La Section de la langue Jèrriaise

A Glossary of Jersey-French


N.C.W. Spence
Published 1960 by Blackwell, Oxford


...About half the population of the Island lives in the Parish of St. Helier, and the dialect has ceased to be spoken in the urban part of that parish. The majority of townspeople are probably of English extraction (of the children born in St. Helier in 1841, 63% had English surnames), but a large number are nevertheless Jersey people who have ceased to speak the dialect. The southern coastal plain has become a built-up area inhabited mainly by English residents and anglicized. town-workers and trades-people. The vitality of the dialect in the south of the Island has been seriously affected. In the southern and eastern coastal areas and at St. Brelade in the south-west, the population of the built-up areas is English-speaking, and in this environment the children of dialect-speakers among the farmers and fishermen have been anglicized, although many of their parents still speak or know the dialect. It is in the purely agricultural areas of the north of the Island (and a considerable part of the southern parish of St. Peter) that the dialect is still widely spoken, although its vitality among the members of the younger generation is much impaired. The use of the dialect is probably most widespread in the north-western parish of St. Ouen. The main reasons for its greater strength in that area are that it is the parish furthest from the town, and the least 'residential' of the parishes. Distances in Jersey are all relatively small, but the ten miles or so which separate the parish from the town appear to have 'insulated' it against outside influences to a greater extent than other parts of the Island. The 'country cousin' in local jokes is traditionally a 'Saint Ouennais', and until recent times there probably was some basis for the popular belief.

In spite of the vitality of the dialect in the N.W. corner of the Island, however, there are few children who have not already learnt English by the time they attend school. It is difficult to, predict how many of them will continue to speak the dialect and transmit it to their own children in future years. Although many dialect-speakers have shown an increased interest in and affection for 'Jerriais' in recent years, there are many who are somewhat ashamed of it, considering it a corruption of 'good French'.

The vitality of the dialect is greatest in the families of prosperous farmers and tenant-farmers of old Island stock, while the children of labourers and small artisans seem. to feel that they will improve their social status by abandoning the dialect in favour of English. It has been observed elsewhere that the viability of a dialect may depend not on isolation from the outside world, which. is a factor of diminishing importance in the era of compulsory education, radio and the cinema, but on the absence of a feeling of inferiority among the dialect-speakers vis-à-vis the bourgeoisie of the towns. As elsewhere also, women in the Island now tend to be linguistically less conservative than the men; according to F. Le Maistre the boys in a family usually speak Jerriais, but the girls speak English.

It is a pity that past census papers have not included questions on the use and comprehension of dialect in the C.I., as they have in the Highlands of Scotland and in Wales. In the absence of any statistics of this kind, one is forced back on estimates which can be little better than guesses. I should say that at least 10,000 of the population of Jersey still use the dialect or are familiar with it.

In spite of the geographical and political isolation of Jersey from the French mainland, the trends of linguistic development in the Island have in general paralleled those of the dialects spoken in the Cotentin. Some of the phonetic and morphological features which distinguish Jersey-French from the French of the Paris area date back to the period before the appearance of written texts; many date from the mediaeval period; the remarks of grammarians and scholars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries shed light on other Norman speech-habits, and other features are either modern, or are not attested before modern times, though they probably had their beginnings at an earlier period. The order in which they are presented here is therefore only roughly chronological.


Subjects are listed by parishes of birth with the abbreviations by which they are designated in the text of the Glossary. Those starred with one asterisk were my principal informants, while those starred with two were important sources of information about some particular aspect of vocabulary - that of fishing, the work of the forge or of the building trades. Names of subjects are followed by their approximate ages and areas of birth (where known). Unless otherwise indicated, male informants were farmers or retired farmers.


St. Brelade

Mrs. W. Benest, about 65, La Moye area (S.W. St. Brelade).
Miss K. Le Boutillier, about 58, La Moye area
*Mrs. E. Picot, about 63, Portelet - St. Brelade's Bay area.
Mrs. J. P. Le Brocq, about 65, Pont Marquet area.
Mrs. Jane Le Masurier, aged 88, Portelet - St. Brelade's Bay area

St. John

*E. Picot, about 67, Sion area of East St. John.
E. Le Cornu, about 77, La Hougue Boëte area.
*S. W. Bisson, M.A., B.Litt., about 50, St. John's Church area (N.W. St. John). Official in local Civil Service.
**F. Bisson, died 1955, aged c. 80. Fisherman and small­holder.
C. Simon, about 77.
F. Morvan, about 60.
T. A. du Feu, about 60. Baker and miller.
P. Dolbel, about 60, Mont Mado area (N.E. St. John). Civil Servant.

St. Lawrence

*C. A. Poignand, about 65.

St. Mary

J. P. Le Brocq, about 65, S.W. St. Mary.
Mrs. J. Malzard, about 55.
Mrs. Hotton, about 70.
C. Trachy, about 68. Carpenter and builder.

St. Ouen

*W. Priaulx, died 1951, aged c. 72, Les Landes (N.W. St. Ouen).
Mrs. Gallichan, died 1953, aged c. 70.
*J. Priaulx, died 1952, aged 75, Les Landes.
R. P. Le Cornu, about 70, central St. Ouen.
F. Le Maistre, about 50, N.W. St. Ouen.
A. Le Maistre, died c. 1955 at age of about 75.
Mrs L. Day, about 40, N.-Central St. Ouen. Civil Servant.
-. Vibert, about 63.
Jurat F. V. Le Feuvre, died 1956, aged over 80.

St. Peter

W. Le Brocq, died c. 1955, about 70. Journalist.




*A. D. Renouard, about 77, Central Grouville.
*W. J. Bertram, died 1951, aged 62.
**J. Malzard, about 72, Fauvic (E. Grouville). Builder.
**E. Gallichan, died 1951, aged c. 70. Retired fisherman.
C. Godfrey, about 75. Harbourmaster at Gorey.

St. Helier

C. de Gruchy, about 65, Mont-au-Prêtre (N.E. St. Helier).
Mrs. P. Binet, about 62

St. Martin

C. P. Billot, about 80, West-Central area of parish.
T. C. Billot, about 52
**G. Le Cocq, about 77, Rozel area (N.W. St. Martin).
**H. J. Robbins, about 60, St. Catherine's Bay area (E. St. Martin). Customs Officer.
E. Renouf, died c. 1951, aged over 70. Retired farmer and part-time fisherman.

St. Saviour

W. Becquet, over 70, Maufant (N. St. Saviour).


*T. A. Cabot, died 1954, aged c. 70, Central Trinity.
*G. Amy, aged about 68, Rozel (N.E. Trinity). Former sailor, employee of port authorities.
G. Deslandes, aged c. 80, N.W. Trinity.
**W. Colback, died 1955, aged c. 75, W. Trinity. Blacksmith and cartwright, garage proprietor.
*P. Binet, died 1953, aged c. 63, N.E. Trinity.
C. Blampied, died c. 1955, about 70. Harbourmaster at Rozel.
W. Benest, died 1952, aged c. 68, W. Trinity.
A. J. du Feu, about 55, E. Trinity.
Mrs. F. N. Le Breton, about 35, N. Trinity. Farmer's wife.
Miss - de la Haye, about 60.


Extract from Introduction



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