Changing language of the Channel Isles, June 1907

Decline of French and patois in the islands. From the Star.

It is not less true that our idiom, assaulted on every side by Englishmen emigrated from their country, declines year by year, and the definite year of its abolition approaches.

At Alderney, of the 1,800 inhabitants, scarce 20 speak French correctly. Amongst the 35,000 inhabitants of Guernsey would one find 1,000 who have remained faithful to the ancestral idiom? I doubt it.

In the Protestant churches in town and at St Sampson's the faithful intone hymns laboriously rhymed by 'old fellows' of Oxford. The commercial world would treat with no less disdain the ancient traditions of the Norman particularisation. 'No covenant with Babylon' is the cry.

It is no fault of the Guernsey and Jersey gentlemen of letters if the native idiom passes away. Guernsey, for example, had in George Métivier a linguist of the highest order. The Franco-Norman dictionary places Métivier in the ranks of Grimm, of Darmstefer, of Frederick Godefroy, etc. Poor dictionary of a disappearing tongue.

Mr Thomas Mauger, a clever editor, has made a collection of the posthumous verses of Métivier, and Mr Henri de Monteyremar has written a capital preface to them. A few English writers, charmed by the freshness of these insular odes, have not disdained to initiate their compatriots in the literature of Normandy.

To counteract the dissolvent action of the English emigrants to the Channel Islands it would have been necessary for France to exercise on them a sort of literary and moral patronage. No one ignores that the sons of the best Guernsey and Jersey families used to study law at Rennes and Caen. Why has no-one ever created, in favour of these young and sympathetic people, in either of these universities of the West, either a professorship for knowledge of the law, or one for knowledge of the history of the Province of Normandy?

Camille Vallaux, L'Archipel de la Manche, 1913, pp. 115-116.

Here is a final piece of evidence as to the exact situation of Guernsey's Franco-norman patois as it is today. The men happily speak pure Guernesiais or Franco-anglo-guernesiais whenever and wherever, be it out in St Peter Port or at home. But the women and girls, who are quite happy to speak it at home, in their country parishes, seem reluctant to speak it when they are in Town; speaking Guernesiais is a sign of being countryfied, an impression they are keen to shake off once they reach St Peter Port. On Saturdays, which is market day, the main streets, such as the Pollet and Fountain Street, are crowded with people, the majority French-speaking, most of whom are women; but you will never hear a word of French. 'Our country girls are worried that people will laugh at them if they speak their language,' a distinguished Guernseywoman told me. 'But people find their awful English a lot funnier. Most of them speak English very badly.'

Everything conspires against Guernsey French, political and social pressures, the requirements of business and commercial relationships, everything, even the way that the women are slavish followers of the fashionable; and yet, still Guernsey French refuses to lie down and die. Even in an anglicised parish, such as St Martin's, during the winter, rustic plays are put on in Guernsey patois in the Parish Hall; their naivety is interesting if a bit flowery. 'It's straight out of George Sand,' said a resident Frenchwoman to me.

The rural class who are determined to keep speaking French or their Norman patois are simply led by a feeling they have of their own independence and for historical continuity, difficult to define, and which is to be found amongst nearly all those country folk who work their own land. [From the French.]

From The Transactions of the Guernsey Society of Natural Science and Local Research, V (1905-1908)

Monthly Meeting held on October 18th, 1905, Rev. W Campbell Penney, President, in the chair.

Mr E D Marquand, ALS, read a paper on 'The Guernsey Dialect, and its Plant Names,' which will be found printed in full in these pages. An animated discussion ensued, in the course of which Mr Collenette expressed some doubt whether the patois was dying out in the country parishes as rapidly as some people supposed, although it was noticeable that it was undergoing a change, by the gradual admixture of Breton and English words and expressions. Mr Sharp remarked that if this were so it was all the more reason why phonographic records of the old language should be secured, before it was too late. No doubt a large number of persons could still speak it in its purity. The members present were unanimous in the opinion that something should be done without loss of time, to preserve for future students accurate records of the pronunciation of the patois of Guernsey and the other islands.


The Star, October 17 1929

French Church Services

To the Editor of The Star. Sir: 'Churchman,' writing in the correspondence columns of The Star, is much aggreieved because there are too many French services in the Churches of the Higher Parishes. It is true that nearly everyone in the island understands English, even the oldest inhabitant, but it is only half the truth. It must be remembered that French is still the language of our country folk, it is used in the home every day, and even the young people whose business brings them into contact with English-speaking people, always converse in their native patois. Therefore French services are 'understanded of the people.' I don't think 'Churchman' has any cause to be aggrieved, for in most of our country churches there are English services twice a month in the evenings. Recently, the vicar of Cobo dispensed with the regular French evensong, 'excepting the first Sunday in the month.'

For many years there have been no French services at St Sampson and at the Vale there is only one—on the third Sunday in the month in the morning.