Guernsey Languages

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The Bailiwick of Guernsey has been multilingual throughout its history. Nowadays, most business is conducted through the medium of English, which is the first language of most of the inhabitants; historically, i.e. up until 1948, this would have been in various forms of Norman French. There is also a substantial difference between the legal French used in the various islands, and the local spoken dialects. Records may, however, be difficult to read because of unique local words, Latin words, or different handwriting styles.

Dialects[edit | edit source]

The dialects of the various islands are/were as follows:

  • Guernésiais or Dgèrnésiais, the vernacular of Guernsey itself, a minority language.
  • Sercquiais or Sèrtchais, the vernacular of Sark, critically endangered.
  • Auregnais, Aoeur'gnaeux or Aurignais, the vernacular of Alderney, now extinct.
  • Haermais, the vernacular of Herm, also extinct.

Of these, only Guernésiais has any substantial literature. Sark and Alderney do retain their own legal terms.

The spoken dialects are often referred to as "patois", although some consider this a disparaging name.

Legal French[edit | edit source]

Legal French is still used to some extent in the administration of the various islands. It is closer to standard Parisian French, but also contains some words and phrases which are local to the islands. Note that this differs between Guernsey, Sark and Alderney.

A number of terms from Jersey Legal French are used by local English speakers when discussing administrative issues, and can still be heard in the States (the local parliament).

Select legal French. Parisian French equivalents are shown in brackets.

Legal Words English Translation
À quoi recours pleading in a case when a document has been referred to
Arrêt arrest. This can also refer to the freezing of wages or seizure of goods
Connétable constable, an administrator of a parish.
Curatelle guardianship of someone
Curateur the guardian of a child.
Douzaine administrator of a parish
en désastre bankrupt (en banquerout)
Greffe Registry of births, marriages, deaths, and changes of name. Also wills.
greffier clerk to the States of Guernsey, or that of Sark
Partage the division of land between heirs
septante seventy (soixante dix)
nonante ninety (quatre-vingt-dix)
tutelle guardianship
tuteur guardian of a child
vingtaine a division of a parish (literally a twentieth)
Vingtenier honorary police officer
vergée a measurement of land around 17,640 square feet (1,639 m²)

See also[edit | edit source]