family

Bouônjour!

Today is International Mother Language Day.

So let me tell you about a language you may never have heard of.

It's called Jèrriais and it's the mother language of the island which I call home - Jersey in the Channel Islands.

So if you don't know where that is or what it is ... Jersey is an island within the British Isles (not the United Kingdom) and it's a self governing Crown Dependency.

Most importantly from the perspective of today's thought, Jersey is closer to France than England. Actually it lies just 12miles (19km) off the Normandy coast and around 100miles (160km) from the south coast of England. Most days, but especially on a good day, you can see the coast of France clearly from Jersey's East Coast!

Jerriais 2So, with France so close, it may be no surprise to hear that Jersey's mother tongue is a version of French. Jèrriais is an ancient form of the Norman Language. It's often called "Jersey French" or "Jersey Norman French" but this gives an impression that it's a dialect of French, a 'patois' - but it's not. It's a language in its own right. As is it's closest 'sister' - the native language of nearby island Guernsey - Guernésiais - and the other Norman languages including those across the water in France. And the language of SarkSercquiais, is descended from  the Jèrriais brought by the Jersey colonists who settled Sark in the 16th century. There's a commonality between Jèrriais and those Norman languages and there's a growing relationship between the speakers of these languages, all of which are in danger of dying out, but they are all different languages.

Over the last few years working at BBC Radio Jersey, the local station for the island, I've connected with the Jèrriais-speaking community. Every week, at the moment, I work with native speakers who record a weekly 'letter' - La Lettre Jèrriaise - which is broadcast just before 7am on a Saturday morning and is also posted online on a special languages podcast called 'Voices'. You can also get it via the Learn Jèrriais website,

In 2019 I made a radio series to coincide with the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, when I worked with the Jèrriais teachers at the L'Office du Jèrriais. I learnt 20 phrases in Jersey's mother tongue.

It was a challenge, but it was fun, and more importantly it helped me to reconnect with my own family history, and my own Dad who was native Jèrriais speaker. Although he didn't teach us the language - my mum was not a Jèrriais speaker - I remember hearing him speak the language with his family - my aunts and uncles.

That was common in the mid 20th century, when the language had fallen into decline.

What I've learned is until the 19th century, Jèrriais was used as an everyday language by the majority of people living in Jersey and even up to the beginning of the Second World War more than half of the population could speak the language. In fact, it was often used during the Occupation of Jersey 1940-1945 when the German enemy occupied Jersey and the other Channel Islands - it was not understood by French or German speakers!

But Jèrriais was consistently falling out of favour, with English becoming the dominant language. It was no longer used in schools, or business. French and English was used in the law, but not Jèrriais. Eventually it's decline was such that it is now officially listed as one of the world's endangered languages!

However, in recent years Jèrriais has had a resurgence. There's been investment in education, and it's now taught in local schools, and adult classes and conversation groups are also held. The teachers and the L'Office du Jèrriais are central to that, and there's also now a Jèrriais promotion officer for Jersey Heritage.

In 2019 the States of Jersey (the Government of Jersey) voted to put Jèrriais on signs when they next need to be replaced, with English translations underneath. It's also now an official language in the States Assembly alongside English and French.

This is all really down to the persistence of native language speakers. Down the years, stalwarts of the language made great efforts to keep it alive. in 1912, thJersey Eisteddfod introduced a Jèrriais section - that still exists today. The L'Assembliée d'Jèrriais was founded in 1951 and they launched a quarterly magazine a year later. The Le Don Balleine Trust  was established in accordance with the will of Arthur E. Balleine (1864–1943), in which he left funds for the promotion of the language.

Jèrriais dictionaries go back to the 19th century but in 1966 the Dictionnaire Jersiais–Français was published to mark the 900th anniversary of the Norman Conquest of England, based on meticulous research by Frank Le Maistre, who's family are still champions of the Jèrriais speaking community. This was followed by a Jèrriais–English dictionary, Dictionnaithe Jèrriais-Angliais.

Another individual who did a huge amount to promote the language was a certain George d'la Forge. 

Jerrias book coverGeorge was born in Jersey but after the First World War moved to the USA and became a successful businessman. But he had been raised speaking Jèrriais, and never forgot it. After he took early retirement in 1946 he returned to Jersey for a holiday, and later spent months every year in the island. He was a prolific writer in the Jèrriais language, and took the pen name 'George d'la Forge' based on the home he lived in as a youngster. He wrote around 900 articles for the Jersey Evening Post and also contributed to many other native language publications.

George's surname was Le Feuvre - and he was a distant cousin of my father. As a young child, I remember visiting 'La Forge' when 'Uncle George' was spending a summer in Jersey, and living as he always did in his very basic small family cottage. Later, when we were living in Kenya in East Africa Uncle George visited us. I remember then my Dad and him chatting away in this strange language, which I sort of recognised as French, but not. Jerriais 1

Uncle George d'la Forge was a great man and in recent years, at a book sale, I managed to get hold of a bound copy of some of his articles.

One day, when I've learned a bit more of the language,  I'll read it in Jersey's language, the mother tongue of my father and my family down the centuries.

Meanwhile, I'll make do with the few phrases I know and which I learned during the 20 in 2019 challenge. If you fancy learning a bit start by going to Learn Jèrriais (learnjerriais.org.je)

The title of this piece is 'Bouônjour'  which, if you know any French at all, you'll recognise as being similar to 'bonjour'... hello!

But I'll end with this sign-off ...

À bétôt  - Goodbye

À la préchaine - Till the next time!

 


My Tribute

There are times when a song or a piece of music takes you by surprise, or  unexpectedly reminds you of something in your past or takes you back to a moment in time.

That happened to me last weekend. 

On Sunday at lunchtime in the UK the BBC broadcasts its long running and very popular television programme called Songs of Praise, a religious show which features Christian hymns sung in churches of different denominations across the country, and interesting interviews and features about the life of faith of the nation.

Even during the coronavirus pandemic, when they haven't been able to go out and record big congregations singing at the top of their voices, Songs of Praise has kept alive and vibrant. They have recorded soloists, and small groups and choirs singing at safe distance,  and new interviews are interwoven with some of the highlights of congregational singing recorded in recent years, before churches were all locked up to keep us safe.

I've been involved with Songs of Praise for several reasons down the years. I've sung in a few big congregations. As a PR working for different churches and faith charities, I've helped provide guests for the programme. And many years ago, I was actually a guest myself when the programme came to Jersey and I was interviewed for the show. 

In addition to the church based programmes, every year Songs of Praise also hosts 'specials' like 'The Big Sing' and competitions like 'Gospel Choir of the Year' and 'Young Chorister of the Year' which enable the whole nation to enjoy some amazing singers and performances.

This year, for the first time, Songs of Praise is hosting a new contest - 'Gospel Singer of the Year' - and last Sunday (Jan 31) they held the semi-finals. The top three will be in the final today.

But that's not really why I'm writing this.

I'm inspired to share a song with you this Sunday. It was sung last weekend by one of the semi-finalists in the Gospel Singer of the Year programme. And it brought back a particular time in my life and a poignant memory.

In May 1985 my darling Dad died. It was way before his time. He was only 63.

He and mum were living in the UK at the time, ministering in a Salvation Army corps (church) in Kent, and when Dad passed away - or as we say in The Salvation Army ... when he was 'Promoted to Glory' - we held three memorial services. One in the UK church that he was leading at the time of his passing, and then ten days later, the main funeral and an evening celebration service at home here in Jersey, in his 'home' church.

In the celebration service I sang a song for my Dad. How I managed it I'll never know, and I am aware that I missed some of the top notes because of my tears, but I did it for him.

The song meant a lot to me but I have to admit that I haven't listened to it much in the intervening 35 plus years and I certainly haven't sung it in public again. In fact, I don't really sing solos much anymore.

But it was THAT song I heard on the Songs of Praise Gospel Singer of the Year. It was sung beautifully and I was pleased that the performer is in the final. It brought a tear to my eye and caused a lump in my throat, but it's been going through my mind all this week.

So - just for you - I share it with you this Sunday.

The title of the song is 'My Tribute - To God be the Glory' and it was written by the amazing singer/songwriter Andraé Crouch, who also sadly is no longer with us. He mixed his own words to the eternal poetry of hymnwriter Fanny Crosby to create this beautiful song.

'My Tribute' has been sung by many artists down the years, including one of my favourite singers - Sandi Patty. But in the 1980s I also listened a lot to a Christian singer called 'Evie' ... and it's her version of this amazing song that I was inspired by.

It took me a while to find it online, and in the process I discovered that Evie is still performing, including this song, and looking and sounding amazing ... but this is the original recording I fell in love with.

Enjoy and be blessed!