On the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, UK the language commission chair has announced that the native language of the island should be taught in schools.
Sir Richard Collas, chair of the Guernsey Language Commission said Guernesiais (also known as Dgèrnésiais or Guernsey French) is “an integral part of our history and culture”
A form of Norman French, the language was commonly used by islanders from the Norman conquest, right up until its decline in the 1800s.
Sir Richard said “One can’t understand so much of our past without understanding our Norman origins and so it is something that I think should be an essential part of the school curriculum along with other local subjects.”
In 2020, a grant of £300,000 was agreed for the purpose of revitalizing Guernesiais. At that time, the language had an estimated number of native speakers between 50 and 200, down from more than 1,800 in the April 2001 census.
The campaigning committee, the Committee for Education, Sport and Culture (ESC) argued that the language was in such severe decline that it would “cease to be spoken in a few years”.
Sir Richard said it was also “important” to get up-to-date information on the number of Guernesiais speakers.
“Otherwise we don’t know whether the steps that we’re taking to revitalise it have been successful or not,” he said.
“Many, many Guernsey people can say a few words or speak it occasionally, and I think it’s very good that we revitalise it and encourage more to do so.”
Guernesiais – like many indigenous and minority languages that are primarily spoken, has no standardized written form or spelling frameworks. It has roots in Latin and strong influences of Old Norse and Middle English from different periods in history.
The language commission is holding a free public event at St Martin’s Community Centre on 10 February 2024 for people to learn more about the language and to get involved.