New glossary may save Jèrriais words that could have been lost

A NEW glossary of Norman French in the Channel Islands could help restore words that might otherwise have disappeared from the Jèrriais lexicon, according to the man leading the language revival in schools.

Professor Mari Jones. Photo by Alex White (31622553)
Professor Mari Jones. Photo by Alex White (31622553)

Ben Spink, head of the Jèrriais teaching service, has welcomed a crowd-funding initiative to help publish a new book by Cambridge academic Professor Mari Jones which brings together words in the Norman languages as they were spoken across the Channel Islands.

Although the project has its genesis in a discovery Professor Jones made in Guernsey’s Priaulx Library recently, her subsequent exercise in linguistic detective work is relevant to all the islands, leading to the production of a new glossary, which Mr Spink described as ‘really important for Jèrriais’.

‘It will bring all the languages together in one place, which sets it apart from other publications and could throw up words we are not currently aware of. Potentially, it could enrich the vocabulary of Jèrriais,’ Mr Spink said.

Professor Jones, an authority on French linguistics, has become a key figure in efforts to keep both Jèrriais and its sister-tongue, Guernésiais, alive. She has published extensively, visited the islands to speak on the importance of the language revivals and introduced her own students at Cambridge to the languages as part of their degree studies in French.

While in Guernsey recently she came across a collection of material assembled by J.P. Collas, uncle of Guernsey’s former Bailiff Sir Richard Collas, which formed part of a collection comparing words used in Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and sometimes Alderney. It also includes a phonetic transcription of many of the words to indicate how they were pronounced. Professor Jones found other parts of the same collection in Aberystwyth.

‘The glossary is not intended to include all the words of Guernésiais, Jèrriais and Sercquiais. It is not a comprehensive dictionary, but it will certainly complement the existing dictionaries of Guernésiais and Jèrriais,’ she explained.

Publisher Steve Foote has now launched a crowd-funding scheme to support the costs of making the research available to a wide audience. His company, Blue Ormer, has previously published on subjects including the Occupation, Victor Hugo’s exile and the celebrated Guernsey author G.B. Edwards but this latest venture cements his own relationship with the Guernsey tongue confirmed by Guernésiais evening classes, which he attended.

‘It was my mum’s native tongue, and it’s such a shame that it is dying out. Working on this book with Mari was my small contribution to preserving this important part of our heritage,’ he said.

Those interested in becoming involved have the opportunity to associate themselves with the project at different levels – as supporter (£30), subscriber (£50), sponsor (from £250 to £500) or patron (£1,000) with credits appearing in the publication corresponding to the level of support provided.

Details are available on the publisher’s website:

Professor Jones will be appearing virtually at this year’s Fête du Jèrriais, part of the Corn Riots Festival, on Saturday 25 September at 7pm, when she will give an online talk about minority languages and the forthcoming publication of the glossary.

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