La Section de la langue Jèrriaise


Lé Jèrriais pour tous

Paul Birt

La grammaithe du Jèrriais
A complete course on the Jersey language

Lé Jèrriais pour tous

The Jersey language (or Jèrriais) has been the traditional vehicle of thought and speech of the Jersey people over a period spanning more than a thousand years. Although perhaps still relatively unknown outside the Channel Islands, Jèrriais, together with its offshoot in Sark and its nearest other relative in Guernsey are, like the Celtic languages, part of the living linguistic heritage of the British Isles.

Jèrriais belongs to the insular branch of the 'parlers' of Western Normandy and has much in common with those of the Cotentin. It is therefore a Romance language and one of the many varieties of the langue d'oïl which have survived to the present day alongside standardised French. It developed from one of the Gallo-Roman dialects brought to Jersey during the pre-Conquest Norman era and, characteristic of western Norman it contains many maritime and agricultural terms of Norse origin brought by the Viking settlers into Normandy. Historically, then Jèrriais shares the same roots as the language spoken by William the Conqueror and Maistre Wace, the famous Jersey-born poet and author of Le Roman de Rou. It also shares the same origins as Anglo-Norman spoken in Great Britain over a period of three centuries following the Norman Conquest. But although modern Jèrriais echoes many of the features of the earlier Norman Language, it has of course like all languages evolved over the centuries and today presents us with a distinctive form of speech which can be said to belong to Jersey alone.

Throughout most of its history, Jèrriais has been spoken medium of all sections of Jersey society and although French was the language of the Royal Court and the States official records, contrats (deeds), written place and family names, church and chapel until the early decades of the twentieth century, it was in Jèrriais that ordinary Jersey men and women conversed. In fact the use of spoken French was frowned upon as an affectation. Like many minority languages, Jèrriais has increasingly come under pressure during this century. The trauma of the Occupation followed by massive immigration, an English education system, and Anglo-American mass media have all played their part in undermining the traditional Jersey way of life thereby creating an extremely anglicized environment and attitude of mind. This same period since the end of the Second World War has seen an even greater decline in the use of French as one of the two official languages of the Island, Although precise figures do not exist, there probably remain between 7,000 to 10,000 speakers of Jèrriais with obviously varying degrees of proficiency. On the whole these will be found in the northern parishes, mainly concentrated in the agricultural areas of St Ouën, St Mary and St John in the west of the Island and St Martin and Trinity in the east.

For so small an island it may be surprising to find that several dialects or varieties of Jèrriais may be heard, The main differences will be found between western and eastern Jèrriais. These differences need not be over-stressed since they mainly concern the pronunciation of certain vowels and diphthongs. A certain amount of variation also exists in the vocabulary of the east and west of the Island but mainly in the fairly specialised areas of wild life and agricultural and maritime terminology, all of which contributes to the richness and variety of the language. The student will find the most striking differences between these dialects in the notes on pronunciation and where necessary during the course of the lessons.

For the purposes of this course, a western dialect, that of St Ouën, has been chosen, not because it is inherently superior to other forms of the language, but for the reason that in recent years it is in this dialect that most published Jèrriais has been written. In particular the Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français by Dr. Frank Le Maistre, Jèrri Jadis and Histouaithes et Gens d'Jèrri by George Le Feuvre as well as other publications like the Bulletîn d'Quart d'An and the more recent Les Chroniques du Don Balleine. In many ways the dialect of St Ouën has asserted itself as the standard form of Jèrriais, which is not to imply that the other dialects written or spoken should be regarded as being in any way inferior. The orthography of this book follows that laid down in the Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français when published in 1966.

The justifications for this book have been dictated by two major considerations. First of all it is a reaction to an increased interest in Jèrriais in recent years consistently reflected in greater numbers enrolling for the language at evening classes. In this sense this volume is hopefully a useful contribution towards meeting and creating an awareness of Jèrriais and its distinctive cultural context. I would also hope that this book may be of use not only to the native-born Islanders who wish to repossess their language but also the numerous residents who by learning the indigenous language of their adopted home may feel that they integrate themselves more fully into the life of the Island. Perhaps also this volume might bring a realisation to some of the many visitors to the Island that Jersey does possess a language and a culture of its own, however invisible it may seem to the visitor at first sight. The second justification for this book was that with the greater awareness of Norman language and culture in the Islands and more especially in Normandy itself, there was a need for a systematic description of the language and in this sense this volume with whatever imperfections it may contain is offered as a tentative contribution to the study of the Norman language generally. Needless to say even this would have been impossible without the pioneering work of Dr. Frank Le Maistre.

I have assumed that the student working alone will be acquainted with simple grammatical terminology but will not necessarily have studied any other foreign languages. Obviously those with a knowledge of French will more readily notice the resemblances as well as the divergences between these two varieties of the langue d'oïl. The earlier lessons lay the emphasis primarily on the colloquial language, providing simple sentences and conversation practice whilst the later lessons gradually introduce the student to written Jèrriais with examples from the lively prose written during this century. Each lesson includes exercises and to extract the maximum advantage from these the student is strongly advised to read carefully over the grammatical notes and in the later lessons to read over the reading passages or "Lectuthes".

Finally, remember that Jèrriais exists primarily as a spoken language with a richness of idiom and vocabulary which makes it eminently suited to wit and repartee. The student should waste no time before practising his Jèrriais on native speakers. He will be amply rewarded for his efforts.

From the Introduction



Les publyicâtions du Don Balleine peuvent êt' acatées en lîngne siez la Société Jersiaise.

Buy Don Balleine publications on-line from the Société Jersiaise shop.

Achetez les éditions du Don Balleine en ligne à la Société Jersiaise.




La Section de la langue Jèrriaise
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