The Norman language is a Romance language, one of the Oïl languages. The name Norman-French is sometimes used to describe not only the modern Norman language, but also the administrative languages of Anglo-Norman and Law French used in England.
In the Channel Islands, the Norman language has developed separately, but not in isolation, to form what are recognised as Jèrriais (in Jersey), Dgèrnésiais or Guernsey French (in Guernsey) and Sarkese (in Sark). Jèrriais and Dgèrnésiais are recognised as regional languages by the British and Irish governments within the framework of the British-Irish Council.
An isogloss called the ligne Joret separates the northern and southern dialects of the Norman language. There are also dialectal differences between western and eastern dialects.
Three different standardised spellings are used: continental Norman, Jèrriais, and Dgèrnésiais. These represent the different developments and particular literary histories of the varieties of Norman.
Among representative writers of the early Anglo-Norman literary tradition, the Jersey-born poet and chronicler Wace is considered as the founding figure of literature in Jèrriais.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the workers and merchants of Rouen established a tradition of polemical and satirical literature in a form of language called the parler purin.
At the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century a new movement arose in the Channel Islands, led by writers such as George Métivier (Guernsey, 1790-1881 - dubbed the Guernsey Burns) and writers from Jersey. The independent governments, lack of censorship and diverse social and political milieu of the Islands enabled a growth in the publication of vernacular literature - often satirical and political.
Most literature was published in the large number of competing newspapers, which also circulated in the neighbouring Cotentin peninsula, sparking a literary renaissance on the Norman mainland.
The work of Jersey poet Sir Robert Pipon Marett (1820-1884, Bailiff of Jersey) was highly regarded, being quoted in François-Victor Hugo’s La Normandie inconnue. Marett’s work also advanced the standardisation of Jèrriais orthography according to basic principles of the French writing system.
In exile in Jersey and then Guernsey, Victor Hugo took an interest in the vernacular literature, associating himself with Island writers and introducing Norman expressions to the wider French-speaking readership.
Among significant writers in Norman of more recent times are :
- Alfred Rossel (1841-1926, from Cherbourg)
- Charles Lemaître (1854-1928)
- Octave Maillot (1861-1949, from Tinchebray)
- Louis Beuve (1869-1949, from Quettreville-sur-Sienne)
- François Enault (1869-1918, from the Cotentin)
- Maurice Le Sieutre (from Le Havre)
- Charles Birette (1878-1941)
- Charles Le Boulanger (1880-1929)
- Alfred Noël (1883-1918)
- Gaston Lerévérend (1885-1962, from Calvados)
- Pierre Gueroult (1890-1962)
- Gabriel Benoist (author of Thanase Pequeu)
- Jean-Baptiste Pasturel (1895-1962, from Périers)
- Jean Tolvast (Auguste Toullec 1898-1945, from Cherbourg)
- Gires Ganne (Fernand Lechanteur 1910-1971)
- Côtis-Capel (Albert Lohier 1915-1986, from Cherbourg)
- Jehan Le Povremoyne (Ernest Coquin 1903-1970, from Le Havre)
In 1968, André Dupont published L'Épopée cotentine, an epic poem inspired by the models of Wace and other Anglo-Norman poets.
The novel Zabeth by André Louis, which appeared in 1969, was the first novel published in Norman.
The typical medium for literary expression in Norman has traditionally been newspaper columns and almanacs - the topicality and satirical nature is typical of the proverbially deadpan Norman character. However, the ephemeral nature of the publications in which the bulk of Norman literature appears has led to comparative inaccessibility of much of the oeuvre of important writers.
However, the Norman literary tradition places high value on the written text, as opposed to other cultures (for example, neighbouring Gallo and Breton) which have a livelier tradition of oral performance and spontaneous storytelling. The song tradition is also much less evident than in neighbouring cultures.
An annual festival of the Norman language brings together enthusiasts and performers from insular and continental Normandy. The festival alternates between the islands and the mainland.
When Norse invaders arrived in the then province of Neustria and settled the land which became known as Normandy, they adopted the Gallo-Romance speech of the existing populations — much as Norman rulers later adopted in England the speech of the administered people. However in both cases the élites contributed elements of their own language to the newly-enriched languages that developed in the territories.
In Normandy, the new Norman language inherited vocabulary from Norse. The influence on phonology is more disputed, although it is argued that the retention of aspirated /h/ in Norman is due to Norse influence.
Examples of Norman words of Norse origin:
|canne||can (borrowed from Norman)||kanna|
|hèrnais||cart (cf. harness)||?|
|nez||headland (cf. Sheerness, etc.)||nes|
|pouque||bag (cf. north of England "poke")||poki|
|viquet||wicket (borrowed from Norman)||víkjask|
In some cases, Norse words adopted in Norman have been borrowed into French - and more recently some of the English words used in French can be traced back to Norman orgins.
Following the Norman Conquest of 1066, the Norman language (Norman-French) spoken by the new rulers of England left traces of specifically Norman words which can be distinguished from the equivalent lexical items in French:
English < Norman = French
fashion < faichon = façon
cabbage < caboche = chou
castle < castel = château
cauldron < caudron = chaudron
causeway < cauchie = chaussée
catch < cachi = chasser
cater < acater = acheter
mug < mogue/moque = tasse
wicket < viquet = guichet
Other words such as captain, kennel, cattle and canvas introduced from Norman exemplify how Norman retained a /k/ from Latin that was not retained in French.
Today, the Norman language is strongest in the less accessible areas of the former Duchy of Normandy: the Channel Islands and the Cotentin peninsula in the West, and the Pays de Caux in the East. Ease of access from Paris and the popularity of the coastal resorts of central Normandy, such as Deauville, in the 19th century led to a significant loss of distinctive Norman culture.
- Essai de grammaire de la langue normande, UPN, 1995, ISBN 2-9509074-0-7
- V'n-ous d'aveu mei? UPN, 1984
- La Normandie dialectale, 1999, ISBN 2-8413307-6-1