The Jersey Language is one of the many 'patois romans' of France. Each of the four largest of the Channel Islands has its own particular language or dialect, this 'Normand insulaire' being different from that of the Cotentin in Normandy. All these and many others are descended from, and are some of the innumerable shoots of, the great Latin tree. Thus the Channel Island dialects are survivals of the ancient Norman tongue, venerable relics of a period when the old Norman was itself a recognised literary language.
Jèrriais, or Jersey Norman French, has been our vehicle of expression for hundreds of years and we have led an equally long and separate existence from the mainland of Normandy. The Channel Island languages or dialects also are dying. Auregnais (Alderney Norman French) has now become extinct. After again undergoing evolutionary changes for more than 50 years each of the dialects of Jersey, Guernsey and Sercq (Sark) are now in a moribund state. Sad as this may be, it is perhaps well to remember that all the world over most of the interesting national characteristics are disappearing fast.
The term 'Jersey French' originated by English folk in the Island over a hundred years ago, is a misnomer. It is quite a common term now but to newcomers and others who do not trouble to enquire, it conveys a meaning totally at variance with facts. Our language is not a Jersey form of French, corrupted or otherwise. It is decidedly older since it is a Norman French. Thus the correct rendering in English is 'Jersey Norman French', to distinguish it from the other Islands. The native term is 'Jèrriais'.
There is a surprisingly large collection of literature though comparatively recently produced, commencing from the early 19th century. Some of it is of indifferent quality, as is only to be expected, but there is a wealth of good material in prose and verse. The Jersey and Guernsey languages are especially interesting for their vocabulary - their historical, picturesque and pleasant words which carry the fragrance of their native soil. They are rich in metaphors and have varied designations for flowers of the field, birds and fishes etc. We possess many terms for which there is no equivalent in either French or English, tracing back almost a thousand years. Our language indeed possesses variety and is extremely expressive, and it is highly gratifying to know that the most eminent authorities have stated that the dialects of the Norman Islands are the best preserved. Nevertheless, as previously stated, the Jersey dialect or language is rapidly nearing extinction. Thus, in spite of one of the official languages of the Island still being French and the average educated Jerseyman being conversant with his native Norman French and French, English has come in at full flood, as a giant wave, superseding and usurping the place of the 800 year 'idiome de Wace' our Jersey poet.
Family names are now often anglicised in pronunciation, as are also many of our ancient place names, for instance Les Mielles, which is termed 'Five Mile Road'.
Finally it is comforting to note that a Dictionary of the Jersey language has now been compiled by a Jerseyman competent to do so, an ardent student of Norman languages who had long felt that something substantial in lexicographical form was an urgent necessity before the total extinction of the old tongue.
We are fortunate indeed that another Jerseyman, now deceased, who was a keen lover of his native tongue, left financial provision for the furtherance of this work, and the Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français by Dr Frank Le Maistre, was published in 1966.
Extract from Victor Hugo
O, vous tous! braves Normands des lles de la Manche - sachez-le - votre patois est vénérable; votre patois est sacré - car c'est de votre patois qu'est sortie, comme une fleur de la racine, cette belle langue, la langue française.
O you brave Normans of the Channel Islands - know ye that your dialect is a venerable one - and sacred - for it is from your dialect that has sprung, as a flower from the root, that beautiful tongue, the French language.
Dé The Jersey Kitchen (La Tchuîsinne Jèrriaise)
La Société Jersiaise 1980
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