Getting to know L’Office du Jèrriais: A Q&A with the team promoting the Jèrriais language

Photo provided by L’Office du Jèrriais and used with permission.

Europe’s linguistic diversity is increasingly reflected in online spaces, where regional and minority language speakers and their communities leverage digital tools and media to preserve, promote, and revitalize their language heritage. In this spirit, Rising Voices’ online campaign @EuroDigitalLang has been curating a rotating X (formerly Twitter) account. Here, language activists and advocates narrate their personal stories in their own words, engaging directly with their audience and sharing ongoing challenges as well as successes. In this email interview, Rising Voices spoke to upcoming host Geraint Jennings of L’Office du Jèrriais, a public body which promotes and teaches Jèrriais —  the native language of Jersey. More info can be found at their X account: @le_jerriais. Gerraint and his team will be managing the account the week of April 22–28, 2024. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

L’Office du Jèrriais (LDJ): L’Office du Jèrriais includes two teams: the Jèrriais Teaching Service consisting of six teachers (based at the education department of the Government of Jersey) and the Jèrriais Promotion Team consisting of three employees (at Jersey Heritage, the body responsible for museums, historic sites and intangible cultural heritage in Jersey).

Since the launch of a teaching program of Jèrriais in schools in 1999, we have developed teaching and learning materials, dictionaries, books, online resources and have offered language advice to organizations, business and individuals, including translations.

We now act as official translators for the Government of Jersey for signage and other public usage of Jèrriais, and providing support for all activities involving Jèrriais.

RV: What is the current state of your language both online and offline?

LDJ: Jèrriais is a critically endangered language. From being a majority language at the beginning of the 20th century, now only a small minority are fluent (although up to a quarter of the population understand some Jèrriais and may use words which have been borrowed into Jersey English.)

The States of Jersey voted to make Jèrriais an official language in 2019 (but this does not mean that use of Jèrriais is obligatory, only optional). With ministerial backing from the Government of Jersey, progress has been made towards ratifying the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

The status of Jèrriais has been increased along with interest in the language and awareness of it in offline media. Content includes the launch of the book “Le Petit Prince” (The Little Prince) at the end of 2023, Eisteddfod (Cultural Festival) entries with songs and poems performed in Jèrriais, a poem in Jèrriais winning the Jersey Literature Festival poetry competition, collaborative working with ArtHouse Jersey and musicians producing songs in the language.

The online presence is growing with Jèrriais language resources including:

Learn! – Here you will find resources created and used by the Jèrriais Teaching Service to support learners of all ages
Listen! – Office du Jèrriais Soundcloud account. Here you can listen to over 48,000 Jèrriais audio files – including pronunciation files from the dictionary, phrases, texts, conversations, teaching, poetry, songs
Look! – The Office du Jèrriais YouTube channel to watch and listen to over a thousand videos in and about Jèrriais
Lettre!  – La Lettre Jèrriaise. A weekly podcast in Jèrriais, broadcast every Saturday morning on BBC Radio Jersey
Live it! – Les Pages Jèrriaises. Thousands of pages of Jèrriais texts, articles, poems, songs, vocabulary, grammar, topics, trivia, quizzes and more

RV: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

LDJ: Crapauds (people from Jersey) are renowned travellers and sometimes choose to settle overseas. A digital presence of their language helps them, and future generations, stayed rooted in their heritage.

Linking with the diaspora is important. It also allows people who are unable, or perhaps unlikely to attend language classes, to practice the language through visual and audio means. There is also the economic benefit of raising Jersey's profile as a different country to do business, to visit, to invest in, separate from the UK, and the identity of Jersey as a small island nation with its own unique, if connected, culture.

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully utilized online.

LDJ: In busy online spaces, promoting the language presence, can be difficult. Inclusion of some Jèrriais needs to become ‘the norm’ from official channels. People would like to see more online content on a wider range of platforms, but with a small team it is difficult to satisfy demand. It would be good if there was greater community engagement with online content — more reposting, more reaction — but if the audience just take it for granted that content is produced and expect that it will continue to be produced, it is difficult to develop the online base.

RV: What concrete steps do you think can be taken to encourage younger people to begin learning their language or keep using their language?

LDJ: Jèrriais teachers offer language classes to the younger generation and Jersey Heritage includes the language in its activities for youngsters, encouraging them to ‘have a go.’ The rolling out of visible bilingual signage helps to raise the status of Jèrriais, and this changing linguistic landscape helps give permission to people to use Jèrriais.

Overcoming the existing publication problem and making stories for the young more accessible in printed and media formats is a challenge. We would like to have more material like graphic novels/stories.

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