European Journal of Language Policy

A parochial lost cause? The micro-politics of language revitalization initiatives in Jersey (Channel Islands)

European Journal of Language Policy (2016), 8, (1), 79–104.

Abstract

The patois still understood, written and occasionally spoken in the island of Jersey has both an illustrious history as the linguistic signifier of this "piece of France thrown into the sea and picked up by England" (Hugo 1866), and a twenty-first-century relevance as a case study for sociolinguistic obsolescence, even irrelevance. This paper aims to investigate its status, form and expression in popular literature. The method employed is principally documentary analysis, in an attempt to situate jèrriais in the current debate about endangered languages and the effects on a minority (insular) language of its contact with two competing high-status world languages, although personal experience of living on the island in the 1980s is also drawn upon. In the author’s view, the crucial factor in the obsolescence of jèrriais is the widely held belief – even among scholars, see Jones (2001) – in its normative difference from ‘proper’ French and an unquestioning acceptance by Jersey residents of their own position in the Anglophone world. Historically speaking, it is the centuries (since 1204) of political isolation from the French-speaking Normandy peninsula that has in his view led to the terminal decline of jèrriais.

Le patois normand qui est encore compris, écrit et même parlé de temps en temps sur l’île de Jersey recèle non seulement une illustre histoire en tant que signifiant linguistique de ce « morceau de France tombé dans la mer et ramassé par l’Angleterre » (Hugo 1866), mais aussi une importance bien contemporaine en tant qu’exemple d’un déclin, voire d’une disparition sociolinguistique. L’article vise à étudier l’état, la forme et l’expression dans la littérature populaire de ce parler, principalement au moyen d’une analyse documentaire qui tente de situer le jèrriais dans le débat actuel sur les langues en danger de disparition et les effets sur une langue minoritaire et insulaire d’un contact prolongé avec deux langues concurrentes de prestige mondial. L’auteur fait également référence à son séjour sur l’île dans les années 80. À son avis l’obsolescence du jèrriais s’explique par la conviction largement répandue – même parmi les linguistes comme Jones (2001) – de la différence normative entre celui-ci et le français « correct », aussi bien de l’acceptation aveugle des habitants de l’île de leur place dans le monde anglophone. D’un point de vue historique, ce sont les siècles (depuis 1204) de séparation politique de la Normandie continentale qui ont provoqué, selon l’auteur, le déclin irrémediable du jèrriais.

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Hopkins, Mark