Guernésiais, Guernsey’s Norman Language
It is commonly called ‘Guernsey French’ or ‘patois’ but the formal name for Guernsey’s unique language is ‘Guernésiais’ (Jehr-nez-yay). There is no standardised spelling system so you may also see this as Dgernésiais, Giérrneziei or Gernesiés. Whatever you call it and however you spell it, Guernsey’s language is a variety of Norman French. It is one of the regional varieties of Old French, the language spoken by English court and nobility following the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Guernsey, along with the other Channel Islands, continued speaking Norman which evolved into the language we know today. It was widely spoken with Guernsey up until the first half of the 20th century when its usage began falling into decline as parents, for a number of factors, stopped speaking it to their children.
The spelling of Guernésiais is unsettled, despite a small but significant literary tradition dating back to the first half of the 19th century. No clear standard has emerged and this remains a topic for debate. The spelling seen on Guernsey Song Project material is based on a system to make it easy to pronounce for a native English speaker.
For most of its history, the language has been passed on as a spoken tradition and it is believed that about 2% of the Island’s population speak it. The Guernsey Language Commission was formed in January 2013 to preserve and promote Guernésiais.
Find Out More
You can find out more about Guernsésiais by visiting the website for the Guernsey Language Commission.