1941: The Jersey Dialect

April 4th, 2013

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1941: The Jersey Dialect

Office du Jerriaishistory, Jersey Evening Post

An article from the Evening Post 18/7/1941:

The Jersey Dialect
A plea for our ancient tongue

The following interesting letter has been received from a very esteemed contributor to this paper

Sir, – Your recent announcement regarding the suspension of the weekly series entitled “Do you Know?” is regretted. It contains instructive information which may be forgotten, and out children and theirs will be grateful if a selection is ultimately published in a permanent form which the compiler may desire to amplify. For instance, the stone steps at the entrance to old farmhouses, notified as “le monteux” and “l’abordat,” are known to me only, but more picturesquely, as “Le p’tit êcali” (pronounced êcayi), i.e., the little staircase; “escalier” in modern French.

Certain revision would be necessary: The nocturnal sewing-party is not “vielle” but “veille,” whoch has the same meaning as the relative French word “veillée,” but ours has a different sound which does not xist in modern French.

“Le Haut Mur” (pronounced “Haou(t) Mû” in approximately the north-east of the island) is not the hill on which Victoria College is situated, but the ancient earthwork near Rozel, reminiscent of the Haguedik erected by Norsemen near Cap La Hague.

An essential correction would be the statement that Prince Lucien Bonaparte came to Jersey “to study the patois.” That last word is erroneous and unbecoming at present. Originally, in the 13th century, it signified, “the song of birds,” but since the 16th century it has indicated a more or less mongrel form of speech.

The word is often applied to our dialect through ignorance, even by men of learning, such as Professor Dauzat, an eminent linguist, who has described “patois” as ‘a language socially decayed which has ceased to be spoken by educated people.’ He realises now, to my knowledge, that apart from other reasons our dialect must not be included in that category. Moreover, he has recorded that, among the Romance dialects, ours is one of the best preserved.

The attention of other Continental linguists has been drawn to the dialects of the “Iles normandes” in recent years. Personal visits have been made and relative results have been published, notably, a detailed report regarding “the assibilation of the letter R”; i.e., a pronunciation which, in my youth, was known here as Faldouais, because it was characteristic of the speech in the Vingtaine de Faldouet (pronounced Faldou).

Stimulated by Mr. John Collas’ authoritative monograph published by the Société Guernesiaise in 1934, it is hoped that, in due course, research may be resumed by other specialists, especially regarding our rich sounds which cannot be expressed by means of the ordinary alphabet. They would also be charmed by our beautiful proverbs and quaint locutions ‘du terroir’; as well as by our ‘petite litérature’ which includes delightful publications by the late Sir Robert Marett and others whose writings often remind us of the ‘chansons de geste.’ Four hundred years ago, Montaigne said of another language what is applicable to ours: ‘il s’y rencontre des phrases excellentes et des metaphores desquelles la beaulté flestrit de vieillesse.”

To revert to the ugly word “patois.” It was not adopted by the compilers of the English Dialect Dictionary, and it has never been applied to the Anglo-Norman dialect, so akin to ours, which was the official language in England during a long period. Nor has it ever been called English-French for the same reason that “Jersey-French” is a misnomer applied to our dialect. A correct designation would be the “Jersey-Norman dialect” (in harmony with the term “Anglo-Norman”); but, for current purposes, the “Jersey Dialect” (tout court) suffices to distinguish it from other relative dialects.

It is, however, a different and a serious matter when it is denigrated as “a patois.” I have heard it called “a paytoice.” Whatever the pronunciation, it is a bad word to use in this respect, and it hurts us who have learnt our ancient tongue at our mother’s knees.