How did a man who didn't set foot in Jersey until the age of two, become one of the island's main champions of a language that's been long reported as dying but refuses to give up its hold on life?
Tony Scott Warren is the Jèrriais Language Officer and one of a team of people who tour the island's schools teaching children the longue of their forebears. He puts the genesis of his passion for the language down to a chance meeting with the renowned advocate of Jèrriais, Frank Le Maistre.
"It was the early 1980s and we were on a tour of Israel, organised by his son, Jean. As we travelled between historical sites I was vaguely aware of a crowd of retired farmers at the back of the bus who were chatting in Jèrriais. I'd studied French so I could make out a few words, but it wasn't until we visited one of the crusader castles in Acre that I got talking to Frank. As we were strolling around, he said to me - Do you know, the people who built this castle spoke the same language as us? They were Norman."
Tony pauses at this point in his story, remembering the idea that struck him more than 20 years ago: "I thought of the months of arduous travelling those Normans must have endured to get there. I asked Frank - How long do you think it would take me to learn Jèrriais? He pondered a moment, and then said - 'An intelligent young man like you? About two lifetimes. So I set out to prove him wrong"
Tony didn't waste any time once he decided to take on the challenge of learning a new language as an adult. The year after his Israel trip he enrolled in evening classes with Peter Germain and at the end of his first class his understanding of French meant he could write whole sentences in Jèrriais. He bought Frank Le Maistre's dictionary read from cover to cover and knew Frank was right when he said he had more words in his dictionary than Shakespeare ever wrote.
"I was gripped by the language from the start. I'd studied French and German at school, but Jèrriais was fantastic. It's been in decline for so long, and its death has been predicted for even longer. But it's not dead yet. It's a tale of survival against the odds."
We all like a survivor, but can Jèrriais keep landing enough punches to win the fight? Perhaps so with the help of advocates like Tony, a man born in that most English of counties, Gloucestershire, who started his working life in the Air Force and then spent more than 20 years working for Channel Television first in the sales team, then as an announcer and senior announcer, then as head of promotions.
After whetting his growing appetite for Jèrriais by making TV programmes in both Jèrriais and Dgèrnésiais, Tony left Channel at the end cf 1998 and has been promoting and teaching Jèrriais ever since. He has high hopes for its future, especially since the recent British Irish Council Summit held in Jersey focused on minority languages.
'A few years ago I would never have predicted that our Chief Minister would be addressing a high level summit people like Peter Hain, Rhodri Morgan and Alex Salmond - in Jèrriais. Now the BIC has raised the profile of minority languages, and I hope this will boost my campaign to get more signage in Jèrriais. If you go to Wales or the Isle of Man you can't avoid their languages. I'd like to see Jèrriais on road names, signs in public buildings, instructions, and utility vehicles could have English signs on one side and Jèrriais on the other.
"There is a huge potential for making Jersey stand out. We are different from both England and France and we need to make tourists aware that they are visiting a distinct and separate country. That should be our unique selling point.
No-one else in Tony's family neither his wife, two brothers; two sisters, three children or three grandchildren speak Jèrriais, and he accepts they think he's odd. But as the oldest of the five children he says he's always been a bit odd.
The average age of native Jèrriais speakers is 70-plus, which makes Tony a youngster in their company. But he is confident there will be plenty of younger speakers in the future.
"We have a group of enthusiastic young people who look on Jèrriais as being theirs. We have developed a GCSE equivalent exam for which 5 youngsters are studying, and we have one pupil who's doing his Trident work experience with us in our office. He regularly enters the Eisteddfod, he writes poetry in Jèrriais and he speaks it to his grandfather at home."
"A young girl who's still at primary school is teaching the language to her grandmother, who hasn't spoken it since she was a child. It can bridge generations in a very special way."
"And I was delighted to hear from a young woman who's in England studying nursing. She came across a very uncommunicative elderly woman from Jersey who was being treated in hospital. She tried speaking a few words of Jèrriais to her; the lady opened up and started talking to the staff, who could then treat her more effectively. When this young nurse was asked how she did it, she replied 'I did learn one useful thing at school
Tony is proud that his teaching work can have this kind of unexpected but very welcome impact. He's hopeful that his campaigning work with politicians and his irrepressible enthusiasm for a language he didn't learn until adulthood will help keep Jèrriais alive and evolving through the 2lst century.
A complete set of new Jersey banknotes will enter general circulation in February, the Treasury Minister has revealed...
Senator Ozouf revealed that the new notes, which will feature new security measures, would have the value printed in both French and Jèrriais on one side.
...Their interests have included Roy's 20-odd years of volunteering with the honorary police, Christines work with the Trinity baby clinic for more than 30 years and a shared interest in Jersey French. They have belonged to LAssemblié Jeriase for more than 20 years and hope that the language will continue to be used in Jersey in the future.
We speak it on holiday if we want to say something to each other that no one would understand, Christine says. It can be very useful.
And whether it is English or Jèrriais they are speaking, they still have a lot to say after 60 years.
We still always have something to talk about, Christine says, even if its just about what's happening at the farm that day.
The fate of languages such as Jèrriais, Welsh and D'Guernesiaise will take centre stage this week as Jersey hosts a British-Irish Council summit.
First ministers, chief ministers and ministers from Westminster, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland are due to spend the day on Friday discussing indigenous tongues spoken by minorities.
A spokesman for the Chief Minister's department said that the names of those coming would not be released until later in the week because of security concerns.
The council's work on the preservation of languages is led by Wales, where experts have been looking at the best examples of how tongues can be promoted.
Education Minister James Reed is due to address the summit on the place of Jèrriais in Jersey history. I am pleased to be able to take part in this conference and look forward to speaking on how Jersey promotes its own minority language, he said.
But what could be done if it were decided that the anthem should be put on the shelf and quietly forgotten – which is liable to happen unofficially even if the official position is that its status must stand?
There are two obvious answers, the first of which is to elevate Beautiful Jersey to what many would regard as its rightful position. At last weekend’s Liberation celebration the song was, as on so many occasions, showcased by Sadie Rennard. Her performance was touching, entirely appropriate for the occasion and utterly charming. However, although Beautiful Jersey ticks many of the boxes – having, for instance, lyrics in English and Jersey-Norman French and a sing-along tune – it might be just a little too sentimental for modern tastes.
Actually, the Breton and Welsh anthems have the same tunes but different words and on second thoughts, it’s probably just as well they weren’t allowed to sing it because Breton, like your Jèrriais, is very much dodo-stickered, unfortunately. So the regional press had to print the words because hardly anyone knows them, not that seeing them written down helped very much, either. The first line – all together now – is: Ni, Breizh agalon, karomp hon gwir vro! See what I mean?
No, they don’t speak much Breton this side of St Brieuc, where Gallo, the local patois, is an offshoot of French like yours – ours.
Jersey has its own indigenous language, Jèrriais, a derivation of ancient Norman French and interestingly, quite different from the patois of Guernsey, yet equally incomprehensible to French ears. Notwithstanding a concerted effort to revive interest in the Island’s mother tongue, only three in every 100 Islanders is fluent.
Until the 1960s, Jèrriais was in common usage in all the parishes, and as with the regional variances in all languages, there were discernible linguistic differences between the languages spoken in St Ouen, St Peter and St Mary and those spoken in Grouville, St Saviour and Trinity.
(JEP = Jersey Evening Post)
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