La Section de la langue Jèrriaise

A Brief History of Jèrriais

N.C.W. Spence



A Brief History of Jèrriais ...What has changed since the Second World War is that most of those who underwent the same experience of hearing their parents speak Jèrriais did not accept it as their forebears had done. A negative attitude towards Jèrriais was largely responsible. Even today, many people - including some Jèrriais speakers themselves - still hold the vernacular to be an inferior form of language. We have to remember that even before English became dominant, Jèrriais did not enjoy the prestige accorded to what is still called lé bouôn français - 'good' French - which was used in the churches, law courts and administration, until it was eventually superseded by English in all but certain legal documents and procedures. It is worth recalling, however, that it was not until February, 1900, that the use of English was allowed in the debates of the States of Jersey, and that in 1930, French was still the language in which most legislation was drafted. An indication of the continuing prestige of French in country parishes is the fact that as late as 1949, a tribute to the retiring Connétable of St. Martin now hanging in the parish's Salle Publique was written in French, not English.

Further, in the early years of the twentieth century, French was still regularly used as a 'higher level' language in the services of the Methodist chapels in the country parishes, as well as in dealings with the Breton seasonal workers who still came over to the Island in large numbers. According to R.D. Moore, there was a 'language problem' in the Methodist chapels when at the turn of the century, young people began to want services in English, while the older people bitterly resisted such a change.

According to a personal communication from Sir Arthur de la Mare, the change came rather later in some of the country chapels : it was only in the early twenties that any Methodist services in Trinity came to be conducted in English, much to the horror of many of the faithful, who regarded the use of English as a sort of blasphemy. Some of them actually boycotted services in the alien tongue. Occasional services in French survived until after the Second World War in St. Ouen, which is also the Parish in which Jèrriais was most widely spoken, but they had become rare by 1930 in Trinity because the French-speaking pastors had passed away, and been largely replaced by English speakers, many from the mainland. The old independent Jersey circuit merged with the English one that had already taken over some of the chapels. In Sir Arthur's opinion, this had a profound effect on Jèrriais, the hold of which was weakened by the abandonment of French as the language of the chapels. To quote Sir Arthur: '..if after all, it was permissible to worship God in English, should it not be permissible too to do business in that language? So the rot set in.' English had imposed itself rather earlier as the language of Church of England services. Although the Rectors had to be of Jersey stock, many of them were not French speakers, and the tradition of services in French was not as strong as in the chapels...



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La Section de la langue Jèrriaise
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