Oxford postgraduate student fascinated by history in Jèrriais

PEOPLE often assume Peter George is from Jersey – researching the use of Jèrriais in Island newspapers might be why…

But the postgraduate student from St John’s College, Oxford, first visited the Island quite recently, having been drawn to its history when he chanced on some texts in the Island’s historic language, Jèrriais.

“I thought it seemed very interesting linguistically in its similarities to Norman French – I studied some Norman French at university – and I discovered through Les Pages Jèrriaises, the website of Geraint Jennings that he made for the Société Jersiaise, that there were all these sources in the press.

“My supervisor thought it was very interesting that no one had done any work on them before, looking from a historical point of view. He really encouraged me to follow it and I found this whole world of Jèrriais literature and newspaper writing that’s been fascinating,” he explained.

Mr George is a grateful recipient of a grant from the Société Jersiaise’s Millennium Fund, established with support from the States of Jersey “to promote high-quality academic or scholarly study of Jersey’s history, and cultural heritage”.

His work focuses on the period from the end of the 19th century to the outbreak of the Second World War, looking at the Island’s newspapers of the time – the Chronique and Nouvelle Chronique, the Morning News and the Evening Post – and, in particular, stories and articles written in Jèrriais, a language that he has learned to read assisted by Paul Birt’s book Lé Jèrriais Pour Tous.

Mr George’s research explores how literature adds to an understanding of the Island across a range of subjects from the impact of the First World War, the Island’s potato harvest and, naturally, the workings of the States of Jersey. But there are also poems, fictional serialised stories which Mr George compares to modern television sitcoms and a range of advertisements – together they provide “a running commentary on Island life that adds an extra layer to the factual reports you read in English or French”.

“Writing in Jèrriais was often more informal than in English or French. For example, political articles in Jèrriais sometimes include gossip that doesn’t appear elsewhere.

“But Jèrriais writing can also give insights more generally into what people were interested in at the time, what they were worried about, and what they laughed about. Some of the stories written by Philippe Le Sueur Mourant are still funny more than a century after they were written,” he said.

Mr George last visited the Island a year ago, when he took the opportunity to explore source material contained in the Société Jersaise Library, the Jersey Archive and the Public Library. He thanks everyone who has helped him, paying tribute to the Island’s “really great archives, archivists and librarians”.

He may not have any direct connections with Jersey but Mr George has become fascinated with the Island and its rich past.

“Today it’s still this very local and global place. It’s a centre of international trade and finance these days but if you go to the Jersey countryside it still has the rurality – it’s sometimes very surprising when you are out in the northern parishes or the north coast to think that you are in this global centre which is also a world of small farms and little villages,” he said.

He added: “It’s really interesting getting the sense of how important the newspapers are to people in their lives. If it’s not recorded there, it’s almost as if it hasn’t really occurred.”

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