxman.  Since “Manannach” starts with a consonant, there are no special rules to remember for prefixing letters when you add the definite article, as we had with “an tAlbanach” and “an tÉireannach.” 


Manannach is also the adjective form but sometimes just the place name itself is used as an attributive noun, eg. “slinn Mhanann” (Manx slate, the island’s bedrock).


The cat Manannach (Manx cat) is famous for being tailless.  In the Manx language, they are called Kayt Manninagh or Stubbin.  There are two folk explanations for the cat being tailless.  One is that Noah shut the door on the cat’s tail in his rush to get all the animals into the Ark.  The other is that they are the offspring of a cat and a rabbit.  In reality, the explanation is genetic. 


Then there is the Manx Rumpy chicken, for which I cannot find and decline to attempt a translation into Irish.  Ironically, it’s not actually a breed found on the IOM but it is named because of its similarity to the Manx cat in terms of taillessness.  Well, maybe I should attempt a translation.  It’ll teach some interesting vocabulary anyway.  Generally speaking, there’s no equivalent in Irish to the “-less” suffix in English, so Irish will use a two-word phrase, like “gan ainm” (nameless, lit. without name) or “gan dochar” (harmless, lit. without harm).  Sometimes a negating prefix “neamh-“ is also used, as in “neamhurchóideach” (harmless) or “neamhrialta” (irregular).  For “rumpless,“ we could start with “prompa” (rump) and say “neamhphrompach,” calling the bird “Sicín Manannach Neamhphrompach,” which does seem a bit verbose and, admittedly, doesn’t have the folksy appeal of “Manx Rumpy.”  I could be tempted to use an existing Irish word, proimpín, meaning “a bird’s posterior” or “a small rump,” but given the unfamiliarity of the actual bird, I’m not sure that using “proimpín” would convey the bird’s true rumplessness.  We could improvise with “Neamhphrompa Manannach,” and trust that word order will distinguish this from a rumpless Manxman.  On the other hand, since this breed of chicken is named after the Manx cat, and is not necessarily Manx itself, perhaps we should remove the reference to Mann altogether.  Bhur mbarúlacha (your opinions)?  


There is a precedent for geographic references not being used as terms get translated from language to language.  Consider, for example, the Manx shearwater (a type of sea-bird).  The Irish phrase for it, cánóg dhubh, doesn’t refer to Mann at all, but simply means “a black shearwater”).  Another case of the missing geographic reference is in the Irish for “Jerusalem artichoke.”  Anyone care to guess?  Hint: it has nothing to do with Jerusalem itself; that much is a misunderstanding of “girasole” (turning to the sun). 


Some phrases with the place name Manainn or Oileán Mhanann include:


i Manainn or in Oileán Mhanann: in the Isle of Man  


ar Mhanainn or ar Oileán Mhanann: on the Isle of Man


go Manainn  or go hOileán Mhanann:  to the Isle of Man


 Bhur mblagálaí, Róislín

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  1. Kim:

    Hi there. Thanks for your informative and wonderful blog! It’s great.

    I was searching through it, and I don’t see anywhere. Could you please tell me how to pronounce “Manannach Mna’?”

  2. Róislín:

    A Kim, a chara,

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

    The pronunciation for “Manannach Mná” would be
    “MAHN-un-ukh mnah.” In the Conamara or Donegal dialects, the second word, which means “of a woman,” would be pronounced “mrah.” It’s the possessive form of “bean” (woman). In this transcription system, the “kh” is like the “ch” of German “Buch” or “Achtung” or the “ch” of Hebrew/Yiddish “Chanukah,” “Challah,” or “Chutzpah.”

    Whichever dialect you pick, I realize that the initial “mn’ or “mr” sound will feel unusual at first.
    But you do pronounce both letters — it’s not like the one English word I can think of that starts with an “mn” (mnemonic, where the initial “m” is silent). And nothing comes to mind in English for the initial “mr” sound!
    Hope that helps! – R

  3. Justin B. Pitts:

    I would like to know if there exists a website such as your that teaches Scots Gaelic. I am of Scottish descent and desire to learn the lanquage. It was still spoken here until rather recently and I desire to learn it.

  4. Róislín:

    Ciamar a tha thu, a Justin?

    I’m sorry I don’t know of anything quite like this for Gàidhlig. If you write to Transparent Language directly, they might keep it in mind for a future project.

    Meanwhile, working on Irish will certainly give you a leg up for eventually doing Gàidhlig. Some words are identical (gorm for blue), some are predictable, (Irish fuinneog, scéal, Gaelic uinneag, sgeul), and others are related and historically connected, but no longer mean quite the same thing (Irish féach, mostly “look,” sometimes “attempt,” and Gaelic feuch, mostly “try,” “attempt,” sometimes “see”). Northern Irish will have the closest similarities to Gàidhlig, that is Irish from Donegal, the new urban Gaeltacht in Belfast, and if you can find some historical works, the Irish of the Glens of Antrim. Ádh mór (agus tapadh leibh as sgriobhadh) – Róislín

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