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Review of  Grammatical Variation and Change in Jersey English

Reviewer: Jakob R. E. Leimgruber
Book Title: Grammatical Variation and Change in Jersey English
Book Author: Anna Rosen
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 26.404

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Rosen's PhD dissertation, published here as a monograph in Benjamin's highly regarded Varieties around the World (VEAW) series, attempts a comprehensive grammatical description of the English spoken on the Channel Island of Jersey. Situated within a variationist sociolinguistic framework, with considerable input from contact linguistics, the book presents and analyses data collected during fieldwork in the late 2000s. While continuously referring to previous research on Channel Islands English, it positions itself as 'the first comprehensive description of […] the variety of English spoken on Jersey', as per the cover blurb.

The book boasts nine chapters, two appendices (the written questionnaire and an excerpt from a transcript) and an index. Two maps in Chapters 1 and 3 give useful geographic context. Several well-drawn figures illustrate points of interest in the data. Chapter 1 'Introduction' situates this Jersey study in a line of other studies on insular varieties, beginning with Martha's Vineyard (Labov 1963). It briefly presents the Channel Islands' geopolitical context, and gives a first short overview of the research done on the English and French varieties spoken there. It also identifies the four main research questions the book will address. Chapter 2 'Theoretical foundations' gives a rich literature review of previous research on 'linguistic variation and change' (section 2.1), 'morphological and syntactic variation' (2.2), 'linguistic change' (2.3), 'linguistic contact' (2.4), and 'identity and attitudes' (2.5). Chapter 3 'Jersey English in context' details at greater length the existing literature on Jersey English, including non-linguistic sources such as historical and cultural publications. Information about the island's demography, history, and sociolinguistics is given. Chapter 4 'Methods and data' explains in detail the study's research design and data collection and analysis. We learn how the 40 informants were selected (friend-of-a-friend network method, restricted to those born and bred in Jersey, and corrected for age group, mono-/bilingualism, and gender), what the data collection tools were (sociolinguistic interviews, written questionnaires, and archival oral history recordings, among others), what the resulting corpora were (the Jersey Interview Corpus with 267,845 tokens and the Jersey Archive Corpus with 39,790 tokens), and which statistical analyses were used on the data.

In Chapter 5 'Discourse marker EH' Rosen begins presenting data, devoting the entire chapter to a detailed description of the discourse particle EH. Its syntactic and pragmatic properties are explained, before turning to its distribution in the corpus. The particle's putative origin in Norman French is explored, as is its behaviour as compared to the homophonous particle EH found in Guernsey and British English. A final section considers the particle's high level of salience and its status as an identity marker.

Chapter 6 'Features of the Jersey English verb phrase' is divided into three sections. The first deals with the so-called FAP (First verb + And + Plain infinitive) construction, as in 'I went and buy some pansy plants' (p. 104), reviewing the literature, presenting its occurrence in the corpus, and investigating its origin. The second considers agreement in existential THERE-constructions (as in the section title 'There's a lot of Jersey cows'), again speculating a Norman French origin. The third section lists 'further observations on the verb phrase', i.e. tense and aspect (e.g. present tense for future reference, WOULD in IF-clauses), agreement (e.g. WAS/WERE generalisation), and verb morphology (e.g. levelling of past tense and past participle).

The 16 sections of Chapter 7 'Other grammatical features: An overview' are followed by a comparison of Guernsey and Jersey English morphosyntax. They cover relative clauses, emphatic markers (e.g. object personal pronouns, pronominal adposition, demonstrative THEM, assertive YET, emphatic LÀ, BUT YES), prepositional and article usage, negation, absence in 'S in local genitive, male/female third person pronouns for inanimates, AFTER as a time adverbial, IF-deletion in conditional clauses, analytic/synthetic comparatives, AS WHAT/THAN WHAT in comparative sentences, absence of plural marking, question formation, adverbs and adjectives having the same form, pronominal usage, and LIKE as a focussing device, a discourse marker, and a quotative. All of these are illustrated with ample examples from the corpus.

Chapter 8 'Standardisation, levelling and identity in Jersey: A bird's eye perspective' is a discussion of the extent to which identity factors have been and will be relevant in shaping the variety. It begins with a theoretical discussion of the concepts of standardisation, levelling, and identity, before considering linguistic identity and language attitudes on Jersey in more detail. It concludes with a discussion of what implications identity might have for the future of the features described for the variety.

The book concludes with Chapter 9 'Conclusion', in which the main findings are summarised and the four research questions from Chapter 1 are answered one by one. A short reflection on the methodology and the questionnaire used follows, and an outlook section on desired future research ends the book.


Eminently readable, this book is a very valuable addition to the scant research on Channel Islands English. The writing style is engaging and to the point, the structure is easy to follow and very sensible, and the level of data analysis is very high. The reader is left in no doubt about the thoroughness of the data collection procedure. The rich theoretical discussion and the extensive review of the literature similarly demonstrate the author's firm grasp not only of the sociolinguistic situation on the island, but also of the larger research context surrounding such thorny issues as the relevance of identity factors to linguistic change, to name but one.

Criticism can only really be levelled at some minor points. Whereas the misspelling of St. Ouen as 'St. Quen' on the map on p. 35 and the non-italicised 'à' on p. 162 are mere editing flaws, the reader unfamiliar with the islands (of which there may be quite a few) is left wanting for more background information on their status: this includes very basic facts about the islands' political status with regard, for instance, to their non-membership in both the United Kingdom and the European Union, but also further historical information on how they came to be under British rule, yet without fully joining the nation-state. The discussion of this on pp. 1 and 33ff is a little sketchy. The episode of the German occupation (p. 38), and its linguistic (non-)consequences, could also have been given more depth. Personally, I would also have liked an explanation for the official term 'Bailiwick'.

Apart from these rather superficial comments, one can question other choices, more directly concerned with the objective of the book. A footnote on p. 111 mentions previous research excluding sequences containing the copula from the definition of FAPs , only to say that the current study includes them: a short justification for this choice would have been desirable. Another point is that, apart from a few mentions on pp. 58 and 198 and in the conclusion, phonology is conspicuously absent from the entire study. Of course, the main focus is on grammar (specifically morphology and syntax), but a brief section on the main features of the Jersey accent would have made the volume truly 'comprehensive', whereas now, the reader is left wondering what Jerseys actually sound like. A final point is that in the description of grammatical features, Rosen (too?) often concedes that these features occur in Jersey English 'as in many other English varieties' (p. 174), see pp. 148-149, 152, 154, 156, 158, 162-164, 167-168, and 170ff. This begs the question of the extent to which the variety is distinct from others (a question addressed in terms of frequencies and some unique features), and, more interestingly, whether the theoretical unit 'variety' is suitable for the description of a form of English that is spoken, after all, on a less than isolated island that (as mentioned throughout the book) attracts substantial immigration from various parts of the British Isles, Europe, and beyond.

That being said, the author does a fine job of reviewing the existing literature on Channel Islands English and on the theoretical premises the study is built on. Constant references to previous research (e.g. on EH in Canadian English, and, throughout the book, on Quebec English, another variety in contact with French) solidly anchor the book in the discipline, and thus contribute to a better understanding of not just Jersey English, but of general principles of variation and change.

In short, this is an excellent contribution to research in the field, a fine book that will definitely make its mark in the small body of literature on Channel Islands English. Scholars and students interested in the variety spoken on Jersey will be as interested in the book as researchers concerned with more general theoretical concerns of language contact, dialectology, and variationist sociolinguistics. As a published PhD dissertation, this monograph could also serve as inspiration to doctoral students faced with designing and structuring a thesis.
Jakob R. E. Leimgruber is a Marie Curie Fellow at the English Department, University of Freiburg, Germany. His research interests include the use of native English in global settings, English language policy in Quebec, and Singapore English.