Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français

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Dictionnaire Jersiais-Français: Jèrriais-French dictionary with French-Jèrriais glossary.

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Frank Le Maistre's 1966 dictionary embodies the fruits of a lifetime's work by him of collecting and recording, of persistent enquiry and wide-ranging study. Thanks to this untiring - and even fanatical - zeal, much of the intimate knowledge of older generations has been conserved in this book. There are more than 17,000 catchwords with a text of about 750,000 words that include many thousands of phrases and sayings illustrative of the day-to-day associations of the terms treated. Rules for pronunciation are given and for the first time, the orthography of the language has been standardised and the conjugation of verbs established. Where possible Le Maistre has given the origin of words and sought their links with Norman, French, English, and over 30 other tongues. The terms employed in past and present occupations of the islanders are recorded as well as the local names of the island's flora and fauna. Indeed, nothing seems to have been left out and the book is as much an encyclopaedia as a dictionary. An indispensable second part of the book is the 60-page French-Jersiais Vocabulary compiled by Dr. A. L. Carré who, most fortunately was able to undertake this difficult task. Provided the reader is moderately familiar with the French language he/she can thus easily pursue in the first part of the book, any desired Jersiais word.

The identity of a people is rooted in its own language. But Le Maistre does much more than merely record and explain words; he has made the book a repository of knowledge about every facet of island life and he has opened the doors to much social history and so retrieved from oblivion something of our vanishing local culture. He demonstrates that language is much more than mere speech: that it is a bridge to the past and that it reflects and, in turn, shapes the attitudes of a people. In the case of Jersey, the language has evolved through the intense family life in hamlet and parish and has been enriched by the variety of occupations, by the influx of refugees and new residents, by the returning islanders from the fishing banks and trading stations of the New World and by the crews of Jersey ships that traded all over the world. It is rich in metaphor and highly expressive - indeed it is often more expressive than English or French. A random choice shews that there are at least 15 words for calling a man a scamp, as many for calling him a chump, a score of dissimilar words for a slap in the face, and an endless variety for describing the behaviour of children.

For anyone conscious of Jersey's historic past, or susceptible to the allurement of words, or merely seeking knowledge, the fascination of the book is endless. We learn, for example, that the local word lief, a roof, is a direct relative of the Icelandic word hlifa, far removed from the English or from the French equivalent (toit); and the word persists in Guernsey too. Ridgi is not as one might imagine, an anglicisation of "to rig" but a descendant of an old Norwegian verb rigga. Another link with our Viking ancestry is hâugard (stackyard) deriving from haust meaning autumn or the harvest season, and gardr, an enclosure or yard. The frequently used greune or grunne, a submerged rock, is the pure Scandinavian grunne in spelling and meaning.

Strangely, there are very few traces of Celtic (or Breton) in the Jersey or Guernsey languages; among the few are pihangne for the so-called spider crab and pliaque, one of the Jersey terms for a girl but seldom used in polite society.

Our common word tchaie, to fall, was employed by Wace in the 12th century and remains peculiar to the island; it is strange that the French equivalent tomber finds no place here although we have tombe for a grave, and tombé for a gravestone. Baîni (limpet) is peculiarly Jersey: j'avons d'autres baînis à êcovi (to shell) is the equivalent of "we have other fish to fry" while ch'la ch'est d'aut' baînis means "that is another story." The origin of those strange but erstwhile commonly used expressions ouogue and bidé-ouaie to veer horses to the right and left respectively remains a mystery; they are unknown in France or Normandy and, it is believed, remain peculiar to Jersey. Among other colourful words peculiar to the Island are houiche-bat, for the now abandoned practice of hedge-beating at night for thrushes, starlings etc., and ouasser, to bark, that has resisted deformation by the English term or by the dissimilar French equivalent aboyer.


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