Gem of the Sea

Corbiere Lighthouse at Dawn

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 starting the job I have thought about my grandparents often. The pride I see in the elderly Jèrriais community reminds me of Pops. After dinner each day he would sit at the kitchen table with a cup of tea (eune tâssée d’thée - oh yes I am learning…). He would spend the best part of his evening reading 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.

Then there is Granny. 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 her as a child. A couple of weeks ago we were learning the parts of the body in the adult education class. Our teacher Colin explained that in Jèrriais hair is said in the plural, les g’veux, which 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 me and my brother 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 to the undulating melody 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: