At risk of dying out within a generation, the Norman tongues of the Channel Islands are an important part of our cultural heritage. Now they stand a better chance of survival.

This is not work that we can leave until a metaphorical tomorrow. Unless considerable support is given to those people working to maintain and preserve the Norman tongues of the Channel Islands, they will disappear within the next few decades

Mari Jones

[Dr Jones’ work] has been of enormous importance, as it has shown native speakers that their language is valued after decades of being told that it was worthless… No-one else has undertaken studies to such an academic depth, and we as a community have derived enormous benefit from this

Senior Language Planning Officer of L’Office du Jèrriais

Currently spoken by only a small minority of Islanders, the native Norman tongues of Jersey (Jèrriais), Guernsey (Guernésiais) and Sark (Sercquiais) are in danger of dying out within the next few decades.

Many years of dedicated research by Dr Mari Jones of the Department of French has given a new status to the remaining native speakers of Jèrriais, Guernésiais and Sercquiais, and has helped raise international awareness of their importance to the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Channel Islands.

In Jersey, Jones’ book Jèrriais - Jersey's Native Tongue is seen as a valuable reference work and has made Jèrriais accessible to many more people than before. Her work is mentioned frequently in the social media output of the Jèrriais Language Office, who tweet and blog in Jèrriais, and she has been influential in supporting the greater use of Norman in the Channel Islands.

Jones has also written about the largely unknown work of the Guernseyman Thomas Martin (1839-1921), who translated the Bible and Shakespeare into Guernésiais. Her book was described locally as ‘a significant milestone in the study of Guernsey French’. Her work features regularly in the Guernsey press.

Jones was invited to be the language adviser on Sark Voices. Using recordings of Sercquiais speakers made by the BBC in the 1950s, the aim of this CD is to preserve and showcase the dialect, which is now probably spoken by fewer than 20 people. Over 650 copies of the CD have been sold.

The language of the “North Men”

The Norman French tongues of the Channel Islands have a long history. When Vikings settled an area of northern France, it became known as the place of the “Northman”, or Normandy.  By the first half of the 10th century, Normandy had become a Duchy, whose territory included both the Norman mainland and the Channel Islands. Distinctive linguistic varieties of Norman developed throughout the territory.

In 1204 the Channel Islands became politically separate from the mainland. Norman continued to be spoken in the Islands at first, but from about the 19th century onwards factors such as increasing trade with England and the development of tourism gradually brought in their wake a steady rise in the use of English, seen as the language of prosperity and social advancement.

The decline of Norman became more acute during the Second World War, when large numbers of women and children were evacuated to the UK during the German Occupation of the Channel Islands.

Channel Island Norman is now only spoken by around one percent of Islanders, the majority of them from the older generations. Unless work is done now to study, document and revitalise them, these tongues will disappear forever.

Revitalisation

Over the course of extensive research periods in the Channel Islands, Jones has interviewed many native speakers of Jèrriais, Guernésiais and Serquiais.

By analysing these interviews, Jones has been able to study the distinctive linguistic features of each island’s tongue. She has highlighted their importance, not only to the individual islands themselves, but also to the study of how languages develop and change.

Jones has written many books, scholarly articles and works of general reference on Channel Island Norman, and the attempts to revitalise it. She has been invited to speak to academic and non-academic audiences in the UK, the Channel Islands and in France. The publicity her work has received has raised the profile of these tongues and her findings have given impetus and direction to their revitalisation.