13 January 2008

Saving a language

Guernsey has introduced urgent measures to protect its native Guernésiais language before it dies out altogether. The Channel island acted after research revealed that fewer than 1,300 islanders - or 2 per cent - can still speak it fluently, and most of those are aged more than 65. The States of Guernsey government also sees it as imperative that written Guernésiais is archived before it becomes extinct, and has appointed a development officer to ensure the language's survival.


Guernésiais is often referred to, rather disparagingly, as a 'patois', or as Guernsey French. But, say local experts, it is not a cannibalised version of French but a Norman language in its own right. A hundred years ago, most islanders would have spoken Guernésiais as their first language, alongside passable French and English.


Not much of a story perhaps, but The Channel Isles once had four distinct Norman dialects of: Guernesias; Jerrais (Jersey); Sercquais (Sark) and Auregnais (Alderney). Auregnais died out by WWII and there are now fewer than 20 speakers of Sercqauis. Jerrais has about 3,000 speakers.


There are about 6,000 languages spoken across the world, between 50 and 90% of them could become extinct but the end of the 21st Century. Here’s hoping that Guernesais does not go the way of Norn, (the Norse language of the Orkneys and Shetlands) and or Yola (A middle English dialect of south eastern Ireland) both of which died out by the 19th century.

12 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

In the future most people will live in some 20 to 30 big cities. Small languages don't have a place in the future.

jams o donnell said...

We already have quite a few Mega citiees and that will certainly grow. Further urbanisation will kill off some smaller languages.

Even without urbanisation the High/low efect (which killed off Cornish, Norn and Yola) will probably destroy more languages - minor indigenous languages being seen as the low languages where there is less incentive to learn them.

Roger B. said...

I had no idea that Guernsey had its own language.

I used to know a man who was born and raised on the island, but he never mentioned the language. During WWII he was evacuated from Guernsey to Rochdale - quite a change of scene for a small child!

Richard Havers said...

They've got little or no chance. In Scotland Gaelic is down to 50,000 which is considered to be just about the minimum to stop it dying out all together. Even with the new Gaelic schools it's going to be tricky.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

always sad when a language dies out as a part of a culture dies with it.

Dragonstar said...

Guernsey is such a beautiful place. I hope they manage to save at least a part of their language.

Sean Jeating said...

There seems to remain but one chance:
A law offering severe punishment to everybody who'd dare to speak or write Guernésiais. :)

Interesting Sunday-post, Jams. Thanks.

jams o donnell said...

As a living, working language, Guernesais is probably doomed. That said, there will still be speakers but it will probably become one for academics and enthusiasts. Sad but at least it won't be lost like Norn mainly is.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

It's very much of a story but the idea of les immortelles is a troubled one. Difficult to know what to do really.

jams o donnell said...

I can't see it surviving as a living, working language in the long run but it won't become extinct. I suppose that it some cold comfort

Bryce said...

Here's a great website in Norman that you might find helpful in increasing the lifespan of the language (that's what the website is all about):

Nouormand wiki browser

jams o donnell said...

Thanks for the link. Much appreciated