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Is it too late for Guernsey French?

Is it too late for Guernsey French?

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Is it too late for Guernsey French?

Wednesday 26 August 2020

While many islanders have said they would love to see a resurgence of Guernsey’s native language, some are sceptical that plans approved by the States to pump £300,000 into a language commission won’t be enough to save it.

Education, Sport & Culture led proposals to ‘halt and reverse’ the decline of Guernésiais, with the introduction of initiatives to teach the language to all ages, integrate it into day-to-day life, and make it one of the island’s official languages.

But some residents feel the effort is too little, too late, and that a resurgence in the language is unlikely.

Charlie, 23, said he didn’t expect the States decision to act as a ‘call to arms', encouraging people to learn the language.

“I think a couple of the elderly people who have had more involvement with the language might be interested, so I guess it’s nice for them,” he explained. “But I don’t know anybody personally who would turn around and want to learn the language.”

According to the States’ 2001 census, 2% of the population of Guernsey said they were able to speak the language fluently, with only 14% able to understand it at all. 70% of those fluent speakers were over the age of 64.


Pictured: In 2008, Guernsey Post sold a limited edition set of stamps inscribed with Guernésiais phrases.

Samantha, 28, felt it would be hard to convince younger generations to invest their time into learning Guernésiais.

“It’s a shame, but I just don’t think it’ll make much of a comeback, not when English is everywhere," she said.

But Vince, 44, remembers his mother speaking Guernésiais in his youth, and would appreciate the chance to learn the language properly.

“It would be really nice to be able to dust off the cobwebs and be able to speak patois again, but I’d need to have someone to speak it with to be worth it,” he said.

“There’s a big difference between bringing it back as a sort of hobby for some people, and properly making it a part of our life. £300,000 really isn’t enough to change something like that.”

Despite scepticism that the States’ plans will truly revive the language, islanders seem to think an effort to preserve it is worth something.

“It is part of our history, you can’t just ignore it,” Charlie continued. “But times change. But it’s really tough, because you wouldn’t want to erase it, would you?”

Pictured: While Guernésiais is not widely spoken or understood, some islanders still make a special effort to showcase the language.

However, Charlie did feel that there was no long-term risk of permanently losing the language.

“It’s not like if you don’t do it now, people are suddenly going to go ‘what’s Guernsey French?’. At any point in time they could reintroduce it, but to me, there’s no sense of urgency.”

Ashley, 25, felt similarly. She remembers her grandfather occasionally speaking Guernésiais in the home, but hasn’t heard anyone else speaking it in many years.

“It just never seems to come up in conversation,” she said. “I really don’t think it’s going to come back. There’s other things that would be a better use of our money at the minute.”

Pictured Top: The Guernsey Language Commission, recently approved by the States, hopes to re-incorporate Guernésiais into day-to-day life.

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