A decade ago, the Guernsey Language Commission was formed to try and save the local language. With a change in direction since then, we've taken a look at what is being done to preserve the language which is now classed as "severely endangered".
In 2001, the island's census found 2% of the population spoke Guernesiais fluently - a further 1% could understand it. A small proportion of the island's total number of residents.
No more recent data is available - with the presumption that the number of native speakers has declined, as it hasn't been commonly spoken in local schools since prior to the Occupation.
The 2001 census found that the majority of the speakers at that time were aged over 65.
A States spokesperson today said: “the 2001 census is the most recent data we have. In 2023 most native speakers are aged over 75, leading the language to be classed as 'Severely Endangered'”.
Pictured: The 2001 census is believed to have provided the last data on Guernesiais speakers.
The Language Commission formed in 2013 and launched on 7 February that year was described as a "rescue plan" at a time when the language was considered to be in danger.
Then-Deputy Darren Duquemin, and now-Deputies Steve Falla and Neil Inder were involved as were the then-Bailiff Sir Richard Collas and other supporters of the language - all of whom speak at least some Guernesiais.
The Language Commission received a small grant from the States and private donations, with a new website launched to encourage people to take up lessons and to offer a translation service.
Even though the scope of the Commission has changed since then, the translation service remains a popular provision.
Lessons also remain popular with ongoing courses - fluent speaker Yan Marquis is among the local teachers. Josephine Dowding of the Culture and Heritage team at the States said: "anyone wishing to learn Guernesiais can email email@example.com for the latest details on courses. There are five different courses beginning this week."
House name translations are some of our most popular requests— Guernsey Language Commission (@languagegg) January 19, 2023
If you're looking for inspiration, there is a list online at https://t.co/UyRn1LTGYb
If you wish to have a translation for anything, please fill out the form (at the end of the page above) and email it to us. pic.twitter.com/ZTXa14dO74
Guernsey's population stands at 63,711 (at March 2022) according to the latest rolling electronic census - but no data is collated to record the number of Guernesiais speakers.
In September 2020, as one of the final acts by the last States elected through the district votes system, the island's government agreed to establish a new Guernsey Language Commission to "sustain, develop and promote Guernésiais".
Following the October 2020 island wide election Deputy Andrea Dudley Owen was made President of Education, Sport and Culture - last year she said:
"The Committee is thrilled that the new Guernsey Language Commission is now in a position to really start to increase the profile of Guernésiais and help people understand what a unique and special part of our island heritage it is.
"Sir Richard Collas is excited about the prospect of the Commission bringing together the vast amount of knowledge that exists around our native language to garner support for the long term We are grateful that he is able to bring his talents and energy to lead the Commission through its early days."
Pictured: Sir Richard Collas.
Sir Richard said last year: "...we owe it to our forefathers and to future generations to preserve and promote it. I urge everyone who is interested to seize the occasion by coming forward with their ideas and offers to help.”
Included within the agreement to form the new Language Commission was a funding pledge of £300,000 over a ten year period.
That money was to "halt and reverse" the decline of the Guernésiais language by guiding the "teaching of the language and its integration into the island’s day-to-day life".
The new Guernsey Language Commission was tasked with looking into teaching Guernésiais both in school and to adults, its use in local media, and the provision of a translation service, amongst other ways to revitalise the language’s use in society.
Pictured: Unesco classifies languages in terms of how endangered they are.
Unesco classified Guernesiais as "severely endangered" on its scale. That is the mid point between being extinct and vulnerable.
Other languages on the list include dialects of Flemish, Slovakian, and Italian along with Walloon, Sioux, and Khunsari - all of which are spoken by many tens of thousands of people more than Guernsey French.
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