The Evidence of French Influence on the Channel Island. Is French still relevant in local press of the Channel Islands?

Seminar Paper, 2020

17 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Background
2.1 Geographical Location
2.2 History of Settlement on the Channel Islands

3. Languages Spoken on the Channel Islands
3.1 English
3.2 French
3.3 Jèrriais
3.4 Portuguese

4. InfluenceofFrenchonChannellslandEnglishToday
4.1 Syntax
4.2 Vocabulary
4.3 Pronunciation

5. Evidence of Ongoing French Influence on Current Channel Island English

6. Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

The history of the Channel Islands and their specific geographical situation between France and Great Britain caused the emergence of a lesser known variety of the English language - the English of the Channel Islands. The closeness to France raised various Norman French dialects and arouses the interest in investigating the current linguistic situation.

For someone the Channel Islands are clearly an English speaking region; for others, they represent a francophone territory due to their proximity to France. Viereck characterises the Channel Islands as an “Anglicist’s no-Man’s land” (1988: 468). This underlines the ambiguous linguistic situation and provides opportunities for hypotheses concerning the use of the language.

Currently, English is the primary language of economic and political activity on the Channel Islands. Other languages spoken beyond the archipelago include French, which is mostly employed in administrative activities; Portuguese, spoken primarily by immigrants on the Islands; and a variety of Norman dialects which originate in Norman French and are spoken by a minority of the population. Jones (2010: 42) predicts that Norman is set to disappear, as fewer and fewer inhabitants choose to speak the dialect in favour of English. Jones (2010: 42) also adds that the conscious corrections of non-standard characteristics in English will also contribute to the elimination of the Norman influence. Additionally, French usage continues to decline as English becomes more popular.

The disappearance of French influence can already be observed as only very few appearances can be found in the current local press. Nevertheless, due to the Norman and French influence on the English Channel Islands, a distinctive local variety of English called Channel Island English (hereinafter called CIE) emerged, which incorporates elements of French and Norman.

The goal of this term paper is to examine the ongoing influence of Norman and Standard French on CIE. To present the French influence on CIE, articles in the local online press were studied to find utterances, either grammatical or lexical, that were derived from Norman French. The Guernsey Press and Jersey EveningPost were searched for examples.

Starting with an introduction to the geographical situation and the historical background of the Channel Islands, the term paper will provide an insight into the features of the English of the Channel Islands. Moreover, a short overview about the current linguistic situation will be given. The second part relates to the analysis of newspaper articles regarding the ongoing of the French influence in the local press. Lastly, after summarising the gained findings the term paper provides an outcome on where CIE is headed.

2. Theoretical Background

2.1 Geographical Location

The Channel Islands are located in the Gulf of St. Malo as a part of the English Channel, off the coast of the Normandy. They have two governorates (known as bailiwicks): Jersey, with a population of 91,000 and area of 116 square kilometres and its smaller islands (Dirouilles, Barnouics, Minquires and Ecrehous) and Guernsey, with a population of 65,000 and area of 65 square kilometres, which includes Alderney, Sark, Herrn, Jethou and several smaller islands (Lihou, Burhou and Brecqhou) (Ogier 2005: 18). For centuries, the autonomy and independence of these islands has led to the emergence of specific forms of governance, in which ancient traditions are mixed with certain English and French characteristics.

This map was deleted by the editors due to copyright issues

Map 1 Geographical location of the Channel Islands (Google-Maps)

The parliamentary assemblies of each bailiwick are known as states. Each state has a governor (appointed by the bailiff, the king / queen) and his deputy (deputy bailiff), and the deputy governor (lieutenant governor, also appointed by the king / queen) to represent the Crown. The legal system is based on English law with various special local rules and regulations, which are supervised by the Royal Court. There is no written constitution; customary law and communityjurisprudence govern certain processes, rights and obligations. There are no political parties either; the delegates are independent. Members of the parliament are also Crown representatives, who have an observational or advisory role in certain situations. Despite their close relationship with the United Kingdom, the Channels Islands are an independent state; therefore, those residing in the Channel Islands do not vote in UK parliamentary elections. In return, the UK government only provides services in matters of defence and foreign affairs. All other matters, including the taxation system, belong to the authorities of the govemorates. The Islands are connected to the UK exclusively through the English Crown, since the English ruler at that time also bears the title of Prince of Normandy (Ogier 2005: 198).

The Islands do not fall within the European Union. They have only a limited relationship with the European Union, governed by the 1972 UK Declaration of Accession (Ogier 2005: 205). According to Lösch (2000: 101), inhabitants have conflicting attitudes towards the EU, which can be attributed to the mistrust of France that has developed throughout the history of the Islands.

2.2 History of Settlement on the Channel Islands

In 933, the Islands came under Viking rule, where they were gifted to the Duchy ofNormandy by Rollo’s son William the Longsword. A century later, William the Conqueror ofNormandy conquered England and was crowned king (Johnston 1994: 49). From 933 to 1204, the Islands, under the jurisdiction of the English Crown, attempted to attract settlers with various concessions. To their advantage, the Channel Islands never employed the classic serfdom present in neighbouring French territories and were therefore attractive to those wishing to escape that system (Coysh 1977: 54).

In 1204, King John of England lost Normandy to the French, and King Philip II displaced the English from France. The residents of the Islands were forced to decide whether to remain loyal to the English crown or to submit to French rule with the occupation of Normandy. Upon choosing to remain loyal to the English Crown, King John granted the Islands governmental independence from England, thus preserving for the preservation (to this day) Norman administrative traditions.

During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms in the 17th century, the Channel Islands faced an internal conflict between Jersey, the largest of the islands, which preferred the Royalist cause and supported the ostracised Charles, Prince of Wales as the rightful ruler, and the more PresbyterianGuernsey, which preferred the parliamentary cause (Moore 2005: 226). The Islands, moreover, gained political and commercial interests in the American colonies. In the 1640s, Charles II regained power, and in return for all the support during his exile, Charles II gave George Carteret, bailiff and governor of Jersey, land in the American colonies. The name of the territory, New Jersey, which now belongs to the US, originates from this event (Moore 2005: 227).

Le Patourel (1976: 35) calls attention to the fact, that throughout the Middle Ages, the English influence on the Channel Island languages was almost completely absent as the inhabitants were in contact exclusively with the Normans. This situation began to change only during the 18th and 19th centuries when English military troops arrived to protect the Islands against the French. Yet, in the first half of the 19th century, French remained the dominant language.

3. Languages spoken on the Channel Islands

As shown above, the linguistic situation of the Channel Islands is a very special one. The current status in respect of the prevailing languages is described by Jones (2010: 37) as following: Norman patois, Standard French and standard English with different regionals dialects. Furthermore, it must be added, that all speakers of the Norman French dialects are considered bilinguals; all of them speak English (2013: 321).

3.1 English

Over the years, many have attempted to analyse and characterise the nature of the CIE. The variety of English spoken on both main islands - Jersey and Guernsey - are regarded as a “unique blend of features originating from different sources” (Ramisch qtd. in Rosen 2014: 2). There are two main factions of CIE: Jersey English (JersE) and Guernsey English (GuemsE). They are also regarded as varieties of English. Note that this division mirrors the 17th century divide between Royalist Crown supporters and Presbyterian parliamentary supporters (Moore 2005: 226).

Rosen (2014: 17-19) notes that, even though CIE has features that are characteristic of other varieties of English that develop from the expansion of the language to other territories, it cannot be called ’post-colonial English’, as the Islands have relatively independent political status. Even those who were raised speaking Norman French have shifted by now to English in most situations and contexts.

Regarding the distinct English dialects in the Channel Islands, Le Pelley (1975: 18) wrote a short article to call attention to this peculiarity. In his article, he presents several typical features such as the use of eh, borrowed expressions from Norman French, or the use of emphatic pronouns. Moreover, the author predicts the slow extinction of the Guernsey English spoken dialect: “Guernsey-English [...] is now in great danger of disappearing under the pressure of the telly. It is on its way out” (Le Pelley 1975: 18). Clyne (1975: 16) calls the attention to the transference phenomena that occur as a result of the comingling of English and Norman French spoken on the Islands, claiming that several characteristics of CIE can be attributed to Norman influence.

3.2 French

Standard French as official language in the Channel Islands has never been used as first spoken language among the islanders. Instead of that, closely related Norman dialects are spoken on Jersey, Sark and Guernsey. The Norman French of the lie of Alderney got lost during the beginning of the 20th century (Liddicoat 2011: 1).

According to Sallabank, “Norman is defined as langues d’oil of northern France” (Sallabank 2011: 22). Therefore, the Norman dialects in the Channel Islands are understood to be related to Standard French. Nevertheless, several supporters claim that they are not French dialects as they differ significantly from French. It becomes obviously, that there is some ambiguity to find an appropriate term when talking about the Channel Islands Norman. Ramisch (1989: 21) emphasizes that terms like dialect, patois or parier local are used often, but that Norman French could be seen as an own language.

Originally, Channel Islands Norman varieties were considered to be of the lower class spoken only by illiterate peasants. Standard French, however, was considered to be the language of education, literacy, the court, and religion up to the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Standard French is still believed to be ‘the good French‘ (Sallabank 2011: 22), while Norman varieties are considered to be patois. Patois in French means “incorrect, deficient dialect” (Sallabank 2011: 22). Spence (qtd. in Sallabank 2011: 22) claims that the attitude of those who traditionally spoke Jersey Norman-French (locally coined Jèrriais) largely contributed to the decline of the vernacular as they themselves saw it as a ‘patois’ and did not make an effort to save it (ibid.). This attitude affected the children as well, prompting a further decline.

Recently, the terms Jèrriais and Guernesiais have grown in popularity as language campaigners promote their use and the return of the dialects’ widespread usage. While the spoken patois and Standard French differ significantly in regard to grammar, vocabulary, and phonology, French rules of spelling and grammar still apply to writing. Thus, French speakers have no difficulty in reading Channel Island Norman. Yet, French speakers claim that it is fairly difficult to understand spoken Channel Island Norman (Sallabank 2011: 22). Tomlinson (qtd. in Sallabank 2011: 22) examined the audio recordings ofFrench and Guernesiais speakers and observed that only approximately 25% of the participants were mutually intelligible.

3.3 Jèrriais

Jèrriais, Guernesiais and Sercquiais (last-mentioned is neglected in following investigations) are varieties of Norman French and known under the term Channel Island French (Jones 2010: 37). Generally, the linguistic situation of the two main islands (Jersey and Guernsey) is nearly identical, apart from several dialectal variations.

Jèrriais (or Jèrriaise) is considered Jersey’s own language and named ‘Jersey Norman- French’ or patois. Most islanders no longer speak the language, despite it being widespread in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the mid-1980s, approximately 7,000 to 10,000 spoke Jèrriais (Birt qtd. in Johnson 2008: 75); however, by 1989 only 5,720 Jèrriais speakers remained (Sallabank qtd. in Johnson 2008: 75).

According to the Jersey Census of 2001 only 2,874 people, or 3.2% of the population spoke Jèrriais. Two-thirds were aged 60 and over. The number of Jersey French speakers in 2001 was half the number recorded in 1989. (Jersey Census: 2001). This part of the population grew up with Jèrriais, spoke it in every-day conversation and can be regarded as bilinguals (Rosen 2014: 46). It seems that Jèrriais is no longer spoken by all generations of the family and passed over from generation to generation.

Jèrriais is now only a second language for those few who still speak it and is used almost exclusively in the context of celebrating the language. It may also be used in educational settings that strive to maintain its usage in island culture (Johnson 2008: 75). Nowadays, Jèrriais only symbolizes Jersey’s past and national identity that has gained new meaning. Music and songs play an important role in its preservation, as they are a means of maintaining the language and retaining it for the future generations (Johnson 2008: 75). As Jèrriais is very much a minority language, it has also become “marginalised and is threatened by extinction“ (Johnson 2008: 75).

Guernesiais is not regarded separately. According to the Census of Guernsey (qtd. in Jones 2010: 42), only 2 per cent of the population, namely 1,327 inhabitants spoke Norman fluently.

3.4 Portuguese

Apart from the influence of Norman French, the speech community of the Channel Islands came into contact with other English varieties from the UK, but with different languages, too. Portuguese is mainly spoken by immigrants in Jersey and Guernsey. Portuguese immigrants comprise 6.4% of the ethnic population in Jersey, mainly arriving to the island from Madeira.


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The Evidence of French Influence on the Channel Island. Is French still relevant in local press of the Channel Islands?
University of Leipzig  (Faculty of Philology, Department of British Studies)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Linguistik, Channel Islands
Quote paper
Silke Hecker (Author), 2020, The Evidence of French Influence on the Channel Island. Is French still relevant in local press of the Channel Islands?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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