Guernsey French/Introduction to Guernsey French
What is Guernsey French?
Guernsey French is the traditional language of Guernsey. It is derived from 15th Century French, and was an oral language, not being written down until very late in its life. Philologists transcribed it as if it were a form of contemporary French, and to this day it is often referred to as a 'patois', or dialect, of French. Despite this, it remains significantly different both in vocabulary and grammar.
What Language Is Spoken in Guernsey?
Guernsey, like all the Channel Islands, is now an English speaking island. English was made the official language in 1966 (in place of French), and in Jersey French and English are regarded as co-official languages. Due to its proximity to France, there are many people of French origin or with close links to the country or language living in Guernsey.
Guernsey French is a dead language: it is no longer used in any mainstream context, and there are increasingly few native speakers. Unesco has classified it as "severely endangered", and there are thought to be fewer than 1,000 speakers
. However, it is revived by Guernsey French speaking groups and other revival groups.
Guernsey French holds limited cultural significance to younger generations in Guernsey and its future survival is questionable.
However, its value to linguists is great, as it provides a window into 14th Century Norman French.
Why should I learn Guernsey French?
- Because it'll make your old Guernsey gran happy
- Because you're a language student interested in old French
- Because you're a mythographer, mythologist or fan of fairy tales
- Because you're interested in folk history, folk culture and legend
- Because you believe the words of the past shouldn't be allowed to die
- This Is Guernsey comments that "the word is likely to have come from the old French, patoier, ‘to handle clumsily’, and is often steeped in class issues and reserved for the vernacular of commoners and the uncouth. So to anyone speaking d’Guernesiais, ‘patois’ may be a touch on the rude side."