Sercquiais also known as Sarkese or Sark-French (Lé Sèrtchais) is the Norman dialect of the Channel Island of Sark (Bailiwick of Guernsey). In the island it is sometimes known, slightly disparagingly, as the "patois", a French term meaning "regional language".

Sarkese is in fact a descendant of the 16th century Jèrriais used by the original colonists, 40 families mostly from Saint Ouen, Jersey,[1] who settled the then uninhabited island, although influenced in the interim by Dgèrnésiais (Guernsey dialect). It is still spoken by older inhabitants of the island. Although the lexis is heavily anglicised, the phonology retains features lost in Jèrriais since the 16th century. Most of the local placenames are in Sarkese. In former times, there may have been two subdialects of Sercquiais. It is also closely related to the Auregnais (Alderney) dialect, as well as Continental Norman.

It has suffered greatly in recent years due to a large influx of tax exiles from England who have moved to the island, as well as official neglect.

Written Sercquiais


Relatively little Sercquiais has been transcribed, and as there is no widely accepted form, it has received a certain amount of stigma as a result. A ruler of Sark, Dame Sibyl Hathaway, who was a speaker herself, claimed that it could "never be written down", and this myth has continued in the years since then.

The earliest published text in Sercquiais so far identified is the Parable of the Sower (Parabol du smeaux) from the Gospel of Matthew. Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte, linguist, visited the Channel Islands in September 1862 in order to transcribe samples of the insular language varieties, which he subsequently published in 1863:

(3) [...] L'chen qui sème s'n allit s'mai;
(4) Et tàndis qu' i s'maitt une partie d' la s'menche quitt le long du ch'mìnn et l's oesiaux du ciel vìndrint et i la màndgirent.
(5) Une aûtre quitt dans d's endréts roquieurs, où alle n'avait pas fort de terre; et ou l'vist ossivite, parçe que la terre où al' 'tait n'était pas ben avant.
(6) Mais l'solé se l'vitt et ou fut brulaie; et coumme ou n'avait pas d'rachinnes, ou s'quitt.
(7) Une aûtre quitt dans d's épinnes, et l's épinnes vìndrent à craitre, et l'etoupidrent.
(8) Une aûtre enfin quitt dans d'bouanne terre, et ou portit du fritt; quiq' grâins rèndirent chent pour un, d'aûtres sessànte, et d'aûtres trente.
(9) L'chen qu'a d's oureilles pour ouit qu' il ouêt. (S. Makyu. Chap. XIII. 3-9)

Which in the NIV is translated as:

(3) "[...] A farmer went out to sow his seed.
(4) As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.
(5) Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.
(6) But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.
(7) Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.
(8) Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop â€" a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
(9) He who has ears, let him hear."


(Note: Sercquiais not possessing a standard orthography, examples are given according to Liddicoat's Lexicon of Sark Norman French, Munich 2001)

Sercquiais does not have the voiced dental fricative which is such a distinctive characteristic of St. Ouen in Jersey where most of the colonists came from.

palatalisation of velars /k/ and /É¡/ (see Joret line) is less fully developed in Sercquiais than in Jèrriais. Palatalisation in Jèrriais of /k/ to [tʃ] and /É¡/ to [dÊ'] has the equivalent in Sercquiais of /kj/ and /É¡j/. For example hiccup is hitchet in Jèrriais and hekyet in Sercquiais; war is respectively dgèrre and gyer.

Palatalisation of /tj/ in Jèrriais leads to [tʃ], but in Sercquiais /t/ is generally retained: profession, trade in Sercquiais is meeti, whereas Jèrriais has palatalised to mêtchi.

[dÊ'] is retained in Sercquiais where Jèrriais has reduced to [Ê'], as in to eat: mãdji (Sercquiais) - mangi (Jèrriais).

Final consonants of masculine nouns in the singular are in free variation with null in all positions except in liaison. Final consonants are usually pronounced at ends of phrases. Final consonants are always lost in plural forms of masculine nouns. A cat may therefore be kat or ka in Sercquiais, but cats are kaa. For comparison, Jèrriais cat is usually pronounced /ka/, and the plural has the long vowel as in Sercquiais. It can also therefore be seen that length is phonemic and may denote plurality.

Sercquiais has also retained final consonants that have been entirely lost in Jèrriais, such as final /t/ in pret (meadow - pré in Jèrriais as in French).

Metathesis of /r/ is uncommon in Sercquiais, and in Jèrriais, by comparison with Dgèrnésiais.

The palatalised l, which in Jèrriais has been generally palatalised to /j/ in initial position and following a consonant, is maintained in Sercquiais.

Gemination occurs regularly in verb conjugations and gerunds, as in Jèrriais but in distinction to Dgèrnésiais.

However, Sercquiais does not geminate palatal fricatives, unlike Jèrriais:

Conjugation of verbs


The St. Ouennais origins of Sercquiais can be seen in the 2nd and 3rd person plural forms of the preterite. Sercquiais uses an ending -dr which is typical of the St. Ouennais dialect of Jèrriais, but generally not used elsewhere in Jersey (nor nowadays by younger speakers in St. Ouen).

See also

  • Norman language




  • Liddicoat, Anthony J. (1994). A Grammar of the Norman French of the Channel Islands: The Dialects of Jersey and Sark. Berlin: Mounton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-012631-1. 
  • Liddicoat, Anthony J. (2001). Lexicon of Sark Norman French. Munich: LINCOM Europa. ISBN 3-89586-411-0. 
  • ^ Société Jersiaise

External links

  • Lé Sèrtchais (including comparative glossary)
  • Jèrriais and Sercquiais today by Dr Mari C. Jones - from the BBC

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