Little is known about the language of the ancient inhabitants of the Isle of Man. The earliest onomastics of the island suggest that the population spoke a form of Gallo-Brittonic, and may have been linked in some way with the Belgic Menapii of the North Sea coast. By the 4th century CE, however, Ogham inscriptions indicate that there was a Goidelic-speaking presence on the island; and subsequent records of native personal names (with a few exceptions) point to a Gaelic background, as the Isle of Man became an integral part of the monastic Celtic Christian network that spread from Ireland. No doubt Old Irish was the language of the educated elite on Man as it was elsewhere in the Gaelic world but, as the island passed under the rule of Norse -- and then of Scottish and English -- rulers, its native culture was eclipsed, and no Manx vernacular literature has survived from the Middle Ages. The modern form of the Manx language is thought to have emerged around the 14th century, at the same time as Modern Irish and Modern Scots Gaelic.

The first written Manx appeared during the 17th and especially the 18th century. By that time, however, because of the break in contact with literate Gaelic-speaking culture in Ireland and Scotland, there no longer was any awareness of Irish orthography, and so a new writing system was invented from scratch, based to a large degree (though not entirely) on English phonetic spelling. This gives written Manx a very different look from that of Irish and Scots Gaelic, although in other respects the languages aren't that far apart. For example, compare the phrase "Are you well?" in all three Gaelic languages:

Gaeilge: _An bhfuil tœ go maith?_

Gaidhlig: _A bheil thu gu math?_

Gailck: _Vel oo dy mie?_

By far the largest repository of written Manx available to us is the Manx translation of the Bible, which was published in 1775, and which is still the primary source of information on (and model for) written Manx style today. By the end of the 18th century the educated elite of the island was strongly in favor of English and looked down on native culture, and in the course of the 19th century the local importance of the Manx language dwindled as fewer and fewer people passed it on to the next generation, until, in the first half of the 20th century, only a handful of native speakers remained. The last of these native speakers (Ned Maddrell) died in 1974; but by that time a revival was in progress and a considerable number of people had learned it as a second language. Yn ‚heshaght Ghailckagh was founded in 1899 (in imitation of Conradh na Gaeilge in Ireland and An Comunn Gˆidhealach in Scotland) to preserve the Manx language by teaching it and encouraging its use, and has remained active in that field to this very day. The last decade has seen many encouraging signs, such as the island government -- after over a century of hostility or indifference -- giving the language some official recognition, and an increasing number of children acquiring Manx as their native tongue.

As has been suggested above, the Manx literary heritage is not very extensive. It consists mostly of folk ballads, carols (_carvalyn_), and folktales collected during the 19th century. Original literary composition was encouraged by Yn ‚heshaght Ghailckagh (especially under the leadership of Mona Douglas). In recent years poets with impressive and promising talent have emerged, such as Robert Corteen Carswell.  

An excellent website giving comprehensive access to Manx-related materials, including language lessons, reference grammar, online dictionary, texts, and relevant links is: