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Lifeline for Guernsey French could be on the way?

Lifeline for Guernsey French could be on the way?

Thursday 26 July 2018

Lifeline for Guernsey French could be on the way?

Thursday 26 July 2018

Some positive signs for the future of Guernsey's native language came out of a public meeting this week, which was supposed to be focused on just the preservation of the Guernsey French Eisteddfod.

The evening led to discussions over the perceived lack of political support for the language along with frustrations over lost opportunities to protect "patois" in the past.

Deputy Rhian Tooley was at the meeting representing the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture, which has responsibility for the protection and preservation of the language under the "culture" part of their remit, while there are continued calls for more efforts to educate people in Guernesiase.

Rhian Tooley

Pictured: Deputy Rhian Tooley, who recently attended a conference on endangered languages

She said that work carried out by the previous ESC committee to come up with a strategy for the language was not wasted and that it has been picked up by the current committee, which was elected to carry through the plans for the two-school model of secondary education.

Deputies Paul Le Pelley, Neil Inder and David de Lisle were also at the meeting. They had sat on the previous ESC committee and said that a policy letter had been drawn up and was waiting to be lodged for States debate. Deputy Tooley said that policy letter has been picked up and will be presented to the States at the earliest opportunity.

Deputy de Lisle said legislation had also been drawn up to put the Guernsey Language Commission into formal standing - that again has not been done, but Deputy Tooley said it was part of longer term plans.

Express has asked ESC what is happening with the policy letter and legislation regarding the Language Commission but has not had a reply yet. Express also asked each of the five members of ESC - Deputies Matt Fallaize, Mark Dorey, Peter Roffey and Richard Graham along with Deputy Tooley, if they personally do support the language and efforts to protect and enhance it.

Deputy Graham was the only one to respond saying the committee does support the language. 

Guernsey Language Commission

The Guernsey Language Commission was set up in 2012 by former Deputy Darren Duquemin and others, but it has never been an official States body and has operated as a shadow commission - without the funding or the support either the arts or sports commissions receive. 

The language commission now is considered to be effectively a one-woman body with Josephine Dowding being widely praised for her work to keep the language alive through social events and educational initiatives at Tuesday's meeting.

Ms Dowding works for the Guernsey Museums service which has responsibility for the language commission.

Among those praising Ms Dowding's efforts was Deputy Inder, one of the original language commissioners. He had been one of the more vocal supporters of Guernesiase in the States and said it would be a crime if the language is allowed to die out.

"The word 'language' was added into the Policy and Resources Plan and adopted by the States in 2016. It is therefore implied that the whole of the States supports the development, if not saving of the language. Encouragingly Deputy Tooley as a member of Education Sport and Culture gave a firm commitment to the bringing to the States a Policy letter and a plan before the States.

"If you look at us as an Island our roots to the English Crown and the Duchy of Normandie it is a fact that Guernsey French is a one of Europe's most ancient of languages. The extinction of that language would be a cultural crime and as one of the world's wealthiest Islands we are duty bound to ensure its survival.

"There is a clear ground swell of support for the language, what it needs now is some investment, some learning tools and a development plan. We are in the last chance saloon and if it dies on our watch it would be to the shame of all of us."

Neil Inder

Pictured: Deputy Neil Inder

Steve Falla, an experienced PR executive, was another of the original commissioners but he said effectively the Language Commission no longer exists as it had not received the support which was originally intended.

"There was a lot of goodwill from the voluntary shadow commissioners at the beginning," he said, "but the lack of progress to ratify the commission deprived it of the oxygen it needed to make progress, therefore it has fallen away. Let’s not be mistaken, the shadow commission no longer exists."

If the commission were to continue, Mr Falla said it would need much more political support.

"Ideally it would enjoy a similar standing to the Arts Commission and Sports Commission. This will require considerable energy, private funding (potentially in the form of sponsorship) and, lastly, genuine political support."

Steve Falla

Pictured: Steve Falla

Mr Falla and Deputy Inder were both at Tuesday's meetings, which was intended to be a discussion over the future of the Guernsey French Eisteddfod but turned more generally to discussions on wider matters relating to the language.

Mr Falla said the meeting had a positive outcome for him, but there is much work to do to save the language. 

"(Last night’s) meeting was an indication of the will to do something and there are many more in the community who are inclined towards supporting Guernsey’s language. It’s an important part of our heritage and we need to galvanise the supporters, put petty semantics to one side and find relevant, contemporary and manageable ways of celebrating it."

Guernsey French Eisteddfod meeting

Pictured: The Frossard Theatre at Candie Gardens hosted the meeting on the future of the Guernsey French Eisteddfod with a positive turn out

Tuesday's meeting was organised by Roy Sarre and  Geoff Mahy of the Guernsey French Eisteddfod. Both men are passionate about the language and want to encourage more people to take part.

Historical differences in opinion in pronunciations which have led to some division between Guernesiaise speakers was touched on, with Mr Sarre saying that has to be left in the past and people need to work together to save the event and the language.

Guernsey French eisteddfod meeting Geoff Mahy Roy Sarre

Pictured: Geoff Mahy (standing) addressing the audience during talks on the future of the Guernsey French Eisteddfod with Roy Sarre (sitting)

Mr Mahy said a number of ideas had been suggested to try and boost entry numbers at the eisteddfod. They had dwindled this year along with a shrinking audience in recent years. 

"I hope that we can tailor make the eisteddfod to bring in more audience and to make it more attractive to competitors," Mr Mahy said.

"The syllabus is not yet out (for next years eisteddfod) but I suspect that we will see something revamped in the way of how we present things and how we advertise our classes and I think there's been some willingness from some people to recite but not actually to go on a stage and obviously we have to try and address that, maybe with using smaller premises."

Mr Mahy said he had spoken with his counterpart in Jersey to share ideas for the eisteddfods celebrating the islands' local languages. Jersey has a programme to fund teachers to educate children in the island's schools on Jerrias but that has never been replicated officially in Guernsey.

Mr Mahy said the Jersey French Eisteddfod also benefits from closer cooperation between different generations.

"He told me that there is a demand from youngsters to take their grandparents on the stage with them, and that is actually happening or is going to happen. So you might get grandparents with their youngsters against another grandparent with their youngsters which is an interesting interaction." 



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