We’re making the point! Check out this site. The Celtic League has written to UNESCO’s Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, to complain about this misrepresentation. The League’s General Secretary (GS), Rhisiart Tal-e-bot argued in his letter that for the UN to say that Manx and Cornish languages are extinct, year in, and year out could potentially have a damaging effect on these languages. The GS went on to suggest that if the Manx and Cornish languages don’t fit into the current categories in the Atlas, then a new category should be created.Copy below:


Dear Director-General Koichiro Matsuura

Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger: status of Cornish and Manx languages

I am writing to you following the publication yesterday (19/02/09) of the latest UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. On the UNESCO website, it states that the Atlas is »UNESCO’s flagship activity in safeguarding endangered languages« and so the Celtic League were once again surprised to learn that the Cornish and Manx languages have once again, as in previous years, been given the status of being ‘extinct’.

In addition to the fact that this is incorrect, for the United Nations to continually state in their publications that critically endangered languages (which is what the Cornish and Manx languages are) are ‘extinct’, is potentially damaging to these languages and can be detrimental to their efforts at reversing language shift. The Celtic League is now beginning to wonder how accurate the Atlas is, because if UNESCO has attributed ‘extinct’ status to the Cornish and Manx languages, then how many other languages have been misclassified in the same way. If UNESCO believes that the Cornish and Manx languages are ‘extinct’, because they are being revived, then perhaps a separate category for these kinds of languages should exist in the Atlas.

On your website, you state that the Cornish language became extinct probably with the death of Dolly Pentreath in 1777, which is now widely accepted to be a popular myth. Also on the same website there are inconsistencies with regard to the Manx language. On the one hand it is stated that Ned Maddrell, who dies in 1974, was the last first speaker of Manx and on the other it is stated that »Manx is increasingly revided and studied as a second language; revived Manx cannot be regarded as endangered as the number of users seems to be constantly growing« . There is therefore some clear confusion. As you may be aware the (Irish Government funded) Irish Folklore Commission recorded Mr Maddrell for language preservation sake and he even taught some young language learners, including the still very active Brian Stowell.

The Celtic League has written to UNESCO about this matter on previous occasions in the past and we also wrote to the editor of the Atlas only last year to point out these errors. I am also aware of at least one letter that was sent from the (UK Government funded) Cornish Language Partnership language officer last year to UNESCO in an attempt to correct their information. It was felt that in the UNESCO International Year of Languages 2008, a little more effort could be made to remedy any previous misleading data. We are therefore very disappointed that UNESCO has chosen to ignore our input and have failed to undertake proper research to ensure that its facts are presented accurately.

We are aware that there is at least one organization (European Bureau for Lesser Used Languges) that has UNESCO consultative status, which, if it had been consulted on this issue, would have immediately informed you that neither the Cornish or Manx languages are extinct. These languages are rather, experiencing a rapid period of growth, quicker than at any other period over the last one hundred years. This was one of the reasons why the Celtic League applied for consultative status of UNESCO last year, so that it would be in a better position to inform the organisation of specific developments within the language communities within the Celtic countries.

For your information I have copied this mail to the respective language officers in Kernow/Cornwall and Mannin/Isle of Man and have listed their contact details below and would like to urge you to contact them, in order to ascertain the position of the Cornish and Manx languages, according to your criteria, for your records. I have also copied your email to Diarmuid O’Neill, who is the author of Rebuilding the Celtic Languages: Reversing Language Shift in the Celtic Countries, which is an interesting book and would be a good source of reference.

Jenefer Lowe Cornish Language Development Manager email: jlowe at … website:

Adrian Cain Manx Language Officer Manx Heritage email: greinneyder at … website: [Voir le site]

We look forward then to either a better editing of UNESCO’s facts in its Atlas in the future or the creation of an additional category to take the languages of Cornish and Manx into account. We would very much like to hear your views on this matter.

Yours sincerely

Rhisiart Tal-e-bot General Secretary Celtic League »