Preserving endangered language in the Channel Islands

Arrival of boat, Guernsey (credit: Philip de Jersey)

Jersey Norman French, or Jèrriais, has been spoken in Jersey for over 1,000 years. Today, however, the language is obsolescent: it is spoken by some 0.5% of the population, which amounts to 500 speakers, of whom about 100 speak it as their everyday language.

Mari Jones’s research has changed the way the inhabitants of Jersey think about Jèrriais and has strengthened efforts to preserve the language. Her initiatives, featuring widely in local media, have focused on the documentation and preservation of Jèrriais and on influencing language policy.

Jones has collaborated in language planning initiatives, playing a role in the decision to make Jèrriais an ‘official language’ and ensuring that the language is taught in schools. Her engagement with residents, educators and policymakers has raised awareness and demonstrated the importance of Jèrriais to local identity.

She has also built valuable links between language experts in Jersey and the wider language planning community, encouraging them to preserve and revitalise the language. Recognition of her expertise and reputation has led to her being invited by the States of Guernsey to advise on Guernsey’s language revitalisation initiatives, thereby extending the reach of her impact in Jersey.

“The project to produce a recorded archive of spoken Jérriais has been launched to such enthusiasm from the local community… It is clear, as a result of your [Jones’s] persuasive advocacy, that a very committed team has been mobilised comprising not only those involved in teaching and studying the language but a much wider constituency of people… It is truly a community venture.”

– States of Jersey’s Cultural Development Officer