From Academic Kids

Jèrriais is a form of Norman language spoken in Jersey in the Channel Islands. However, it has been in decline over the past century, as English has increasingly become the language of education, commerce and administration. A similar language, Dgèrnésiais is spoken in neighbouring Guernsey; the language of Sark is a descendent of the Jèrriais brought by the Jersey colonists who settled Sark in the 16th century; and there is inter-comprehension with the Norman language of mainland Normandy.

Spoken in:Jersey
Total speakers: 2 600 (but as many as 10 000 have some knowledge)
Ranking:not in the top 100


Official status
Unofficial language of:Jersey
Regulated by:
Language codes
ISO 639-1:
ISO 639-2:

Jèrriais is often called “Jersey French” or “Jersey Norman French” by English-speakers (who lack an adjective for Jersey in the English language) and “jersiais” or “normand de Jersey” by French-speakers. Care should be taken to distinguish between Jèrriais and the Jersey Legal French used for legal contracts, laws and official documents by the government and administration of Jersey.



Missing image
Jersey Airport greets travellers with Welcome to Jersey in Jèrriais

The latest census figures (2001) show that approximately 3% of the Island’s population speak Jèrriais in their personal interactions, although research suggests that up to 15% of the population have some understanding of the language. The latest census figures also showed an increase in declarations of children speaking the language: the first such increase recorded in census figures (although this may be due to greater consciousness among parents than to language use), doubtless encouraged by the introduction of a Jèrriais teaching programme into Jersey schools.

The States of Jersey fund the teaching programme in schools and provide some support in terms of signage, e.g. welcome signs at harbours and airport. Ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is under discussion.

There is newspaper and radio output in the language.


Main article Jèrriais literature

The literary tradition is traced back to Wace, the 12th century Jersey-born poet, although there is little surviving literature in Jèrriais dating to before the introduction of the first printing press in Jersey in the 1780s. The first printed Jèrriais appears in the first newspapers at the end of the 18th century, and the earliest identified dated example of printed poetry is a fragment by Matchi L’Gé (Matthew Le Geyt 1777 - 1849) dated 1795.

An astonishing boom in competing newspapers and journals throughout the 19th century provided a platform for poets and writers to publish regularly - typically, satirical comment on the week’s news, elections, Jersey politicians and notables.

The first printed anthology of Jèrriais poetry, Rimes Jersiaises, was published in 1865.

Influential writers include “Laelius” (Sir Robert Pipon Marett 1820 - 1884, Bailiff of Jersey 1880 - 1884), “A.A.L.G.” (Augustus Aspley Le Gros 1840 - 1877), "St.-Luorenchais" (Philippe Langlois 18?? - 1884).

Elie (Edwin J.Luce 1881-1918) was editor of the French-language newspaper La Nouvelle Chronique de Jersey and a poet who wrote topical poems for the newspaper. He was also active in promoting the development of drama in Jèrriais and organised performances, ultimately leading to the establishment of a Jèrriais section of the Jersey Eisteddfod in 1912.

During the Occupation, little original writing was permitted to be published by the German censorship. However very many older pieces of literature were re-published in the newspapers as an act of cultural self-assertion and morale-boosting.

After the Occupation and with the re-establishment of a free press, Edward Le Brocq (1877-1964) revived a weekly column in 1946 with a letter from Ph'lip et Merrienne, supposedly an traditional old couple who would comment on the latest news or recall time past.

The most influential writer of Jèrriais in the 20th century was a U.S. citizen, George Francis Le Feuvre (1891 - 1984) whose pen-name was “George d’la Forge”. He emigrated to North America after the First World War but for almost forty years maintained a flow of articles in Jèrriais back to Jersey for publication in newspapers. Selections of his articles have been published in book form.

Frank Le Maistre (1910-2002), compiler of the dictionary, maintained a literary output starting in the 1930s with newspaper articles under the pseudonym Marie la Pie, poems, magazine articles, research into toponymy and etymology.


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Some bilingual (or trilingual) signage may be seen in Jersey, such as this welcome sign at a supermarket

Although Jèrriais is now the language of a minority, until the 19th century it was the everyday language of the majority of the population, and even until the Second World War up to half the population could communicate in the language. However, there is no complete Bible in Jèrriais (although there are versions of favourite Bible texts in Jèrriais) as French was, until the 20th century, the predominant language of the Church in Jersey (although sermons would be preached, or explained, in Jèrriais in country areas).

Awareness of the decline of language use became apparent in the 19th century in scholarly circles. Among foreign linguists, Louis Lucien Bonaparte visited Jersey and interested himself in the language and its literature. Victor Hugo, during his exile in Jersey, took an interest in the language and numbered some Jèrriais writers among his circle of acquaintances and supporters.

Sir Robert Pipon Marett’s prestige and influence helped to reinforce the movement towards standardisation of the writing system based on French orthography, a trend which was also helped by the nascent Norman literary revival in the neighbouring Cotentin area of mainland Normandy where writers, inspired by the example of the Norman writers of Jersey and Guernsey, began their own production of literary works. However, differing (if mutually comprehensible) writing systems have been adopted in Jersey, Guernsey and mainland Normandy. The question is sometimes raised as to whether Jèrriais should move to a writing system based on English orthography, however this would have implications for the continuity of the literary tradition over two centuries or more (note though, that the digraph “th” for the typical dental fricative of Jèrriais has evidently been borrowed from English orthography).

As English became dominant in Jersey in the 20th century, efforts were made to preserve the language. Associations undertook measures; 19th century manuscript glossaries, the work of Philippe Langlois, A. A. Le Gros and Thomas Gaudin, were revised and expanded into the Glossaire du Patois Jersiais (published in 1924 by the Société Jersiaise); a quarterly magazine has been published (with the occasional hiatus) since 1952; a comprehensive Jèrriais-French dictionary was published (1966); an English-Jèrriais vocabulary published (1972); a standard grammar appeared in 1985; cassettes, booklets and other materials have also been produced.

George d’la Forge's maintenance of the language in North American diaspora is not as surprising as it might seem, as considerable numbers of Jersey people had been involved in the economic development and exploitation of the New World (hence New Jersey), although much of the concentration focused on the cod fisheries of the Gaspé peninsula in Quebec, Canada, which were controlled into the early 20th century by Jersey-based companies or companies of Jersey origin employing Jersey labour. The common language of business was Jèrriais, and it is reported that there were still some Jèrriais-speakers in Gaspé villages in the 1960s.

The use of Jèrriais is also to be noted during the German Occupation of the Channel Islands during the Second World War; the local population used Jèrriais among themselves as a language neither the occupying Germans, nor their French interpreters, could understand. However the social and economic upheaval of the War meant that use of English increased dramatically after the Liberation.

It is considered that the last monolingual speakers probably died in the 1950s.

Famous Jèrriais speakers include Lillie Langtry and Sir John Everett Millais, the Pre-Raphaelite painter.


Although Jèrriais is occasionally misleadingly described as a mixture of Norse and French, it would be more linguistically accurate to state that when the Normans conquered the territory that is now called Normandy they started speaking the langue d’oïl of their new subjects. The Norman language is therefore basically a Romance language with a certain amount of vocabulary of Norse origin, plus later loanwords from other languages.

Influence of Norse

Norse origins can be seen in Jèrriais words such as these:

  • mielle (sand dune)
  • mogue (mug)
  • bel (yard)
  • gradile (blackcurrant)
  • mauve (seagull)
  • graie (to prepare)
  • hèrnais (cart)
  • bète (bait)
  • haûter (to doze)

Influence of Breton

Jèrriais has also adopted a small number of words from the Breton language (e.g. pihangne - spider crab, from Breton bihan - small; quédaine - fast, from Breton gaden - hare), although the influence on today’s language has overwhelmingly been from French and, increasingly, English.

Influence of French

A large number of gallicisms have been introduced into the language due to the use of French as an official language and the cultural influence of France and French literature. Some French words have displaced in modern usage Jèrriais words that can still be found in older texts from the 18th and 19th centuries, for example:

  • French leçon (in the form léçon) has displaced native lichon (lesson)
  • French garçon has displaced native hardé (boy)
  • French chanson has displaced native canchon (song)

Efforts are being made to maintain some Jèrriais words which are competing in usage with French forms, for example:

  • native hielle is being promoted over French huile (oil)
  • native huiptante is being promoted over French quatre-vingts (eighty)

Influence of English

Some maritime vocabulary was borrowed from English at an early date, for example baûsouîn (boatswain), but by the late 18th century some domestic vocabulary, such as:

  • bliatchinner (to polish shoes, from blacking)
  • coutchi (to cook)
  • grévîn (gravy)
  • ouâchinner (to rub in soapy water, from washing)
  • scrobbine-broche (scrubbing brush)
  • sâsse-paine (saucepan)
  • stchilet (skillet)
  • ticl'ye (from tea-kettle)

was entering the language through the employment of Jèrriais-speaking servants in the houses of bourgeois English-speaking immigrants.

Other words borrowed from English before 1900 include:

  • chârer (to share)
  • drâses (underpants, from drawers)
  • ouothinner (to worry)
  • ouadinne (cotton wool, from wadding)
  • nosse (nurse)
  • souîndgi (to throw, from swing)
  • sténer (to stand, to endure)

Care however needs to be taken in identifying anglicisms as some words such as mogue (mug) or canne (can) which are often assumed to have been borrowed from English were in fact Norman words exported to England in the wake of the Norman Conquest, and words such as fliotchet (flock) and ridgi (rig) are Norman cognates of English words.

More recently, words such as boutchi (to book), partchi (to park) and tyeur (tyre) have been absorbed into the language, although current initiatives in creating neologisms for technological and social innovations prefer to avoid wholesale borrowing where possible. Among recent coinings are words such as textéthie for texting, maître-pêtre for webmaster (literally master-spider) and mégabouochie for megabyte.


The phonological influence of Norse is debated, although the aspirated “h” may be due to Norse influence.


The palatalization of Latin /k/ and /g/ before /a/ that occurred in the development of French did not occur in northern dialects of Norman, including Jèrriais:

Jèrriais English French
acater to buy acheter
cat cat chat
vaque cow vache
caud warm chaud
gardîn garden jardin
gambe leg jambe

However the palatalization of /k/ before front vowel produced different results in the Norman dialect that developed into Jèrriais than in French:

Jèrriais English French
bachîn basin bassine
fache face face
faichon fashion façon
chent hundred cent

At a later date surviving /k/ and /g/ underwent a secondary process of palatalization:

Jèrriais English French
motchi to mock moquer
patchet packet paquet
dgide guide guide
idgiot idiot idiot

This palatalization continues to operate (except in initial position) as can be seen by recent borrowings from English:

Jèrriais English
beustchi to busk
coutchi to cook
pliodgi to plug
braidgeux bragger

Dental fricative

Missing image
La Néthe Rue road name (meaning the black road) shows the th digraph representing the voiced dental fricative

One of the features of Jèrriais that is immediately noticeable and distinguishes it from neighbouring languages is the voiced dental fricative - written th - that typically occurs in intervocalic position:

Jèrriais English
bathi barrel
m'suther to measure
paiethie payment
ouothilyi pillow

Or in final position:

Jèrriais English
méthe mother
braithe to cry

The fricative devoices to assimilate with a neighbouring unvoiced consonant in words such as paqu'thie (packing) or malaûc'theux (disgusting).

The fricative developed from /r/ + front vowel, but evidently after the 16th century as this feature is unknown in the language of Sark (colonised by Jersey families). Although the voiced dental fricative is standard in the literary language, it is not found in the eastern dialects.




Jèrriais distinguishes between simple, progressive and perfect aspect:


preterite j'pâlînmes we spoke
progressive ou 'tait à pâler she was speaking
perfect ous avez pâlé you have spoken
imperfect j'pâlais I spoke


simple j'pâl'lai I will speak
progressive tu s'sa à pâler you will be speaking
perfect oulle étha pâlé she will have spoken


simple j'pâle I speak
progressive i' sont à pâler they are speaking


Verbs can be made iterative in aspect by prefixing èr- (long form) or r' (short form):

aver have
èraver have again
êt' be
èrêt' be again
netti clean
èrnettit clean again
muchi hide
èrmuchi hide again
èrgarder watch
èrèrgarder watch again
téléphoner phone
èrtéléphoner phone again


Verbs can be transformed into gerunds, which are commonly used:

chanter sing
chant'tie singing
faithe make
faîs'sie making
haler pull
hal'lie hauling, haulage
partchi park
parqu'thie parking
liéthe read
liéthie reading
faxer fax
faxéthie faxing


bieauté beauté beauty
lian lien link

See also


  • Lé Jèrriais Pour Tous by Paul W. Birt, 1985
  • Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français, 1966
  • Jèrriais: Jersey's Native Tongue by Mari C. Jones, 2003 ISBN 1-904210-3-1
  • Dictionnaithe Jèrriais-Angliais, 2005 ISBN 0-901897-40-X

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