10th August 2010

Guernesiais linguist Marie de Garis died

Linguist Marie de Garis is best remembered for her Dictiounnarie Angllais-Guernésiais. It’s a complete guide to Guernesiais, which she wrote in an effort to preserve Guernsey’s local language.

De Garis had been born Marie Le Messurier, in St Pierre du Bois, on 15 June 1910. She lived in the parish her whole life, aside from the five years she spent on the mainland, to which she had been evacuated for the duration of the Second World War.

Determined from an early age

She had been raised speaking Guernsey French. However, in school – even on Guernsey – she and her fellow pupils were forced to follow lessons in English.

This may have contributed to her decision, made at an early age, that once grown up, she would write down as many Guernesiais words as she could remember, along with their translations. She was likely also influenced by overhearing her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends. They were complaining that fewer and fewer people were speaking the language they had grown up with.

The first Guernsey French dictionary

True to her word, she compiled the most comprehensive dictionary of Guernesiais, which has since become a standard work and continues to be updated.

The first draft was written on index cards. De Garis worked on it alone, and it was published in 1967. She was awarded an MBE in 1999 for services to the promotion of the Guernsey language and the preservation of the island’s culture.

Marie de Garis died, aged 100, on 10 August 2010 at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital. As well as her dictionary, she left behind three other books about Guernsey culture, customs and folklore. During her life, she had been the president of La Société Guernesiaise and L’Assembllaie d’Guernesiais.

Guernsey French

Despite de Garis’ efforts, and a state-sponsored programme to save the language, Guernesiais is still spoken by very few. The census of 2001 showed that just 3% of Guernsey’s population fully understood the language. Only one in 1000 speakers is considered “young”, suggesting that it remains at risk of dying out.

The Guernsey Language Commission works to promote the language within the Bailiwick and beyond.


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