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Saving our language gets a cash boost

Saving our language gets a cash boost

Friday 29 November 2019

Saving our language gets a cash boost

Friday 29 November 2019

Attempts to preserve Guernsey's historic unique language are going to get a £16,000 boost thanks to Education, Sport & Culture.

The money is going in to an initiative to help preserve Guernésiais, and will complement a 'plan for Guernésiais', which the committee will take to the States for debate early next year.

That plan will propose additional investment for a time-limited period of three years. 

The initial investment of £16,000 is in response to a proposal from CHEMIN (Culture, Heritage, Education and Museums’ Information Network) to bring together local volunteers and native speakers of Guernsey-French to work in partnership with two academics: Dr Harry Parkin of the University of Chester and a former pupil of Elizabeth College, and Dàibhidh Grannd, Postgraduate Researcher in Toponymy at the University of Glasgow.

The project's ultimate aim is digitally immortalise Guernsey’s cultural, historical and linguistic heritage through research into local surnames and place names. The Committee said it hoped that children, students, researchers, family historians, visitors and others will become involved to help connect the rich heritage available in separate archives, libraries, museum collections, newspapers, literature and digital media.


Pictured: Deputy Matt Fallaize. 

"We know the number of speakers of our native language is in decline. This is partly why it is important to capture the different dialects of the language, which is a distinctive part of our culture and heritage. If this modest investment helps to produce a digital resource of Island names it will make an important contribution to preserving and strengthening our culture and heritage," Deputy Matt Fallaize, President of ESC, said.

"Action is required before the inevitable loss of the final generation of first-language Guernsey French speakers. CHEMIN hopes to contribute substantially to the preservation of this precious intangible heritage by digitising the entire corpus of Guernsey French vocabulary and producing high-quality recordings of pronunciations in the three extant dialects. This initial project, focussing on place name pronunciations, will provide a valuable community asset. In time it may allow academic and local speakers and heritage enthusiasts to produce a more comprehensive digital dictionary.

"Alongside this modest investment, we have been developing a ‘Plan for Guernésiais’ which will be presented to the States shortly. It will test the appetite of the States, on behalf of our community, to make a three-year funding commitment to promote the research and use of Guernésiais."

Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq grew up speaking Guernésiais as his first language.

He said: "We are living in a homogenised age where people are increasingly appreciating cultural identity, the richness of a community‘s heritage, and the benefits of honouring diversity. Our Island language is one of our national treasures, which I often use in my external affairs role as a topic of conversation to help distinguish our Anglo-Norman Islands from both the UK and France. We should do our best to preserve and promote healthy interest in it. As an ‘âne pur sàng’ (pure blooded donkey - as Castel parishioners are nicknamed!) I am ‘hardi fiær’ (very pleased) to support this initiative from the CfESC!"

Jonathan Le Tocq

Pictured: Deputy Jonathan Le Tocq. 

Existing States’ support for the language continues with a modest budget for adult lessons. Guernsey Museums also organise a small number of events during the year where speakers and learners can support each other and put their language into practice.

For many years Guernsey Museums have recorded native speakers of the language. They are currently working on a project called 'Voice-Vouaïe' with Yan Marquis and Aaron Yeandle. This is a photography and social history project about people who grew up with the language. A free translation service is available (partly supported by Martin & Martin Designer Goldsmiths) which is commonly used for signs, festivals, wedding speeches and house names.

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