Gem of the Sea

Over the past month I have been inducted into the most wonderful community of Jèrriais; people who love the island of Jersey and who share a passion to preserve what makes it unique. They work tirelessly to protect what sits at the heart of Jersey’s cultural heritage, meeting everyday in the island’s historic buildings, parish halls, cafés, pubs, offices, meeting rooms and classrooms to share, use and improve their command of the Jèrriais language. 

I have been welcomed into this community with open arms, congratulated on being hired as Jèrriais teacher and bombarded with offers of help and support. I have been asked numerous times why I want to learn Jèrriais and teach it to others and the simplest answer I can give is that if the language is allowed to disappear a piece of my grandparents will disappear along with it.

Since joining l’Office du Jèrriais I have thought about my grandparents often. The pride I see in the elderly Jèrriais community reminds me of Pops. Every evening he would sit at the kitchen table with a cup of tea (eune tâssée d’thée - oh yes I am learning…) and read the Jersey Evening Post, starting with the family notices at the back (to see if he knew any of the recently departed) and slowly making his way through to the front page. Pops was heavily invested in his Island home and always had plenty to say about the current state of affairs.

One of the only phrases I brought with me when I started this job was ‘au liet’, meaning ‘to bed’. Granny would say this to me each night when I lived with them as a child. A couple of weeks ago when we were learning the parts of the body our teacher Colin explained that in Jèrriais hair is said in the plural, ‘les g’veux'. This reminded me of when Granny used to tell me to ‘brush your hairs’ each morning. Jèrriais was her native tongue and the English she used with us was a translation.

Last weekend it was the Jèrriais Section of the Jersey Eisteddfod Autumn Festival at St Ouen’s Parish Hall. During the Friday evening break I was enjoying eune mèrvelle when a gentleman at the front began to play the accordion and a chorus of distinctly Jèrriais voices sang out, ‘Y’a un coin d’tèrre qué j’aime, qué j’n’oubliéthai janmais…’ or, ‘There’s a spot that I love that I ne’er can forget’. 

My heart ached as I stood at the back of the hall listening and watching everyone swaying together in time. I thought of my Granny and Pops and the pride they had for this little Island; how they told me on several occasions that one day I would come back, and how sad I am to have returned so many years after their passing. 

As the song says, ‘Et pis, coumme tout bouôn Jèrriais, dans l’fond de man tchoeu’

Find this beautiful song on Les Pages Jèrriaises: http://members.societe-jersiaise.org/geraint/jerriais/normandie.html