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Review of  Variation and Change in Mainland and Insular Norman

Reviewer: Heinrich Ramisch
Book Title: Variation and Change in Mainland and Insular Norman
Book Author: Mari C. Jones
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 27.3404

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

_Variation and Change in Mainland and Insular Norman. A Study of Superstrate Influence_ by Mari C. Jones presents a linguistic analysis of varieties of Norman French as they are used in two markedly different sociolinguistic environments. On the one hand, there are the varieties of Norman French on the mainland (Normandy, France) that have co-existed with Standard French for a long time; and on the other hand, there are the varieties of Norman French in the Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey and Sark), where English has become the dominant language over the last 200 years and functions as the standard language. As a result, Norman French has come into contact with two typologically different superstrate languages – one of them Romance (French) and the other Germanic (English). Such a special sociolinguistic background lends itself to a comparative study of 'dialect contact' (in Normandy) vs. 'language contact' (in the Channel Islands).


In Chapter 1 of the book (pp. 1-15) the reader is first introduced to the two types of Norman territory, and the author discusses major theoretical and methodological aspects of the study. Its primary objective is clearly formulated as ''to examine the way in which contact with its two typologically different superstrates has influenced the development of Norman within its mainland and insular territories'' (p. 7). The data for the study is based on 94 face-to-face interviews with native speakers of Norman French. On the mainland, 37 speakers from two different areas were interviewed, namely from the canton of Bricquebec in the Cotentin peninsula (Lower Normandy) and the canton of Yvetot in the Pays de Caux (Upper Normandy). In the Channel Islands, 29 informants were interviewed in Guernsey, 21 in Jersey and 7 in Sark. Three types of questionnaire (one sociolinguistic, one phonological and one lexical) were used to elicit the data. Subsequently, the data were fully transcribed using the IPA system and compared to the ALF data (Gilléron and Edmont, 1902-1910) and the ALEN (Brasseur, 1980-2010).

To understand the present-day sociolinguistic situation of Norman French in the Norman mainland and the Channel Islands, it is mandatory to include a historical perspective. Accordingly, Chapter 2 (pp. 16-33) gives a detailed account of the history of Normandy over the last 1200 years, starting with the Viking invasions during the 9th century and the far-reaching consequences of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, after which Duke William II of Normandy (William the Conqueror) ascended to the English throne, thus first uniting the Duchy of Normandy and England under one ruler. Another key date for Normandy and Norman French is the year 1204 when King John (Lackland) lost the Norman mainland to King Philippe II of France. The Channel Islands, however, were not conquered by the French, but remained under English influence and the English monarch continued to reign in the islands in his/her function as Duke of Normandy. This political division of the Duchy of Normandy has existed ever since. The Norman mainland became allied to France (except for a short period between 1417 and 1450 during the Hundred Years' War), whereas the Channel Islands remained allied to England and the English Crown, which granted them certain privileges for their loyalty and recognized their special political status.

Chapter 3 (pp. 34-64) takes a closer look at the linguistic features of Norman French and discusses the geolinguistic relationship between its different varieties. It equally gives a survey of the most prominent differences between Norman and Standard French. Moreover, it describes the internal regional variation of Norman French both in Mainland Normandy and in the islands. Chapter 4 (pp. 65-82) examines the current sociolinguistic situation of Norman French in both areas on the basis of various statistics and by discussing the factors that have an influence on language use. The overall prospect is more than bleak. Norman French has been in decline for quite some time, but its current position is such that it is rather unlikely that it will survive as a living language. All native speakers of Norman French nowadays belong to the older generation.

The next four chapters of the study treat linguistic features from different levels of the language system in order to analyse and to compare the effects of the superstrate languages on Mainland and Insular Norman French. Chapter 5 (pp. 83-99) looks at phonetic and phonological aspects. In particular, it examines the use of five phonological variables that were described by the French dialectologist Charles Joret (1883) as the most defining characteristics of Norman French at the end of the 19th century. The results indicate that in spite of the general decline of Norman French all the five variables are still present in the mainland and insular varieties. At the same time, one can observe various features of divergence. In the mainland varieties, the traditional Norman apical trill [r] is frequently replaced by a uvular fricative [ʁ] under the influence of Standard French. Conversely, [t] and [d], which are traditionally dental and unaspirated sounds in insular varieties may be realised as alveolar and aspirated, following the English sound pattern. Moreover, there is divergence in the sphere of liaison, analysed in Chapter 6 (pp. 100-116). Here again, it becomes evident that the mainland varieties are much closer to Standard French usage, for example that a higher degree of formality favours a higher rate of (optional) liaison.

Morphosyntactic variables form the subject-matter of Chapter 7 (pp. 117-142). There is substantial evidence that certain morphosyntactic aspects of Standard French have become integrated into the structure of the mainland varieties because of their general typological similarity to French. Morphosyntactic features in the insular varieties may also disappear when there is no parallel structure in English. Yet, the overall typological distance with English makes it harder for features to be transferred into the Norman French system. As a direct influence from Standard French is absent, certain structural features are indeed better protected and it appears that the whole morphosyntactic system is structurally more intact. As far as the lexicon is concerned, contact phenomena frequently occur in both the mainland and the insular varieties (cf. Chapter 8, pp. 143-165). They may take the form of direct borrowings, calques or loan shifts. Evidently, there is a high level of divergence on the lexical level as the donor language in Mainland Normandy is Standard French, whereas it is English in the Channel Islands.

Chapter 9 (pp. 166-193) is an additional chapter considering the influence of Norman French on the two superstrate languages. In a first section, the influence of the traditional Mainland Norman French on the regional French of Normandy is examined, whereas a second section discusses the influence of Insular Norman French on Channel Island English.


This monograph deserves special praise on many accounts. First of all, it is written in a clear, convincing way and presents a wealth of information on Norman French both in Mainland Normandy and the Channel Islands. The book amply illustrates that the author is truly familiar with the sociolinguistic situation in both areas and carried out the fieldwork in an expert fashion. Indeed, it establishes her as the leading authority on Norman French. At the same time, the study can be recommended as a model for students and future linguists who intend to study language variation from a dialectological/sociolinguistic point of view. Last but not least, it makes an outstanding contribution to contact linguistics by comparing a case of 'dialect contact' and 'language contact' in a unique way and clearly succeeds in expanding our general knowledge of language variation and change.


Brasseur, Patrice. 1980-2010. Atlas linguistique et ethnographique normand. Paris: CNRS (4 volumes). [ALEN]

Gilléron, Jules and Edmond Edmont. 1902-1910. Atlas linguistique de la France. Paris: Honoré Champion (35 volumes). [ALF]

Joret, Charles. 1883. Des caractères et de l'extension du patois normand. Paris: Vieweg.
Heinrich Ramisch is a senior lecturer in English Linguistics at the University of Bamberg (Germany). His doctoral dissertation was concerned with the variation of English in Guernsey/Channel Islands and he has kept a keen interest in the language contact between English and Norman French ever since. His main areas of research include: geolinguistic studies of British English, linguistic variation and change, Early Modern English, contact linguistics and contrastive linguistics.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9789004257122
Pages: 238
Prices: U.S. $ 128