La Section de la langue Jèrriaise

La Section et la langue

The Section and the language

Jersey, is the largest of the Channel Islands and lies in the Gulf of St Malo only about fifteen miles from the French coast. The Channel Islands were part of the Duchy of Normandy, when its ruler conquered England in 1066 to become William I of England. Jersey like the rest of lhe islands have remained attached to the English crown though the continental lands of the Duchy were lost in the following centuries. ln fact we still have a toast "La Reine nouotre Duc".

The linguistic chronology of the Channel lsland area is quite complex, but seem to be as follows.

There is evidence that the islands were continuously inhabited at the beginning of the Roman period. Archaeological evidence shows strong Celtic cultural and trading activity. During the C9th and C10th a Viking community speaking Late Common Scandinavian became the ruling element of the region. It is not clear whether they were in the main of a Western (Norwegian and/or Hebridean and/or Irish) stock or an Eastern (Danish) one. ln the early C11th Old Norman French, more specifically with the Norman dialect, was the spoken language which was eventually taken to England in 1066. Hence Les Trais Leopards on our crest and flag. The Normandy flag has two and as we technically conquered England then perhaps the last leopard should be in brackets!

An interesting point to note is that the English now spoken around the world was once a minority language. Following the Norman Conquest historical records show that Old English was regarded as a peasant language and despised. During the next two centuries Norman French was the prestige language of England and used in literary work. When King John lost Normandy to the French, there was some resistance to French culture even among the Norman families living in England, who had lost their lands on French soil. In 1362 English was introduced into Parliament and the courts, and by the early 1400s was fully established as the principal language. Ancient Norman French continued in use in Jersey until at least the 1800's which as a linguist commented on sounded like French with a Scandinavian accent.

Throughout the centuries the official written language was French, but the spoken language was Jèrriais. For various reasons the use of the English language increased rapidly in the C19th and by 1900, English was the dominant language in the parish of St Helier, the capital and main harbour of the lsland. When La Société Jersiaise was formed they passed a resolution on January 22nd 1873:

formée sous le nom "La Société Jersiaise " pour l'etude de l'Histoire de la Langue et des Antiquities d'l'lle.

A language committee is shown as existing in the first Bulletin in 1875 which was active until the early 1900s. In 1904, an Eisteddfod was introduced to Jersey, by the then Dean, The Very Reverend Samuel Falle. In 1908 competitions were added in Jèrriais (Jersey-Norman French). The adjudicator Mr Arthur Edwin Balleine of the Jersey Society in London, gave prizes for recitations by children under the age of thirteen in order to encourage the use of Jèrriais.

Le Don Balleine is an executive committee deriving from a bequest under the will of the late Arthur E Balleine (1864- 1943) for the preservation and promotion of the Jersey Norman French language. Glossaire du Patois Jersiais was published in 1924 by La Société Jersiaise.

Due to the Tourist Industry, the great expansion of the Jersey economy and the influence of the English residents, the Anglicisation of the lsland accelerated. A direct consequence was that Jèrriais was used to a lesser extent. In I9I2, Jèrriais was replaced by English in the Island's schooIs, a language that for centuries was a clear and historic element, that helped to sustain the Island's autonomy. French was used for certain judiciaI and administrative matters, but the use of Jèrriais and French became relatively rare in people under 30 EngIish was now in common use even in L's Êtats, the States of Jersey, our government. During the Occupation, Jèrriais speakers bamboozled the German troops with their apparently incomprehensibIe language but it was increasingIy frowned on in peacetime as tourism and the finance industry made Jersey more cosmopolitan.

A Glossary of Jersey French was published by La Société Jersiaise in 1960.

Jèrriais was under pressure from two languages; French was compulsory in schools and spoken to the Breton farm workers and English was the daily language used throughout most of the lsland and for tourism and commerce. The local accent was mocked and frowned upon, and many were sent, to elocution lessons in order to speak the Queen's English.

Over the years children have been under orders not to speak Jèrriais within the sound of the school. There have been occasions of children being hit in the school playground for daring to speak their native language in their own island and because teachers employed from England could not understand Jèrriais

L'Assembliée d'Jèrriais was formed on 23rd November 1951 to hold meetings and publish items in our native language. They began with twenty-seven people and the membership bas grown over the years to almost five hundred. Not every member is able to attend the monthly meeting due to old age or infirmity but a good proportion still attend regularly and new members are continually coming forward to replace those who leave.

In 1966 Lé Dictionnaithe arrived! Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français was compiled by Dr Frank Le Maistre, and Le Don Balleine published the English-Jersey Language Vocabulary by Albert L. Carre in 1972.

L' Association Jersey-Coutançais was formed in the early 1980s to re-establish the links between Normandy and Jersey

In 1985, Paul Birt of Bangor University wrote Le Jèrriais Pour Tous, a complete course on the Jersey language. This book Jèrriais Pour Tous established rules of grammar which enabled our language to be fully fledged.

In 1994 a group of four people Jayne Le Boutillier, Angela Le Pavoux, Ralph Nichols and Neil Molyneux met in a local hostelry. They had all attended les clâsses au sé en Jèrriais, at beginners level, for several years were very concerned at the disappearance of the language and local traditions.

La Société Jersiaise has as part of its Constitution, the following; Faire revivre parmi la population le gout de l'etude d'I'Histoire de la Langue, et des Antiquites de l'Ile.

The Section de la langue Jèrriaise therefore works to study and promote the Jersey language and its literature, producing educational materials and activities and providing advice on the use of the language.

In 1998 the States of Jersey voted overwhelmingly to introduce Jèrriais classes into primary schools.


La Section de la langue Jèrriaise
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