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Guernsey French: one of the endangered languages?

Banjour, comme tchi que l’affaire va? Look familiar? Probably not, other than the obvious resemblance to French!

This is a simple phrase in Guernésiais, which is one of the dialects that could be considered endangered. Why? For the same reason that Gaelic and other languages are ‘endangered’; there are very few people who speak them.

It has been said that the current generation of people speaking Guernésiais (otherwise known as Guernsey French), will be the last ones to do so. A very sad thought indeed.

Le Guernésiais est-i difficile à llierre? No, it is not necessarily any more difficult to read than, say, standard French. However, because so few people speak it and the majority of these people are of the oldest generation, it is conceivable that unless something is done to reverse it, for the younger members of the community, Guernésiais could become just a vague memory of a language that grandparents used to speak.

Only a few hundred speakers of Guernsey French remain. There are around 187 vulnerable, definitely endangered, severely endangered and critically endangered languages – and that’s just in Europe!

These include the Cornish language, the Algherese language of Italy, and the Gagauz language (in various forms) within Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, Greece, Macedonia and Turkey, to name just a few. All of these languages and the hundreds of others across the world, from Panama to Mongolia, are slowly fading away because they are not used.

The only way to bring them back would be to encourage teaching and learning, in a bid to bring them back into everyday use. Is this possible though? Do globalisation and the languages of business threaten to eliminate the need for these ‘endangered’ ones?

I would say that it is not a case of ‘needing’ to save these languages. It is rather that they should be saved because they embody, at least in part, the culture of the country or region in which they were once spoken. Does a country not lose a little piece of  its identity when such an important language in its history is forgotten?

Fortunately for Guernésiais, key figures within the community are beginning to work towards its revival. The aim is to raise awareness of the language again; perhaps through the creation of websites, online communities and advertising. Will it work? Who can know for sure until they try.

One thing is certain though, unless more countries do what Guernsey is trying to do, then these endangered languages of the world are sure to be unknown to the generations of the future.

Do you know of other language campaigns across the world? What do you think of this campaign for the Guernsey French language? Let us know your thoughts.

À la perchoine!

For more information on the languages we work with here at Lingua Translations, please visit our languages page.

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Guernsey French: one of the endangered languages?
Have you ever heard about Guernsey French? Only a few hundred speakers of this dialect remain.

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About Sharon Stephens

Sharon Stephens is Operations Director of Lingua Translation. With a First Class Honours Degree in Translation and a University Lecturer in Translation (Masters), she is a self confessed language geek! Bringing the academic principles of translation and business together Sharon offers a quality-driven and needs centric translation and interpreting service - like no other.

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