La Section de la langue Jèrriaise

Development of the writing system of Jèrriais

 Notes towards a more comprehensive study


How has the development of the writing system of Jèrriais come about?

Since French - and later, English - were the languages of education in Jersey, Jèrriais writers had no formal training in literacy in Jèrriais. The lack of an accepted literary standard meant that realisations of dialectal differences marked the literary production of writers from different parts of the Island - and indeed still do. The lack of a dictionary until comparatively recently has also meant that writers depended on their own ideas - and the varying influence of other writers - in the development of their own individual writing system:

Tréjous Jairi

Chanson des Grands Tchésus

A l'Aiditeut dla Kronik


Certain individual writers have been noted for their idiosyncratic writing systems. Jean Sullivan and John Lock are two writers whose individual spelling is especially to be remarked. John Lock's spelling system is an attempt to faithfully represent his own dialect, while Jean Sullivan's antiquarian and pan-Norman viewpoint informed his writing.

John Lock: Ma Court-é Pipe

Jean Sullivan: L'Eglise de Saint-Hélier et ses travaux suspendus


Approaches to a writing system

There could be said to be three approaches to the development of a Jèrriais writing system:

1: To follow the conventions of the writing system of French

2: To follow the conventions of the writing system of English

3: To develop a Jèrriais system based on the phonology of the language


Strategy 1

One can suggest that the earliest available literary texts surviving adopt strategy number 1. As French literature was the cultural pole towards which Jèrriais literature was attracted, and French poetic forms were the model and most familiar pattern for the production of poetry in Jèrriais, it is not surprising that French forms the basis of the Jèrriais spelling system.

There are however problems with this approach. The immediate problem is where sounds differ in cognates.

Let us take "tchi" and "qui". In attempting to represent the Jèrriais word "tchi", one could simply use the French spelling and leave the phonological realisation as understood i.e. the writer would write "qui" and the reader would understand it to be read as "tchi". However, if one is forced to use some other strategy to represent the "tch" phoneme in words with no cognate to represent them and also if one continues to use "qu" to represent the /k/ phoneme in Jèrriais, an inconsistent and confusing writing system is the result. If the reader is to understand "qu" as "tch" in some words but not in others, and this in an unsystematic manner, the result is unsatisfactory:

Par la Quoue, Mafé


Non-French phonemes pose particular problems: /ð/ and /j/

Modern Jèrriais spelling retains a historical "l" in the "li", "lyi" representation of the /j/ phoneme. Earlier solutions have been to use a double "ll" - as seen in Dgèrnésiais and Norman, or to use simply a "y" or an "i".

Let us take the word "blianc" as an example:

Modern Jèrriais






Attested old Jèrriais



The problem of /ð/ is made more difficult by the dialectal character of this sound. Different dialects use a clear /ð/ in the West, or a palatalised /r/, and in the past the /z/ phoneme was characteristic in the East.

One strategy is to write "r" and leave the reader to pronounce it according to their own dialect. Writers who wished to truly represent their speech in writing needed to find a way of representing /ð/. It is suggested that at an early stage, both Eastern and Western writers used "z": the Eastern writers because they said /z/, and the Western writers to show that they did not pronounce /r/ in these positions and "z" was the closest way of representing /ð/ in the French writing system:

Dialogue entre Jeanneton et Nainai, des Paraisses de Ste.-Marie et St.-Ouen, le 2 Octobre 1811

Flip, fis Flip - 1813

Eune lettre dé 1881


In order more faithfully to represent /ð/, strategy number 2 comes into play. Since /ð/ is represented in English by the digraph "th", one could supplement the deficiencies of the French writing system by using English convention to "fill the gaps". So we can see that, although the /ð/ phoneme in Jèrriais is not of English origin, its representation by "th" is.

Similarly, some writers attempted to differentiate /tch/ and /k/ by retaining "qu" for /tch/ (as in modern Norman) and replacing "qu" with "k" where the /k/ phoneme was represented:

A Moussieu l'Esditeu de la "Nouvelle Kronique"


An alternative strategy can be seen here: Shu Nouviau Garçon

In this text, the English digraph "sh" replaces (but not systematically) "ch" in order to allow "ch" to represent /tch/.


Some texts also use "tq" for the /tch/ phoneme.

Êpitre à mén anmîn A.A.L.G.


Although modern Jèrriais lacks "w" except in loanwords such as "whisky", in the past "w" was used by some writers to represent /w/ in initial position. Walloon has apparently standardised this in all positions. In modern Jèrriais, a French-patterned "ou" is used to represent /w/.


Strategy 2

Although strategy number 2 has been used to remedy the deficiencies of the French writing system, it has not found favour in general as a solution to writing Jèrriais. The influence of French has been too strong, and indeed has reasserted itself in the standardisation process.

In fact one can see that loanwords from English have had their spelling adapted - "Jèrrified" - rather than themselves exerting an Anglicising influence on the writing system.
































Strategy 3

Strategy number 3 - the development of a specifically Jersey solution to the problem of the writing system - has not really been attempted. Why is this?

Firstly, the importance of what one might call the "cultural commonwealth" linking Jersey, Guernsey and mainland Normandy has meant that any attempt for any of the languages to go their own individual way has not been seen as desirable.

Cultural and literary exchange between the territories has meant that Norman texts can be read in Jersey and Guernsey, texts are generally mutually intelligible between the Islands. The influence of the writers of the Islands in the C19th inspired the Norman literary renaissance of the second half of that century. Mutual intelligibility, backed up by the overwhelming influence of the French language and its literature, meant that generally the languages have stuck together.

Secondly, the lack of an authority to impose standardisation, either through control of publishing or strength of prestige, meant that, faced with competing dialects and individual writers each with their own supporters and influence, it was very much up to writers themselves to use whatever system they best felt reflected their own style and usage.



The introduction of Jèrriais classes in schools has added to the pressure to standardise. The influence of George d'la Forge and Dr. Frank le Maistre has established St. Ouënnais as a de facto standard for students. Most of the accessible C20th literature is either St. Ouënnais or influenced by St. Ouënnais. The Dictionnaire uses St. Ouënnais as the basis for its prescriptive content (although it is generally descriptive as far as other dialects are concerned). Lé Jèrriais pour tous is basically a course in St. Ouënnais, following the other available learning materials.

The written materials used in schools are basically a generalised St. Ouënnais - although it is important to note that dialectal differences in spoken forms are communicated - regardless of where in the Island the schools are situated.

The process of standardisation has been facilitated by the loss of several smaller dialects - a loss for the culture, but a simplification for the writing system which no longer has to suit and accommodate so many competing phonologies.

One can speculate what written Jèrriais had looked like had some of the writers from other parts of Island lived as long as the influential St. Ouënnais and had as much of an effect on the development of the writing system.


Geraint Jennings
2000 (examples amplified 2003)



Notes Explicatives sur la
Prononciation du Patois Jersiais,
Messire Robert Pipon Marett

Presque tous ceux qui ont essayé d'écrire le Patois Jersiais, ont adopté une orthographe toute fantaisiste, sans méthode ni règles, et par conséquent propre plutôt à induire en erreur ceux qui ne possèdent pas une connaissance intime et pratique de ce dialecte. Non seulement l'orthographe est-elle entièrement phonétique, sans faire attention aux analogies et aux étymologies des mots, mais une double difficulté se présente à l'étudiant par le fait que dans les textes le même son est souvent représenté par une combinaison divergente de lettres, tandis que dans les textes de différents auteurs la même combinaison de lettres sert à désigner des sons très divers. Il résulte de ces divergences que la valeur de ces écrits au point de vue d'arriver à une connaissance exacte de l'ancienne prononciation de notre patois est dans une large mesure illusoire. A ce point de vue la méthode qui semble la meilleure à suivre, c'est d'adopter l'orthographe française pour tous les mots jersiais qui sont identiques à ceux usités dans la langue française de nos jours, ou employés dans la littérature française. On est à même alors d'examiner à quels égards la prononciation d'un mot quelconque dans le patois de Jersey diffère de la prononciation française moderne, et de tirer enfin de ces recherches, certaines règles qui peuvent servir de base pour déterminer la prononciation probable de l'ancienne langue française.

Messire Robert Pipon Marett, Bailli de Jersey



Here are some examples of graphemes used in older texts, alongside modern standard conventions for comparison













































Viyiz étout:



La Section de la langue Jèrriaise
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