7th February 2013
Guernsey Language Commission formed
Guernsey’s native language, Guernesiais, can trace its roots back to Norman French, and would once have been understood across great swathes of England and France.
That’s no longer the case. At the turn of the millennium, only 2% of Guernsey’s population spoke Guernesiais fluently, and things were set to get worse: just 0.1% of young people on the island had any fluency. If nothing was done, Guernesiais would die out.
The States of Guernsey announced the formation of the Guernsey Language Commission on 7 February 2013 in an effort to save Guernesiais from extinction. Its remit was to raise awareness and support existing Guernesiais groups.
Darren Duquemin, of the Culture and Leisure Department, outlined the plan to form the Commission at a public meeting at Beau Sejour. He had been made political champion of Guernesiais the previous year, and spent time studying other endangered languages Jerriais, the language of Jersey, which like Guernesiais has roots in ancient French, was, he said, in a far better condition than Guernesiais.
Formed as part of the Strategic Plan, the Commission is funded by donations and a grant from the States. As such, its existence is part of a larger strategy to promote Guernsey’s culture and history. It officially came into being on Liberation Day, 9 May 2013.
Guernesiais content rarely appears in the print or broadcast media. As with many endangered languages, this could be one of the biggest threats to its continued existence. English is prevalent, and until the end of the Second World War, French – not Guernsey French – was the official language.
However, thanks in part to the efforts of the Language Commission, there are now regular Guernesiais events. Some schools also host lessons teaching the basics. Self-study books are available covering the basic of the language, and classics like Marie De Garis’ Dictiounnaire Angllais-Guernesiais remain essential texts.