La Section de la langue Jèrriaise

What is the name of our language?

Tch'est est l'nom d'not' langue?
Quel est le nom de notre langue?


In Italy, they speak Italian. In Wales, they speak Welsh. Breton is spoken in Brittany, and Corsican in Corsica. The traditional language of the Manx people is Manx, but what is the traditional language of Jersey called?

In the language itself the answer is simple: the name of the Island is Jèrri and so the adjective for the people and their language is lé Jèrriais.

In old texts, one finds colloquial references to lè vièr patouais or lé lîngo. These are used as affectionate nicknames, rather than serious names.

In French too, there is little problem. One can either use the local word le jèrriais (with or without capital letter - Jersey writers writing in French tend to write le Jèrriais whereas French writers use le jèrriais) or use the regular French adjective jersiais for the language and call it either la langue jersiaise or le jersiais.

Linguists and Norman language activists also use the terms le normand jersiais, le normand de Jersey, or sometimes le normand insulaire (covering the languages of the Channel Islands together), to denote the relationship with the language of mainland Normandy.

English has a problem, though, not having a distinguishing adjective for things pertaining to the Island. Jersey is both noun and adjective, so that though one can distinguish between in France and in French, or in Wales and in Welsh, following this pattern would give us in Jersey for both meanings. This is presumably why English speakers feel the need to call the language by some name.

The simplest thing would be to simply say the Jersey language, however this is comparatively rarely done except as an explanation for some other term.

Patois has been used as a shorthand by English speakers but has fallen increasingly out of favour. Partly possibly because fewer people understand what a patois is, and partly because it is non-specific.

Jersey-French has been the most widely-used term in English, but suffers from being misleading on the one hand and ambiguous on the other hand. If anything should be called Jersey-French it is the dialect of French used in Jersey for official purposes - laws, contracts, documents, oaths etc. This official French is referred to as Jersey Legal French, and many people are, as a result, confused as to which language official documents are written in. Jersey Legal French is clearly a dialect of French, Jèrriais is not. Therefore the term Jersey-French would be safest applied only to Jersey Legal French, but too many years of usage have probably ruled out such a clear definition.

Jersey Norman French is another term enjoying many years of usage. Norman French is used to refer to Norman - presumably because of some reticence to use Norman as the name for the language of the continental Duchy because of the competing signification as a personal name. Jersey Norman would be more logical along the lines of the French le normand jersiais, but is an option which is never used. The major problems with the name Jersey Norman French are that it is so cumbersome and that it seems to demote Jèrriais to the status of a variant of a variant.

With the recent language revival and the recognition of the status and importance to Jersey's cultural heritage, there has been an increase in the use of the name Jèrriais by English speakers - although some say Jèrriaise (perhaps this is the influence of La Société Jersiaise?).


Geraint Jennings





La Section de la langue Jèrriaise
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