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The Lord's Prayer in Jèrriais

Jèrriais is the ancient language of Jersey – still spoken today by around two thousand people [1] and closely related to the Norman language spoken by a very small minority in mainland Normandy (especially the dialects of the Cotentin), to Guernésiais and to Sercquiais

The Rev Charles Picot, born in 1840, wrote racy stories and tales of ghosts and witchcraft in the early 20th century under the pseudonym C du Mont. He wrote in the eastern Faldouet dialect of Jèrriais . This dialect, which probably died out in the mid-20th century, is notable for the 'z' sound which replaces the 'th' or 'r' found in the centre and west of the island. Perhaps the reason that so many islanders spent most of their lives in their home parish in the days when Jèrriais was the common language, venturing occasionally to town, but rarely from one side of the island to the other, was that it was actually far from a common language, with varying dialects barely a mile or so apart. They may have had as much difficulty understanding each other as Parisiens today struggle with the gutteral tongue of regions hundreds of kilometres to the south


The Romans spread Latin across their Empire, but over the centuries different languages arose. Just as Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese developed in the South of the former Roman Empire, and Romanian developed in the East, different languages formed on the basis of Latin in different parts of Gaul.

One of these became what we now know as Jèrriais.

It is commonly known as Jersey-French in the island, but that is a misnomer, because it is not a Jersey version of French, it is a Jersey version (or versions, because words vary from parish to parish) of Norman French. So it should be known as Jersey Norman French, but the name in the language itself is Jèrriais.

Norse influence

When the Norsemen arrived and acquired the territory which was given the name of Normandy, they gradually abandoned their Norse language and started speaking a hybrid tongue, being a mixture of Norse and the Latinate language of their new subjects. However, they introduced many of their old Norse words to their new Norman language.

Jèrriais words of Norse origin that are familiar from placenames include:

  • mielle - dune
  • hougue - mound
  • greune - rock lying just under water
  • nez - headland

When Jersey was incorporated into the Duchy of Normandy, the influence of the language extended to the Island and continued for centuries.

Insular development

After centuries of daily use in the homes, fields and markets of Jersey, the Norman language acquired its own specifically Jersey features – and Guernsey’s language followed its own distinct path. One of the distinctive features of Jèrriais is the “th” (pronounced like the English “th” in “father”) which is not found in Guernsey, mainland Normandy, or even Sark, which was colonised by Jersey families in the 16th Century.

Some Jèrriais words adopted into English:

  • vraic
  • brancage (spelled as the French equivalent, but always pronounced as Jèrriais)
  • côtil


The Anglo-Norman language Wace, the earliest known Jersey writer, wrote in is variously regarded as a dialect of the Norman language, a dialect of Old French, or specifically the precursor of Jèrriais. Writers in Jersey have looked on Wace as the founder of Jersey literature, and Jèrriais is sometimes referred to as the language of Wace, although the poet himself predated the development of Jèrriais as a literary language.

There is no Bible in Jèrriais (due to the use of French bibles in churches, interpreted by preaching in Jèrriais), and no long tradition of novel-writing in it, but since the introduction of printing in Jersey at the end of the 18th Century, thousands of stories, typically satirical and poking fun at States Members and Parish notables, have been published, often in newspapers and almanacs.

Matthew Le Geyt was the first poet to publish in Jèrriais following the introduction of printing. Writers such as Philippe Langlois, Augustus Asplet Le Gros, Philippe Le Sueur Mourant, Jean Dorey [2], Edwin John Luce and George William de Carteret followed, producing literature that varies from the high-flown to low comedy in prose, verse and stagewriting.

The first whole book of Jèrriais literature printed was Rimes et Poësies Jersiaises published in 1865.

Now, with classes in primary and secondary schools, a CD-ROM, programmes on the radio, and thousands of pages in Jèrriais on the Internet, efforts to ensure the survival of the ancient language appear to be bearing fruit, although the number of homes in which it is spoken on a daily basis as the first language of the household, continues to decline, and unless children from two such homes continue to marry and set up home together, daily use of Jèrriais will inevitably disappear.


Decline of French

Until the early 20th century French, but not Jèrriais, was the official language of the Island and was used in all public notices, in the Court and the States and the Churches. But the great invasion of English residents, which began in Victorian times, together with the influence of English-trained teachers in the schools, and the far-reaching effects of radio and television, have made English the dominant language. In 1900 the use of English was made optional in the States, and one by one all the Churches have dropped their French services.

The local language was given a tremendous boost by the German Occupation during the last war, when it was the perfect medium of conversation, and incomprehensible to the occupying forces. Shortly afterwards an organisation, L'Assembliee d'Jerriais, was formed to preserve it, and a Dictionnaire Jersiais-Francais, by Frank Le Maistre, was published. Although the terms are translated into French, the English counterparts are frequently given. The preservation of the language is thus ensured for all time.

National anthem

Jerriais words to National Anthem in the time of Elizabeth II

Dgieu sauve not' Duchêsse,

Longue vie à not' Duchêsse,

Dgieu sauve la Reine!

Rends-la victorieuse,

Jouaiyeuse et glorieuse;

Qu'ou règne sus nous heutheuse -

Dgieu sauve la Reine!

Tes dons les pus précieux

Sus yi vèrse des cieux,

Dgieu sauve la Reine!

Qu'ou défende nouos louais

Et d'un tchoeu et d'eune vouaix

Jé chant'tons à janmais -

Dgieu sauve la Reine!


Notes and references

  1. That was written in 2010 and the updated figure would undoubtedly be much smaller. Despite efforts to promote the teaching of the language in schools, the number of people who speak Jèrriais to each other at home on a daily basis had probably fallen by 2022 to the low hundreds
  2. Jean Dorey, (1831-1872) writer. Of a family of La Blanche Pierre, St Lawrence, Jean Dorey wrote under the pen names of JD, JDR and Jean des Ruettes, in Jèrriais, French and English. He was also the author of a book. A number of sayings, nursery rhymes, and poems were left in a manuscript which passed to Frank Le Maistre and is today in the library of La Société Jersiaise. He was an author in French and English of historical, genealogical and art articles on various subjects. During the course of his life he worked with the Chronique de Jersey, Jersey Independent, l'Imprimerie de l'International in London and also in France for the paper, Le Phare de la Loire.
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