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29 October 2014
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Jèrriais and Sercquiais today
The status of Jèrriais
The history of Jèrriais and Sercquiais

The history of Jèrriais and Sercquiais

The reason that Norman French dialects are spoken on the Channel Islands is that from 933 to 1204 they formed part of the Duchy of Normandy and at this time the Channel Islands looked to Normandy in terms of their administration, culture and language. Jerseymen may well have formed part of the army of William the Conqueror when he defeated the English at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and united the realms of England and Normandy.

In 1204, King John of England lost the Duchy of Normandy to France. The Channel Islands, however, chose to keep their ties with the English Crown, but in spite of this the English language did not arrive in the Islands overnight. Trading links were kept with France, religious ties were maintained until the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, a French monetary system was used until the 19th century and even in the 21st century many laws are still Norman.

Why then, after being spoken for hundreds of years, are there now so few speakers left of Jèrriais and Sercquais? The reasons are many and complex. The fact that the Channel Islands were allied to the English Crown after 1204 meant that France became the enemy. English has therefore been present on Jersey since the Middle Ages, when garrisons were established to defend the Island against the French. Jèrriais remained as the everyday variety of the majority of Islanders until well into the 19th century - although from this time on, increasing trade links, more regular transport services and the start of the Island's tourist industry, led to ever more frequent contact between Jersey and the British mainland.

The evacuation of a large number of Islanders to the British mainland in the days preceding the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War also had severe linguistic repercussions as a considerable proportion of Jersey's child population consequently spent the next five years (1940-45) cut off from their native tongue and immersed in English. On their return, many had either forgotten their Jèrriais or chose to continue using English, which they saw as a means to prosperity and social advancement.

Anglicisation has also been furthered by immigration from the United Kingdom during the second half of the 20th century, most notably with the establishment of the offshore banking industry and demand for workers in tourism and in the service industry.

Sark was later to Anglicise than Jersey due to the fact that it was only rarely visited by Englishmen before the 19th century. It seems likely that the Anglicisation of this island stems from the arrival of English-speaking miners who, in 1835, were brought to work in a tin mine. The development of Sark's tourist industry shortly afterwards must also have been a contributory factor. As only 129 of the 600-strong population left Sark during the Second World War, it seems likely that the War had less of an Anglicising influence here than on Jersey.

Jèrriais has had a strong influence on the English spoken on Jersey, and has given it a highly distinctive character. One example of this is the widespread use of the forms me, you, him, her, us and them at the end of a sentence in order to emphasise the person who is being spoken about: I'm from Jersey, me. This clearly reflects the emphatic use of such forms in Jèrriais: Jèrriais: J'sis d'Jèrri, mé.

Even if Jèrriais does cease to be spoken natively sometime during this century, therefore, it may well live on for a little longer via the imprint it has left on Jersey English.


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