Jerriais Revival.

An AFP story reports on efforts to revive Jerriais (or, if you prefer, Jèrriais):

Jerriais, the ancient language of Jersey, the largest Channel island which is just minutes from the French coast. “We’re the last generation to speak it naturally,” the 84-year-old told AFP. “It’s so sad when you lose the very essence of your culture.”

Lying just 14 miles (22 kilometres) from the French coast, Jersey is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, represented internationally by the UK government in London. Due to the dominance of English, a dwindling number of people speak the French-influenced local language. Jerriais — also called Jersey French — has existed for more than 1,000 years and traces its origins to nearby Normandy in northern France.

Sitting with his 77-year-old brother Jean in the small village of Saint Ouen, Le Maistre recalled that as children “we spoke nothing else at home”. But Jerriais was “considered a peasant language”, and teachers would even punish children for using it, Jean said. Now the brothers mainly use English, like most of Jersey’s 100,000 residents, reflecting its transformation since World War II from a rural community to a tourism destination and offshore tax haven. The same has happened for the similar but distinct language spoken on the nearby island of Guernsey — Guernesiais.

Today attitudes are changing, with efforts to preserve and revive languages gaining traction in many parts of the world. In 2019, Jersey declared Jerriais one of its official languages alongside English and French, and the government supports teaching it in schools. Enthusiasts hope Jersey will follow the example of another British Crown Dependency, the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, which has revived its moribund local language Manx. […]

Giving a class at Beaulieu Convent School, a private Catholic school in Jersey’s capital of Saint Helier, she chats to seven-year-olds in Jerriais. “Comment qu’tu’es?” (How are you?) The children shoot their hands up, eyes glowing. “J’sis d’charme” (I’m well) or “J’sis magnifique” (I’m great), they answer. […]

Schools in Jersey began integrating Jerriais into their curriculums last year, and teachers are trying to teach children about their cultural heritage, even if they are unlikely to speak the language at home. “It’s kind of getting to the stage where the number of native speakers is below 800, and that’s critically endangered… so we’re working really, really hard to revitalise it,” Parker says.

We discussed Jerriais in 2010, and I’m happy to say that Geraint’s blog L’Office du Jèrriais, which I linked to in that post, is still going strong. Thanks, Trevor!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    a dwindling number of people speak the French-influenced local language. Jerriais


    has revived its moribund local language Manx

    Not “moribund.” Dead.

    Do these people have no access to Wikipedia?

  2. It’s AFP. They probably shun Wikipedia on principle.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    They probably intended to convey that Manx has now gone from “dead” to “moribund.” Plummeting up!

    (Cornish is doing rather better. It’s gone from “dead” to “critically endangered” …)

  4. I once went to a Manx Language Society event which was entirely in Manx apart from guest singers in Scots Gaelic and a bilingual (Manx-English) raffle – rather a giveaway that not everyone present was entirely fluent (I certainly wasn’t but have only spent about ten weeks in Ellan Vannin which is my excuse), So not sure where that comes on the dead-moribund-revived spectrum. Came away with a car sticker reading ‘Mooinjer Veggey’ (“Little people” – the term for the fairies but also the name of a Manx-language playgroup). It does have to be said that only a couple of pupils at the school I was attached to were taking up the opportunity to do Manx as their compulsory language (instead of French or German). And while one of the teachers at the school was a native speaker of a Celtic language, it turned out to be Welsh (giving me an unexpected opportunity for practice).

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    Encouraging! Sounds like Manx, too, may be on the upward path to “critically endangered” …

  6. I thought that the Manx parliament is obliged to publish laws in English as well as Manx. If so, there is at least one person there who’s legally obliged to be fluent.

  7. PlasticPaddy says

    It took me a minute to read mooinjer veggey as múintir bheag(a) . You have to love Irish spelling 😊

  8. I’m 1/8 Manx. Alas, the only Manx I know is goll as gaccan (“going and grumbling”) which was my great-grandmother’s (she who lived to be 101) standard response to “How are you?” It seems a more accurate standard response in many ways than anything we possess in English.

    Manx is, of course, “not well,” but it is no longer, strictly speaking “dead.” There’s even a primary school on the island where all subjects are taught in Manx:

  9. David Eddyshaw says

    mooinjer veggey

    Part of me feels that if you will insist on writing your Gaelic with English spelling conventions, you really deserve to lose your language. But the better part of me is more charitable.

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    The Irish is muintir, not múintir, I assumed the spelling oo is for long u.
    Goll is gaccan = (a) ag gol is [=agus] ag *geacaint or (b) gol is [=agus] geacanna
    Gol has the sense of sobbing in Irish and yack > geac.

  11. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I don’t think Manx ever quite got to the ‘writing only’ stage – if I’m understanding correctly, when the last fluent-from-childhood speakers were dying, there were adult learners who had learnt from those speakers, and people who had known some Manx from childhood but weren’t fluent. So it depends where exactly you draw the line.

    I entirely agree about the spelling, though.

  12. I imagine many international High Net Worth customers would prefer to have their financial records made available in Jèrriais rather than English

  13. Jersey Bean says

    It is usually the English tax exile immigrants who don’t want any public spending on Jerriais. They would probably prefer that only English to be used, making Jersey into another ‘Little England’ holiday home, just like have done in Spain.

  14. David Marjanović says

    Except Mallorca, which speaks German.

  15. goll as gaccan (“going and grumbling”)

    ag gabháil (as in Ó Dónaill sense II)

    Dwelly’s Faclair Gàidhlig has gàgan “cackling”, “noisy speech”

    Could be a description of how a hen gets about.

  16. PlasticPaddy says

    Thanks. I misread the original English gloss of goll. If gaggan has a fáda I think Manx spelling would make it gaagan. The Scots Gaelic word is like cackle or caw (or indeed Irish gogail and grágaíl).

  17. The Manx spelling is as I gave it as a simple Google search would tell you. Among other things, it’s the name of a Manx language YouTube channel.

  18. PlasticPaddy isn’t doubting your spelling but saying it’s evidence against the gàgan hypothesis.

  19. Wiktionary cross-references gaccan to accan. My copy of Kelly’s Dictionary of Manks (sic: Fockleyr Gailckagh as Baarlagh if you prefer) says (at the beginning of the words beginning with G and using quotes for his italics): All verbs beginning with this letter, as “gra”, to say, “geaishtagh”, to hear, “gagglach”, to frighten, are compounded of “ec” or “ag” at, and the participle or noun.

    And under GACCAN he says: Conjugated with the auxiliary verb “ta mee”,
    and cross-references to the entry for ACCAN (which he takes to be ‘from “ac” to call and “can” or “caney” a mournful sound’).

  20. For GOLL, Kelly supplies an etymology: ‘(Ir. dhul’ ) so presumably a sentence like Ta mee goll = Tá mé ag dul ( I am going). Wiktionary links GOLL to Irish GOIL but says that also may have ag+ dul as the etymology.

  21. wiktionary can do what it likes, but (at least here in noo yawk) i would not link anything to an irish goil in print without checking with her first.

  22. David Marjanović says

    You win one (1) internets.

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