Lesser-used languages of the British Isles cont. We believed we had covered them all: Cornish, Manx, Welsh, Romany, Scoots, Irish Gaelic, even St Kilda Gaelic. Our personal criterion for a “living language” is the existence of poetry, or something resembling it. Along the way, we mentioned Channel Islands Norman French, the most remote of our lesser-used languages.
Or so we thought. The excellent London publishers Francis Boutle, which specializes in this field, has sent us The Toad and the Donkey, an anthology of literature in Jèerriais and Guernesiais – the dialects of Jersey and Guernsey – with further contributions in Sercquiais, of which “a small number of speakers remain”, and Auregnais (from Alderney), said to be extinct. The main influence on all is French, but English shows up in diphthongs. The title of the book derives from the emblems of Jersey (toad) and Guernsey (donkey). This little rhyme in Jèrriais, in which a Guernseyman first speaks to a Jwerseyman, and then the “Jèrriais” replies, serves as an encapsulation:
Dgèrnésiais au Jèrriais:
J’crai qu’j’èthons d’la plyie,
car j’vai qu’les crapauds sont sortis!
Jèrriais au Dgèrnésiais
J’n’ai pas d’peine à l’craithe,
car j’entends les ânes braithe!
(“‘I believe we’ll have rain, for I see that the toads are out’; ‘I have no trouble believing it, for I hear the donkeys braying'”.)
If there are readers who speak or write in these dialects, we would like to hear of it. The Toad and the Donkey (£19.99) is edited by Geraint Jennings and Yan Marquis.