What does Jèrriais mean to you? Or perhaps I should say:
Tch’est qu’i’ veurt dithe pouor té, l’Jèrriais?
In recent years our historic language – which has its roots in the Norman French that William the Conqueror spoke – has been declining in popularity. Today there may only be about 500 people who can speak it fluently.
However, that could be about to change. A new plan has been adopted which draws together a number of different initiatives – a community project to create an archive of spoken Jèrriais that can be used by new learners and researchers; the appointment of new teachers in schools; and the development of an adult programme including new online resources.
It’s not that long ago that you’d hear Jèrriais regularly in daily life but now it’s a rarity though enthusiasts meet weekly at Costa Coffee in Bath Street to ensure that the language of the country parishes can be heard in the metropolis. Some of them will be taking part in the project launched by academics Dr Mari Jones and Dr Julia Sallabank to create a recorded legacy of the language.
A team of volunteers is standing-by with digital recorders to capture the rich variety of Jèrriais which still exists. Project co-ordinator Averil Arthur would love to hear from any speakers willing to take part. You can contact her on 07797 848040 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org And there’s also a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/jerriaistoday
In schools the impact is likely to be evident next year – two new teachers were appointed last year and a further two are being appointed this year. They will be learning Jèrriais so that a weekly lesson can be offered to children in Years 4, 5 and 6 at Primary School with the possibility of continuing studies after that.
L’Office du Jèrriais– the teaching team set up by the charitable body the Don Balleine with support from the States – is now working with the new teachers to pass on the language; in the future they’ll be concentrating all their efforts on Jèrriais in the community, making the language more visible and providing opportunities for adults to learn and use it.
So does Jèrriais mean anything to you? Is it a fast-disappearing part of our history or something that makes the Island special which should be sustained?
What’s interesting is that many people from outside the Island find it particularly fascinating and we often use it when we want to convince visitors that there’s something unusual about Jersey – it was used in the ceremony to open the last two Island Games held in Jersey, and official visitors are often given a taste of the language.
If you look at what’s happening in the Isle of Man, where Manx was rescued from oblivion after the last native speaker died in 1974, you get encouragement that something can be done to breathe life into a historic language –it’s not too late!