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Endangered LanguagesBeliefs and Ideologies in Language Documentation and Revitalization$

Peter K. Austin and Julia Sallabank

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265765

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265765.001.0001

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Ideologies, Beliefs, and Revitalization of Guernesiais (Guernsey)

Ideologies, Beliefs, and Revitalization of Guernesiais (Guernsey)

(p.151) 8 Ideologies, Beliefs, and Revitalization of Guernesiais (Guernsey)
Endangered Languages

Yan Marquis

Julia Sallabank

British Academy

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines language ideologies in a small community (Guernsey, Channel Islands) which reflect wider issues concerning the aims and effectiveness of language-related activities. Ideologies are largely unstated yet they profoundly influence language planning and policy at both personal and public levels. Although there has been a shift over the last 30 or so years towards broadly positive overt attitudes in favour of maintenance of Guernsey’s indigenous language, it seems that ingrained covert negative attitudes linger in some sections of the community. From these observations the authors identify two main divergent trends in beliefs and ideologies concerning who has authority to speak on behalf of ‘the community’, and to make decisions regarding the future of an endangered language. The authors relate their observations to the concept of prior ideological clarification, and compare rhetoric on language maintenance and revitalization with actions and outcomes.

Keywords:   Guernsey, purism, ownership, legitimacy, ‘new speakers’, static versus dynamic, language planning and policy, personal and public policies, prior ideological clarification

8.1 Introduction

IN THIS CHAPTER we examine language ideologies in a small community (Guernsey, Channel Islands) which reflect wider issues concerning the aims and effectiveness of language-related activities. By ‘ideology’ we are referring to deep-seated and strongly held beliefs and perceptions concerning both language practices (what people do) and policies (what people should do). These ideologies are largely unstated yet profoundly influence language planning and policy at both personal and public levels. Although there has been a shift since the 1980s towards broadly positive overt attitudes in favour of maintenance of Guernsey’s indigenous language in the community as a whole (among both speakers and non-speakers), it seems from our research that ingrained covert negative attitudes linger in some sections of the community. ‘Traditionalist’ ideologies regarding the status of ‘High’ and ‘Low’ languages, ‘correctness’, and the ‘ownership’ of a language are largely impervious to shifts in public opinion, which has led to debates regarding control over the direction of language maintenance and revitalization. From these observations we identify two main divergent trends in beliefs and ideologies, concerning who has authority to speak on behalf of ‘the community’ and to make decisions regarding the future of an endangered language (if indeed a future is envisaged). We also relate our observations to the concept of ‘prior ideological clarification’ (Fishman 1991, 2001; Kroskrity 2009), and compare rhetoric regarding the desirability of language maintenance and revitalization with actions and outcomes (cf. Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1998).

8.2 Sociolinguistic Background

The case study described focuses on the indigenous language of Guernsey, Channel Islands. Some form of Romance language has been spoken in the (p.152) archipelago for around 2,000 years, and over time each island evolved its own distinctive variety of Norman, one of the regional languages of northern France. The Channel Islands belonged to the Duchy of Normandy at the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066, after which a version of the Norman language was used by the English court and nobility for some 300 years. Following the incorporation of mainland Normandy into France in 1204, ‘English’ gradually became established as the language of England, but not without borrowing many Norman words (Bailey and Maroldt 1977; Milroy 1984; Thomason and Kaufman 1988). Guernsey, along with the other Channel Islands, retained allegiance to the English Crown but continued speaking Norman, although the use of Guernesiais (the speakers’ preferred name for the indigenous variety of Guernsey) declined considerably in the twentieth century.

The Channel Islands thus have a long-standing connection with the British Crown. Their political allegiance is to Britain, although they are not part of the UK, have their own parliaments, and are self-governing in domestic policy. Guernsey, the second largest island, is the administrative centre of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which encompasses several smaller islands; this chapter discusses only the language of the island of Guernsey itself. The main industries are finance and tourism, but before the Second World War the economy was based on agriculture and horticulture. The islands are not members of the European Community and are not party to European agreements such as the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

8.2.1 Language Vitality and Status

The UNESCO Atlas of Endangered Languages (Moseley 2009) categorized Guernesiais as ‘severely endangered’, that is, intergenerational transmission has ceased. However, we have found that Guernesiais is rapidly approaching the UNESCO classification of ‘critically endangered’: ‘the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently’ (ibid.). Most speakers (of any level of proficiency) are over the age of 60, and we know of no children who are able to speak the language fluently.

In the 2001 census 1,327 people reported speaking Guernesiais fluently.1 This represented 2.22 per cent of the population, which at the time was just under 60,000.2 In the census, 3.13 per cent of the population (1,871 people) reported understanding Guernesiais ‘fully’. The degree of endangerment is indicated by (p.153) the statistic that 70.4 per cent of speakers (934 people) who reported being fluent were over the age of 64 in 2001. Since then the number of fluent speakers appears to have declined dramatically. In our documentation project we have interviewed over 100 ‘native speakers’, of whom at least a third proved to be significantly less fluent than expected. Clearly there has been age-related attrition (see Sallabank 2010), but this does not account fully for the discrepancy. We conjecture that, in the absence of any objective measure of fluency, overoptimistic perceptions of proficiency may have translated into over-reporting of fluency in the 2001 census; we therefore estimate that there may now be fewer than 300 fully fluent speakers, mainly over the age of 80.

These perceptions of proficiency are based on beliefs about what constitutes a ‘native speaker’, which is interpreted by many as having been brought up in a home where Guernesiais was (one of) the language(s) of socialization. However, many of these ‘native speakers’ use Guernesiais infrequently and find it difficult to speak it without preparation. In many cases they might more accurately be described as ‘semi-speakers’, as defined by Grinevald and Bert (2011), in that they do not speak Guernesiais regularly in their everyday lives, their receptive skills are higher than their productive skills, and the language they produce is largely formulaic (see Marquis and Sallabank 2013).

Beliefs and ideologies about language thus play a role in self-perception and self-reports, which in turn may potentially affect public policy and language-related research and documentation, which may not be seen as so pressing if there is thought to be a larger number of fluent speakers than is actually the case.

Although the States of Guernsey (the island government) appointed a Language Support Officer (Yan Marquis, one of the authors of this chapter) in 2008, Guernsey’s indigenous language remains unofficial and unrecognized, and is not used in the education system. This reflects the historical situation, where Guernesiais was in a diglossic relationship with French from c.1650 to the early twentieth century. French was used in all High domains, such as education, government, and religion, and was the official written form. Although a number of local writers published poetry in Guernesiais (e.g. Georges Métivier, Denys Corbet, and Thomas Lenfestey), for most people Guernesiais remained an unstandardized vernacular. Contemporary writers praised Métivier for having ‘placé le guernesiais au nombre des idiomes reconnus et vivants’ [placed Guernesiais among the ranks of recognized and living tongues] (Boland 1885: 68), but this in effect meant attempting to ‘civilize’ Guernesiais by importing French elements. This reflects an ideology that can still be discerned today in attitudes towards Guernesiais: that it is inferior to French, and even an inferior form of French (patois). This affects both language policy, as French is seen as a more legitimate variety to promote and teach, and perceptions of what is ‘correct’ in Guernesiais usage. We were frequently asked whether Guernesiais is a language or a dialect, and are informed that it ‘can’t be written’(see 8.3.2).

(p.154) Trudgill (1992) observes that whether a variety is designated a language or not is related not only to linguistic characteristics (such as degree of relatedness to or difference from the majority language), but also to social and economic factors, and, of course, to ideologies of ‘correctness’. Although Hudson (2002) claims that Low status in diglossia does not necessarily imply inferior social status, it almost inevitably leads to the Low variety being seen as inferior, reflecting a lack of social mobility (Ager 2005; Eckert 1980; Williams 1992). Nevertheless, Guernesiais maintained its ethnolinguistic vitality in a relatively stable diglossic relationship with French for several hundred years. French was learnt through education but was rarely spoken in day-to-day life; the majority of the population probably only had a passive knowledge (e.g. enough to understand newspapers and Bible readings). This might help to explain the relative ease with which it was replaced by English as the High variety. English has been used in Guernsey since the late Middle Ages, but only started to become widespread in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; this was due initially to the Napoleonic wars between Britain and France in the early nineteenth century, during which increased numbers of British troops were stationed in Guernsey, and then to increased immigration (Crossan 2007). English is now the default language in all domains, and all Guernesiais speakers are bilingual or even dominant in English.

Until relatively recently, English was used for utilitarian events such as commercial and official transactions, while Guernesiais fulfilled a more affective and domestic role. However, this domain is disappearing as speakers’ family members and friends pass away (see Sallabank 2010). Symbolic language use in language-related events and performances is therefore becoming an increasingly important forum for using Guernesiais, but it does not ensure language maintenance or further Fishman’s (1991) key criterion of intergenerational transmission.

8.2.2 Language Attitudes and Beliefs

The language attitudes and beliefs of older community members (both speakers and non-speakers of Guernesiais) were shaped by the predominant ideologies of the period when they grew up. Their linguistic human rights were ignored by the Guernsey establishment: one interviewee reported that when his brother started school in the 1950s, he was told to ‘go home and come back when you can speak English’. There was strong societal pressure to shift to the dominant language:

When I was little it [Guernesiais] was the first language that I learnt and my mother took a lot of stick for allowing me … ‘oh gosh you know you’re letting her speak patois and when she goes to school she won’t be able to learn—she’ll be a dunce.’ (GF39)

(p.155) The views referred to in this interview excerpt are predicated on a monolingual ideology which was prevalent in the mid-twentieth century, and which saw a minority language as ‘holding people back’, rather than promoting additive bilingualism or self-confidence in speakers’ own ethnic and linguistic identity as a firm base from which to acquire other language varieties.

Given such experiences, combined with the di/triglossic relationship where Guernesiais was always the Low partner first to French then to English, it is not surprising that attitudes towards Guernesiais among these generations reflect a classic social-psychological split of ‘status versus solidarity’(Giles and Johnson 1987; Giles and Ryan 1982).

Many older speakers thus express emotional attachment to Guernesiais and regret its demise, especially as part of the ‘golden era’ of their childhood. But this regret does not necessarily entail any remedial action, such as passing the heritage language on to a new generation. This discourse of Guernesiais as ‘a language of the past’ (see section 8.4) is compatible with a continued ingrained belief in the inferiority or lack of utility of Guernesiais (‘French is more useful’).3 More implications of such beliefs will be discussed in section 8.3.

8.2.3 Public Opinion and Support for Guernesiais

Since the 1980s, grass-roots campaigning has contributed to a political climate in which government support for the indigenous language became seen as desirable by both the general public and politicians. Positive attitudes and awarenessraising cannot in themselves ‘save’ a language without more concrete measures; however, they can lead to public support for such measures.

Although Guernesiais has traditionally held Low status, a survey conducted by Sallabank in 2004 indicated overwhelmingly positive attitudes among the majority (Anglophone) population (Sallabank 2013). According to these findings, the indigenous language is seen as a marker of island distinctiveness in the face of perceived Anglicization and the homogenizing effects of globalization, as suggested by Trudgill (2004). Some comments from interviews and questionnaires included:

Guernsey is a unique island and needs to be kept that way. Our language is important in identifying Guernsey people. (AQ113)

Guernsey French identifies the island even though I don’t speak it … necessary to keep it going to keep island identity. (AQ88)

(p.156) The language adds something different to the culture. I’m sorry I never learnt it—I was evacuated and came back aged 5.4 (AQ65)

[Guernesiais is] still part of what being Guernsey’ about and being slightly different—in the modern world should we be all homogenized and become all the same kind of people, the same views, the same language, the same standard—I don’t want to be part of that. (AQ112)

This view of language as a ‘marker of distinctiveness’ is reflected in government policy as a strategic element in positioning the island on the world stage. The foreword to the cultural strategy of the government’s Culture and Leisure Department for 2010–14 states:

Our difference from everywhere else in the world is what makes Guernsey unique and if we wish to remain unique and independent we must use every opportunity and every difference that we have from the rest of the world to make that case. Why is it important to promote and preserve our differences? I offer a simple answer, and one that has been used widely by others—extinction is forever. Our Guernsey French language is an example of what we could lose unless we take the appropriate steps to preserve it. (States of Guernsey 2010: 3)

The same document goes on to stress that preserving distinctiveness does not necessarily imply a purely preservationist, backward-looking perspective:

However, the cultural identity of Guernsey is forever moving on; change is a fact of life, and should be embraced as an opportunity for expansion and development. The challenge is to ensure that change is balanced with the continued care and respect for cultural identity and historic environment. (States of Guernsey 2010: 7)

As will be seen later in this chapter, this acceptance of cultural identity as dynamic is not fully shared by all of those involved in language-related activities.

Another factor influencing government policy has been the British-Irish Council, which was created as part of the Northern Ireland peace process under the agreement reached in the Multi-Party Negotiations in Belfast in 1998 ‘to promote positive, practical relationships among its Members, which are the British and Irish Governments, the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man’ (States of Jersey 2011). As the only member not to have recognized or promoted its indigenous language, the need for Guernsey to initiate a language policy to support Guernesiais became apparent; this may have been in part due to the wish/need to ‘project the desired external image’ (Ager 1996: 26). The political consensus in Guernsey at the time of writing seems to be in favour of the maintenance of a (p.157) distinct language, although what that means in policy and practice remains a matter for debate (see section 8.3 and 8.4).5

Politicians wish to be seen to respect public opinion, if only to improve their own standing. However, even those who are sincere in their support for the language know little about either the language itself, or about language policy. They are therefore susceptible to lobbying from influential community members who claim to represent ‘the speaker community’ and also to be authorities on the language (and who dismiss expertise from outside of the island as a ‘waste of money’). By and large, those seeking to influence policy hold particular ideologies about what language represents and what it can/should do—and who has the authority to decide.

8.3 Ideological Debates and Language Revitalization

Beliefs about who is a legitimate speaker, and thus who has the authority to decide how Guernesiais should develop, bedevil language planning in Guernsey.

8.3.1 Who is Qualified to Teach Guernesiais?

The main focus of current language maintenance efforts in Guernsey is extracurricular lessons in primary schools (students aged six to eleven). These sessions are taught by volunteers and receive little (if any) official support. As discussed further in Marquis and Sallabank (2013), the volunteer teachers are mainly in their 60s and 70s and are generally considered to be ‘native speakers’ because Guernesiais was one of their primary languages of socialization, which is deemed to endow them with authority and expertise. However, as noted in section 8.2, many could more accurately be described as ‘semi-speakers’: they do not use Guernesiais on a day-to-day basis and are insecure about their own grammatical judgements, which can lead to influence from French due to ideologies of ‘correctness’ in a diglossic relationship and a formal teaching situation.

Becoming a teacher of Guernesiais, even only on a voluntary basis for half an hour a week, valorizes the knowledge and status of ‘native speakers’, who for most of their lives have suffered from the negative attitudes described earlier in this chapter. Most of the volunteers did not transmit Guernesiais to their own children due to these widespread societal attitudes. Being involved in teaching Guernesiais provides a powerful boost to their own self-image on two grounds: firstly by affirming their language expertise, and secondly by enabling them to assuage any guilt they might feel at not having taught Guernesiais to their own (p.158) children and grandchildren. Furthermore, the sessions provide an opportunity for social interaction between teachers, and between teachers and pupils. For some volunteers it also provides opportunities they had not previously thought possible: one recounted how she had always wanted to be a teacher, but her education had been disrupted due to the German occupation of Guernsey in the Second World War and she did not have the qualifications required. Volunteering to help in after-school Guernesiais classes thus enables her to fulfil a long-held dream. For such volunteers there is thus a blurred line between language revitalization and personal revitalization (see also Chapter 11 in this volume).

In this valorization of the ‘native speaker’, the effectiveness of the lessons themselves, and of the overall programme, holds minimal importance. There is little or no coordination between the volunteer teachers, little or no teacher training (apart from helping a more experienced volunteer for a few months), no syllabus, few materials, and no linguistic progression in the lessons. Neither is there any planning for the future provision of teachers of Guernesiais, although the majority of the volunteer teachers are in their 60s and 70s.

Being perceived as a ‘native speaker’ is thus important in claiming legitimacy as a teacher. As in many language teaching contexts, being a ‘native speaker’ is viewed as a more legitimate qualification for passing the language on than teaching qualifications or experience. This is despite Medgyes’ (1992) suggestion that having been through the process of learning a language can potentially lead to a teacher being in a better position to explain it.

The fact that most of the volunteer teachers are already of retirement age might be expected to encourage moves to develop replacements. There are no opportunities for formal training to teach Guernesiais; however, there is interest among some learners in becoming teachers. In 2009–10 a group of students aged 16–18 requested lessons in Guernesiais as one of their college options. One of the students proved to be very keen, and with another group of students she produced a children’ book and CD in Guernesiais. Several students who were considering mainstream teaching careers participated in an initiative to pass on their knowledge of Guernesiais to primary school pupils. Reactions to these attempts from older volunteer teachers ranged from scepticism (‘they’ll never be good enough to teach the language’) to outright disapproval.6

8.3.2 Orthography and ‘Modernization’

Despite the body of nineteenth and early twentieth-century literature discussed in section 8.2, Guernesiais is generally considered to be an unwritten vernacular. Most speakers do not write Guernesiais, and a significant proportion of islanders (p.159) (both speakers and non-speakers) maintain that it cannot be written at all. There is no official standard spelling, although a dictionary published by a language society (De Garis 1967, revised in 1982 and 2012) enjoys considerable prestige. In general it follows French spelling conventions, but it contains numerous inconsistencies. Many speakers and learners find this dictionary difficult to use due to its inconsistencies and lack of pronunciation guidance. The majority of interviewees who write in Guernesiais claim to follow the dictionary; but in practice it is rarely adhered to, leading to a wide variety of spellings being in use (Sallabank 2002). This is just one area in which practices are less powerful than perceptions and ideologies. Orthography development is dealt with in more detail elsewhere (Marquis and Sallabank, 2009 and forthcoming); in this chapter we focus on ideological debates in which orthography seems to be a trigger for deep-seated ideologies and fear of ‘language change’.

Younger generations in Guernsey (i.e. anyone under the age of 60), as well as many older islanders, are mainly monolingual and literate in English. They have little knowledge of French and its spelling conventions. Problems arising from using a French-based system with such learners are evident in the neighbouring island of Jersey (Sallabank 2011), as learners of Jèrsiais have little exposure to the spoken language, yet its pronunciation is opaque from the spelling in the written materials that lessons rely on. Some learners (or potential learners) of Guernesiais have requested a spelling system that is more systematic and more transparent for Anglophones in order to facilitate learning, while influential ‘elders’ insist on the primacy of the De Garis (1967/1982) dictionary despite not always following its principles themselves.

In August 2010 the authors of this chapter conducted a small-scale experiment, asking both native speakers and learners of Guernesiais to listen to recorded words and phrases and write them however they felt looked right. While the resulting spellings were so diverse as to be difficult to analyse for the purposes of orthography development, the process was very revealing of attitudes and ideologies. Learners were more willing to ‘have a go’ than native speakers, some of whom expressed concern that they might not spell ‘correctly’ and even seemed too intimidated to try. The experiment itself was strongly criticized by a prominent speaker with considerable influence in the community, who raised concerns about what was perceived as an attempt to ‘change the language’ by challenging ‘traditional’ prestige spelling. Discussion of orthography and revitalization (as opposed to maintenance: see Marquis and Sallabank 2013) is perceived by self-identified ‘traditionalists’ as driving, rather than reflecting, language change, and is therefore rejected as pernicious.

The development of effective learning and teaching materials is thus hampered by the lack of a practical or universally agreed orthography. As well as rejection (and lack of awareness) of any need to discuss issues surrounding orthography, there is an unpreparedness to innovate in language use, for example (p.160) vocabulary terms for items commonly used in schools and by the middle and younger generations, such as computers and mobile phones. The lack of vocabulary dealing with modern items is common to many endangered languages (e.g. ‘televisions’ and ‘refrigerators’ are usually referred to by their English names). Some teachers in Guernsey are developing terms as required for objects such as mobile phones and computers; these terms tend to be criticized by ‘traditionalists’ unless they have the cachet of having been invented by someone perceived as a ‘native speaker’. However, even some of those who claim language ‘ownership’ express a lack of confidence in their authority to create neologisms. There seems to be no room in the ‘traditionalist’ interpretation for Guernesiais to develop its own identity (known as ‘differentiation’ in some of the revitalization literature, ‘individuation’ (Thiers 1986), or Ausbau in the terms of Kloss 1967); the only options seem to be convergence towards English or French.

Nevertheless, it should be possible through language documentation to identify established, traditional methods of word creation that could be harnessed for future language development. For example, the verb taextotai, ‘to (small) text’, has been created from taext (text) with the suffix -otai, a much-used infinitive form which indicates that an action takes place in a reduced/diminished manner. One might even hope that, for traditionalists and purists, such an approach would be more acceptable than the practice of inserting an English term such as ‘refrigerator’, which is seen as evidence of deficit by some nonspeakers. The perceived lack of modern vocabulary in Guernesiais is frequently cited by opponents of language maintenance/revitalization as evidence of its inferiority and lack of adaptability to the modern world. Such borrowing has also been observed to lead to more sustained code-switching and abandonment of attempts to communicate in Guernesiais. The focus on ‘traditional’ (French-based) spelling can also be seen in this light: opponents have cited its ‘corrupt’ look (e.g. it often contains apostrophes to indicate where ‘full’ French forms have been ‘elided’) as further evidence of inferiority, although these ‘full’ forms are not a feature of Guernesiais.

The belief that schools should play a major role in language maintenance is at odds with purist or so-called ‘traditionalist’ attitudes towards language, although both are often voiced by the same individuals. Because of their age and relative lack of familiarity with information technology, ‘elders’ dismiss the inclusion of technology in language teaching and revitalization (e.g. texting, tweeting, blogs, social networking sites) as irrelevant, although the majority of language revitalization movements embrace technology as key to motivating younger learners and to the digital preservation of language records (Holton 2011; Moriarty 2011). Ideologies may thus contribute to a mismatch between desired results and methods in teaching Guernesiais. (p.161)

8.3.3 Language ‘Ownership’, Documentation, and Language Policy

In a section on ‘potential problems and how to avoid them’ in their book Saving Languages, Grenoble and Whaley (2006: 177) recommend that ‘effort should be made to avoid potential flash points which involve who “knows” the language, who is “qualified” to teach it, who has the “ownership” rights to the language’. This is, however, more easily said than done. Yan Marquis resigned from the post of Guernsey Language Officer in July 2011 due to the intractability of the entrenched views and associated problems. In September 2011 the Ministry of Culture and Leisure announced the setting up of a ‘Language Commission’ to advise on language policy, but at the time of writing little or no progress had been made.

Grenoble and Whaley (2006: 177) go on to suggest that:

Where there are differences of opinion as to what form is ‘correct’ or as to who speaks ‘better’, an early resolution, one often involving compromise, is called for. This is one area where a professional linguist can provide much-needed help.

Unfortunately, even documenting or discussing such issues as orthography and language change has led to the researchers in this instance not being seen as neutral but as ‘changing the language’. In addition, as noted by Hoffman (2006: 114), drawing attention to intra-group conflicts may not be welcome for some community members. Nevertheless, ‘ideological clarification’ is essential for effective language planning. Mason (2002: 56) sees ‘people, and their interpretations, perceptions, meanings and understandings, as the primary data sources’ for qualitative research. People’s perceptions, as gleaned from statements, observed practices, and reactions, form a central source of information for researchers into language endangerment and revitalization. Although Spolsky (2009) maintains that language practices are the basis of language management, it is our observation that beliefs and perceptions about practices, especially quasipurist views on what people should do, are more potent drivers of unstated/accidental language policy, which can make or break stated and planned policies.

Dorian (1993) warns that research which only reports on the abandonment phase of a language, and which concentrates on negative attitudes, can obscure a longer-term dynamic by overlooking ‘reactivation’ efforts by later generations. Crystal (2000: 106) adds that ‘this kind of reaction [regret at not knowing the heritage language] is common among the members of a community two generations after the one which failed to pass its language on’. In Guernsey we are finding a clear interest among young people and adults in learning and promoting Guernesiais. This means that at some point attention needs to turn to the needs and opinions of those who actively seek access to a heritage language.

(p.162) One Guernsey teenager reported:

I began [t]o think very early on, ‘I’ve been robbed’(which surprised me, because I’ve never been overly interested in my own heritage—it must have been taught in a very dry way at school, because it certainly never inspired me; and I was never taken to any of the local traditional things when I was little—bit of a pity, really, but never mind.) … Still, now that I feel I’ve missed out, I reckon young kids should definitely have access to it.

The following post appeared on a language-interest Internet blog in November 2005, following a link to a post about Guernsey on another blog:7

Hi, I am so keen to learn Guernsey French and always listen to Radio Guernsey on a Saturday morning so i can hear the news in Guernsey French. An old work colleague of mine was teaching me when our shop was closed and I think it is so so important to keep this language alive. It is part of our heritage and we should not be allowed to lose it. This is coming from a 19 year old and seeing as we are the future of our Island, i think the young people should have a say … Hear our cry!!8

However, at the time of writing the views and needs of learners and potential learners seem to be conspicuously absent from discussion of language policy (if and when there is any open discussion). The continued focus on ‘native speakers’ can mean that potential supporters of revitalization (including non-speakers with useful skills to offer) may be deterred, feeling unsure whether they are ‘allowed’ to get involved:

If anyone wants any advice in computer-mediated education then I’m willing to pitch in of course but I have not pushed this since I think our priorities today are with speakers. (GE13)

However, it could be argued that due to the rapid decline in the number of fluent speakers, a more urgent priority is to train a cohort of adults with the skills to document and teach Guernesiais. This is actually being taken up at the time of writing.

8.3.4 Divergent Ideologies

From consideration of the issues described above we have identified two main diverging trends in language ideologies in Guernsey, which for ease of description we call the ‘Static’ and ‘Dynamic’ viewpoints. It must, of course, be borne in mind that the definitions below are extreme points on a continuum. We should also stress that for the most part these ideologies are implicit and have been deduced from observations, and that the ‘debates’ we refer to are largely unspoken too.

This chapter has focused largely on the ‘Static’ view, in which the indigenous language has a mainly nostalgic value which is expressed through performance (p.163) rather than by day-to-day use. The focus of efforts is on maintenance of the current language community, and its authority and legitimacy, rather than on the development of new users or uses. In this view, French is still seen as the High or ‘roof’ language (in the terms of Kloss 1967) and as the only valid source of linguistic prestige.

Parallel to this we have identified a ‘Dynamic’ view of language, in which the local language is promoted as a source of shared identity for all. Supporters of this position aim to increase the number of speakers through second language teaching and ‘reactivating’ ‘semi-speakers’ and ‘rememberers’ (in the terms of Grinevald and Bert 2011). They also aim to expand the domains of use of Guernesiais and increase its prestige as a language in its own right. This may entail language development in terms of vocabulary, orthography, and distancia-tion from French. Its proponents no doubt see this as a pragmatic viewpoint in that to retain some of the language is better than none, but it is no less ideologically based than linguistic purism. It assumes that it is desirable ‘to have local languages and cultures continue in whatever form they may take’ (Goodfellow 2009: 21), whereas some ‘traditionalists’, whose attachment to ‘the language of our youth’ is linked to nostalgia for a bygone age, would rather Guernesiais did not survive than change from the language they remember and love.9, 10

While some proponents of the ‘Static’ view are vocal and influential in the speaker community, our research suggests that the ‘silent majority’ probably sits somewhere between these two standpoints. In some cases, as in the orthography experiment reported in section 8.3, people feel intimidated when questioning ‘traditionalist’ views in public, although some will express less constrained opinions or concerns in private.

8.4 Conclusions

While these broad-brush trends are of necessity an oversimplification of a complex situation, they are presented in an effort to establish ‘ideological clarification’. Raising awareness of unstated perceptions and ideologies may help to address expectations and assumptions that may stand in the way of achievable goals for language maintenance or revitalization (see also Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 1998; Dorian 1994, 1998; Hinton and Ahlers 1999; Kroskrity 2000, 2009).

(p.164) Language ideologies in Guernsey reinforce the assumption that the indigenous language belongs to ‘native’ and ‘traditional’ speakers, who see themselves as its ‘guardians’ but who are using it less and less. Until relatively recently there was little consultation about the future of the language with younger people, the learner community, and the general public, who might be seen as the future custodians of linguistic heritage.

Issues of nostalgia and ownership were stated publicly for the first time at a meeting in February 2013 to announce the formation of a new Language Commission. This is made up of disinterested people, that is, they have no stake in the language or associated groups, but instead have expertise in fundraising, marketing, museum services, education, and public relations. The Commission’s approach seems to be reactive rather than to put forward a strategic framework, and so it is arguable that by the time this book goes to press, language policy development will have progressed little, either at macro (ideological/strategic) level or at micro level (detailed measures and practices).

We conclude that it is likely that, as in the Isle of Man, language revitalization may not be possible until covert negative attitudes have disap-peared—unfortunately along with the last ‘native’ speakers. We therefore feel that it is necessary to prioritize language documentation in order to build a record of Guernesiais in use which can be accessed by anyone interested as a resource for reference and revitalization, thus implying a ‘dynamic’ rather than a ‘static’ view of language archiving too.


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Proceedings of The British Academy, 199, 151–166. © The British Academy 2014.

(1) The 2001 census (States of Guernsey 2002) was the first and only one to ask a language question. Before 2001 censuses were held every five years in Guernsey. The 2006 census was cancelled for financial reasons, and in 2010 proposals were made to replace the 2011 census with a ‘rolling electronic census’ (Billet d’Etat XVII, July 2010). This has not yet been implemented, and officials are unwilling to state whether a language question will be included in future censuses.

(2) The population is now thought to be just over 62,000 (States of Guernsey 2009).

(3) This does not necessarily entail action either: although the excuse that ‘major European/Asian languages are more useful’ is common, it does not mean that those expressing it actually learn those languages. In practice there is a ‘monolingual mentality’: everyone speaks English so that is the only language needed.

(4) The majority of Guernsey children were evacuated to the UK just prior to the German invasion in 1940, and did not return until 1945; this is blamed by many islanders for the break in intergenerational transmission of Guernesiais.

(5) Guernsey’s political system operates on a consensus-based model and does not have political parties.

(6) An additional cause for disapproval was that the children’s book used a ‘learner orthography’ that has been contested by ‘traditionalists’; see section 8.3.2.

(8) Source: <http://www.languagehat.com/archives/002118.php> (accessed 12 August 2006).

(9) As noted, many of these older people are ‘rememberers’ whose mastery of Guernesiais is incomplete or imperfect, but since they are seen as ‘native speakers’ they are unaware of any need to refresh their knowledge.

(10) There is a parallel contrast between ‘static’ and ‘dynamic’ views of language documentation and archiving too: ‘preservation’ could be seen as a ‘static’ view of archives, with ‘revitalization’ as the ‘dynamic’ end of the continuum. The analogy could even be extended to ‘bounded system’ vs. ‘ecological’ views of languages (see Introduction and Chapters 9 and 12, this volume).