The political committee responsible for both the island's heritage and education services say it is committed to preserving Guernesiaise and encouraging new speakers.
A meeting held last week to discuss the future of the Guernsey French Eisteddod turned more widely to the subject of the language itself.
Deputy Rhian Tooley was at the meeting representing ESC.
“The purpose of the meeting that took place on Tuesday 24 July, was to discuss the Guernesiais section of the Guernsey Eisteddfod. My understanding is that this arose following the resignation of the previous Guernsey French Eisteddfod Sub-Committee at the recent AGM. Following this, Geoff Mahy agreed to act as an Executive Officer to bring in a new Sub-Committee. At the meeting, there was support for an ‘All Age Festival of Guernesiais’ within the Eisteddfod, as well as suggestions for how to re-invigorate event."
The number of people competing in and watching the GuernseyFrench Eisteddfod was noticed to have shrunk this year. That is inline with the continuing decline in the number of Guernsey French speakers.
Pictured; Deputy RhianTooley
Prior to the Second World War, a large proportion of the population spoke Guernesiase as their first language. By the end of the Occupation that number had dwindled with evacuated children returning having spoken English for five years.
By the turn of the century it was reported that only around two thousand people considered themselves fluent in the language and that number has continued to shrink despite some efforts to preserve it and encourage more speakers.
During last Tuesday's meeting there were calls to do more to protect the language would could include making the Language Commission an official body supported by the States of Guernsey like the arts and sports commissions.
Deputy Tooley, speaking on behalf of ESC, said some of that work is already happening:
“Understandably, there was also some discussion around what the States of Guernsey are doing to support the language. The Committee for Education, Sport & Culture have met with Professor Mari Jones, the Professor of French Linguistics and Language Change at the University of Cambridge; Fellow in Modern and Medieval Languages and Founder of the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group. In addition to this, I have met and spoken with Dr Julia Sallabank, Associate Dean of Learning and Teaching at SOAS, University of London. I also attended the Cambridge Conference on Language Endangerment at Cambridge University earlier this month when difficulties and experiences of those working to save and re-invigorate indigenous languages around the world were presented and discussed. I have had further meetings with Professor Jones where we have discussed the possibility of working together to ensure that all that can reasonably be done, is done."
Deputy Tooley said the protection of the language so far is down to. small group of people, including Professor Jones and Dr Sallabank.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank both Mari and Julia who have been incredibly generous with their support and time. The level of their commitment to this cause is exceptional."
To see success stories in saving indigenous languages we don't have to look too far.
“Additionally, I have met and spoken with some of the teachers of Jerriais, who are employed by the States of Jersey in an attempt to save Jersey French from extinction," said Deputy Tooley. "They have agreed to share the work they have done, the progress they have made and their plans for the future with the Committee for Education, Sport & Culture. The Committee and its officers are working with these individuals and others in order to ascertain the best way to try to bring the Guernesiais language back from the brink of extinction. It is important that we learn from the successes and failures of other jurisdictions which have sought to resuscitate and re-generate their indigenous languages.
“The Committee fully supports the Guernesiais language and we are keen to work towards preserving it and encourage new speakers. The Committee is scheduled to have a further discussion on this work at its meeting in September.”
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