LINGUIST List 13.2115

Fri Aug 16 2002

Review: Language Description: Jones (2001)

Editor for this issue: Terence Langendoen <>

What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Simin Karimi at


  1. Claus Pusch, Review Jones (2001), Jersey Norman French

Message 1: Review Jones (2001), Jersey Norman French

Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 11:54:19 +0200
From: Claus Pusch <>
Subject: Review Jones (2001), Jersey Norman French

Jones, Mari C. (2001) Jersey Norman French. A Linguistic Study of an
Obsolescent Dialect. Blackwell, paperback ISBN 0-631-23169-2,
xvi+240pp, $34.95, Publications of the Philological Society 34.

Claus D. Pusch, Albert-Ludwig University Freiburg

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Until recently, the (Norman) French dialects spoken on the Channel
Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Sark) have encountered little interest among
scholars of Romance linguistics. If they received any attention, then
as part of the Norman French dialect landscape as a whole, in which
these insular varieties play a natural, albeit somehow "exotic" role
due to the fact that political ties with France started to be cut as
soon as in the 13th century and that these 'langues d'o�l' dialects
have come since then in increasingly intense contact with English.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that most older work on Channel
Island Norman French was written in a dialectologic perspective,
focussing on diachronic and synchronic phonology and the lexicon. Only
recently have appeared studies that, apart from these traditional areas
of research, dedicate broader space to morphology and syntax, such as
Liddicoat (1994), curiously not mentioned in the monograph under
review, and to the external history of these varieties, or some of them
(Spence 1993). Sociolinguistic studies which go beyond short and
general descriptions such as Brasseur (1977) took even longer to be
available, but in the last years, some more comprehensive work has been
published (e.g. Brasseur 1998 and L�sch 2000, both again not mentioned
by Jones) or is in preparation (cf. Sallabank 2002).

The study by Mari C. Jones, based on fieldwork carried out between 1996
and 2000, fills a gap in providing us with up-to-date information on
the situation of Norman (and, to a lesser extent, Standard) French on
the Channel Islands, on the historical bases that have led to this
situation, and on the linguistic peculiarities of the Norman French
dialect and different phenomena of language contact on the largest of
these islands, Jersey. As the sub-title of the book suggests, the study
is based on current approaches to language death situations as
developed particularly in the work of Nancy Dorian. Starting from the
assumption that "obsolescence is a sociolinguistic process rather than
an exclusively linguistic one" (p. 5), Jones intends "to give equal
prominence to the external setting, speech behaviour and structural
consequences" (ibid.) of language decay on Jersey, an intention in
which the author brilliantly succeeds.

Although the book is divided into 9 chapters, it has actually a
tripartite structure: after an insightful introduction, chap. 2 and 3
give background information on the historical and sociolinguistic
development and on the general characteristics of Jersey Norman French
(henceforth: JNF), for which Jones uses the autochthonous term
"J�rriais". Chap. 4 and 5 are dedicated to JNF's current
sociolinguistic status and to language planning issues. Chap. 6 to 8
present the internal state of today's JNF, with a focus on language
obsolescence symptoms including contact phenomena involving JNF,
Standard French (SF) and English. The conclusion (chap. 9) is followed
by two appendices, one of which illustrates the results of a lexical
questionnaire task analyzed in chap. 7, extensive notes and references,
and three indices, one general, a second of authors and a final one of
languages and dialects mentioned.

Chap. 2 "The Sociolinguistic Setting" gives an overview of the
political history of the Channel Islands and, more particularly, of
Jersey, which, despite the fact of being only 25km away from the French
Mainland but at about 150km from the British coast, forms part of the
kingdom of England since the mid-13th century but is otherwise largely
self-governed. The presence of Englishmen and, consequently, the
English language increased from the 15th century on, but thorough
anglicization started in the 19th century, favored by better transport
links with Britain, the advent of tourism and the socio-economic
changes due to the development of trade and financial services on
Jersey. Therefore, SF - the traditional medium of written communication
and still, today, Jersey's official language - and JNF as the oral
correlative lost more and more communicative domains to English.
However, the most important event for the current obsolescent situation
of JNF, according to Jones, was the evacuation of about 20% of Jersey's
population in the Second World War, when Britain judged the island
indefensible against the German army, which occupied Jersey between
1940 and 1945. As many of the 10.000 people evacuated to Britain were
women and children, this event provoked a radical cut in language
transmission, from which JNF has not been able to recuperate. This
leads to a specific status of JNF in language death terms, as Jones
reiterates on many occasions: JNF 'dies intact', i.e. today's last
fluent native speakers of JNF - most of them aged 60 and above - are
followed by generations who almost do not have any proficiency in the
dialect, so "on Jersey we are currently witnessing a type of
obsolescence that differs from the 'gradual death' pattern that has
been the subject of many case studies" (p. 152).

Chap. 3 "The J�rriais Dialect" gives a dialectologic profile of JNF in
the context of the Norman French dialect continuum, emphasizing that
JNF (and Channel Island Norman French in general) contains all the
"defining features of Norman" (p. 19), with only few differences. Jones
also describes the regional variation within JNF, which despite the
fact of Jersey being an island of mere 120 square kilometers is
considerable. The author illustrates this dialectal variation with
regard to phonology and lexis and emphasizes the east-west divergence
within the subvarieties, among which the western dialect of the St Ouen
parish (St Ouennais) is of particular importance because it was to
become the basis of recent standardization efforts. It is also in this
and other north-western parishes where, according to the 1989 census,
most native speakers of JNF are to be found. However, the total number
of L1 speakers now amounts to less than 7% of the entire population.

Chap. 4 "A Sociolinguistic Profile of the J�rriais Speech Community"
presents data that Jones gathered through a sociolinguistic
questionnaire administered to 50 informants all of whom are fluent L1
speakers of JNF. If these, about one third made regular use of the
dialect in their daily life. As Jones shows with regard to contexts
where JNF is spoken, use of the dialect drops dramatically when these
speakers address children. Attitudes of the informants towards the
dialect are overwhelmingly positive, with vast majorities being
favorable to language preservation and revitalization measures but
skeptical about the success of such activities.

Chap. 5 "Language planning on Jersey" describes the major instigators
and agents of such language preservation and revitalization
initiatives. Jones shows that, as far as status and corpus planning of
JNF is concerned, "no official state-controlled body exists to
contribute to either of these areas, which are both in the hands of a
small, non-linguistically trained, group of enthusiasts" (p. 71), a
situation which, despite the merits of such enthusiasts' action,
explains the numerous shortcomings of, e.g., the standardization
process and the fragility of the language-planning measures as a whole.
Jones maintains that JNF is in a lucky situation, compared to other
varieties facing language death, in that a 'natural' selection of one
sub-variety, the above-mentioned St Ouennais dialect, as 'first among
equals' took place due to the fact that the reference dictionary,
'Dictionnaire Jersiais-Fran�ais' (1966), and the only two substantial
volumes of literature published hitherto in JNF were written by
speakers of and in this sub-variety, and that this choice seems to be
uncontroversial among JNF speakers. The author highlights the
introduction (in 1999) of JNF as an (optional) subject in primary
schools as perhaps the most important achievement of the revitalization
movement so far, but points out that the dialect is still virtually
absent from broadcast media.

Chap. 6 "Linguistic Developments in Modern J�rriais" goes over to the
analysis of linguistic features of nowadays JNF as produced by the
author's 50 informants in tape-recorded conversations, and to the
question if, and to which degree, obsolescence phenomena are exhibited
in this speech sample. Jones' goal is twofold: on the one hand,
retention or loss of linguistic peculiarities common to all JNF sub-
dialects (such as the use of certain prepositions or affirmative
particles, the pre-position of adjectives, or the use of present and
past subjunctive forms) is checked, but, on the other hand, the
maintenance of features that differ between these sub-dialects (all of
them phonetic, e.g. the assibilation of intervocalic [r]) is also
subject to scrutiny. Jones finds that, whereas the latter differences
are mostly conserved, with little dialect leveling being manifested in
the corpus, the former characteristics seem all to be in a situation of
change, although the author concedes that the findings do "not always
admit a straightforward interpretation" (p. 136): Although many current
developments - such as a certain weakening of distinctive gender
marking - may be attributable to the influence of English - which one
would expect in a situation of language decay in a diglossic setting -
others are also found in (unrelated) spoken varieties of French and,
sometimes, even in Standard French, so that, for these changes,
language-internal motivations might be advocated. Following Thomason /
Kaufman (1988), Jones describes this as a 'multiple causation'

Chap. 7 "Lexical Erosion in Modern J�rriais" has the same goal as the
preceding chapter, i.e. to analyze maintenance or loss of dialect-
specific features, but takes a different methodological approach
(elicitation of items through a questionnaire-based translation task)
and focuses on the lexicon. The word list presented to the informants
included semantic domains of everyday life such as 'weather', 'house',
'animals', and only one 'exotic' domain (in JNF terms), 'technology',
where - not surprisingly - most informants could not produce
autochthonous terms. However, Jones concludes that "lexical erosion in
modern J�rriais is not particularly advanced" (p. 152) in the
generations under examination. When lexical gaps exist, they are more
frequently filled with borrowings from English than from SF (whereas
Jersey language planners mostly give preferences to loanwords from this
latter tongue). Finally, the symptoms of dialect mixing are slightly
more evident in the lexicon than on the phonologic level.

Chap. 8 "Cross-Linguistic Influence on Jersey" is a stimulating, albeit
partially superficial examination of linguistic influence that JNF has
on both the SF and the English spoken on Jersey, and on the influence
exerted on JNF by SF. This part of the study complements the preceding
two chapters, where signs of language attrition and loss had been
investigated mainly with the potential influence of English on JNF in
mind. If the analyses presented in this chapter are less profound than
in the aforementioned chapters, this might be due to the fact the
author only draws partially on original data but otherwise comments and
reinterprets data documented in other studies such as Hublart's
unpublished (and hard to access) thesis (1979) on Jersey SF. Jones
finds out that the Norman dialectal features shine through both in
Jersey SF and English, but whereas Jersey English may be classified as
a full-fledged regional variety of that language, Jones rejects
Hublart's proposal to call Jersey SF a 'fran�ais r�gional' because the
constellation is too different from the standard-dialect interaction in
France, for which the term has been coined.

In chap. 9 "Conclusion", Jones sums up by emphasizing that the
linguistic situation of JNF represents "a mixture of both gradual and
radical death" (p. 181). Whereas the ongoing drop of L1 speakers and of
communicative and geographic areas where the dialect is used
corresponds to language death scenarios of the gradual type, the abrupt
interruption of language transmission and the fact that, as far as
linguistic features are concerned, the variety dies comparatively
'intact', refer to the radical type of language death. Although now,
after decades of complete indifference, some language revitalization
action is on the way, Jones is not too optimistic about the effects of
such tardy initiatives, as the last L1 speakers of JNF might have died
when the first generations of fluent L2 speakers - if at all - leave
schools. Jones rightly insists on the necessity to take supporting
measures, apart from and complementing education, in order to enlarge
the communicative radius of revitalized JNF. The author also states
that "the only hope for J�rriais is if it can survive as a symbol of
Island identity" (p. 186), an aim for which also the English-speaking
non-Jersey rooted part of the island population has to be motivated.
The inter-dialectal variation which, as shown in the study, is at
present still relatively well conserved will most certainly disappear
as soon as the JNF-speaking community will be made up predominantly of
L2 speakers; but this seems to be the price to pay in order to achieve

It is precisely the way that JNF is being standardized that calls for
some critical remarks. As Jones clearly shows, the current
revitalization movement tends to constitute JNF as a variety or
language "� part". This might certainly be justified for psychological
reasons and with aims such as, e.g., a higher valuation of the
communicative possibilities of the autochthonous idiom by its own
speakers in mind. However, it may be worth considering whether the
revitalization efforts in favor of JNF could not be more efficient if,
at the same time, measures were taken for the re-introduction of SF
into communicative domains that this language occupied until the first
half of the 20th century. This, obviously, would have some bearing on
the way JNF is standardized. Suffice it to mention briefly the
orthography of current JNF: as Jones explains, this developed out of a
typical 'dialect orthography' which certainly included many grapheme-
phoneme correspondences found in the French orthography but which, by
attempting to reproduce as many 'typical' phonetic and sentence-
phonetic features of the sub-dialect transcribed (St Ouennais JNF),
makes generous use of apostrophes, digraphs and diacritics, features
shared by other 'young' orthographies such as that of Luxembourgish or
certain standardization proposals for Occitan, and which make standard
JNF writing both difficult - especially, but not only to non-native
speakers - and somehow "strange" when compared to SF orthography.
Although such types of dialect orthographies may bear precious hints
for linguists, they are probably not best suited for rescuing dying
varieties through their (re-)introduction into the realm of
scripturality. By maintaining written standard JNF in as close
proximity to written SF as possible and by promoting instead, as
markers of identity, the use of typical JNF morphosyntactic devices and
lexemes, it might be easier to attain the ultimate goal of making JNF
more 'interesting' to learn for anglophone Jerseymen and to secure the
dialect's future.

This critical remark, however, is not directed to Mari Jones' study,
which, as indicated before, is based upon a convincing methodological
approach and original empirical data. The book is clearly structured
and well written; also its accurate technical presentation deserves
special mention, so that the reviewer found only very few misprints or
errors (p. 23: "pullover tricot� � la main" instead of "tricot� la
main"; p. 23: "be reluctant to apply", not "to to apply"; p. 47: "the
conflicting results [...] mean" instead of "means"; p. 83:
"Wolkenkratzer" instead of "wolkenkratzer"; p. 108: "although there is
no firm evidence", not "although no there is no firm evidence"). The
book is an interesting read for both scholars of Romance and English
linguistics and sociolinguistics, and for readers interested in
contact-induced language change and minority language endangerment.


Brasseur, P. (1977) Le fran�ais dans les �les anglo-normandes.
Taverdet, G. / Straka, G. (eds.) Les fran�ais r�gionaux. Paris:
Klincksieck, 97-103.

Brasseur, P. (1998) La survie du dialecte normand et du fran�ais dans
les �les anglo-normandes: remarques sociolinguistiques. Plurilinguismes
15, 133-170.

Hublart, C. (1979) Le fran�ais de Jersey. Mons: Universit� de l'Etat �

Liddicoat, A. (1994) A Grammar of the Norman French of the Channel
Islands. Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

L�sch, H. (2000) Die franz�sischen Variet�ten auf den Kanalinseln in
Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft. Wien: Edition Praesens.

Sallabank, J. (2002) Multilingualism in Guernsey: history and
prospects. Paper presented at the Workshop "Multilingualism and
Language Endangerment", Mannheim, Febr. 27 - March 1, 2002.

Spence, N. C. W. (1993) A Brief History of J�rriais. Jersey: Le Don

Thomason, S. G. / Kaufman, T. (1988) Language contact, creolization and
genetic linguistics. Berkeley / Los Angeles / London: University of
California Press.


Claus D. Pusch earned his PhD from Freiburg University (Germany) with a
study on Gascony Occitan morphosyntax and now teaches Romance
linguistics at that same university. His research interests include
pragmatically-driven language change and the pragmatics-morphosyntax
interface, corpus linguistics, and the sociolinguistics of Romance
minority languages. He currently works on a 'habilitation' thesis on
Romance imperative and prohibitive constructions in a
grammaticalization perspective.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue