On 19 December 2016 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. In that same year photographer I began research around Jèrriais – the island of Jersey’s native language of Norman French.
I am born in Aarhus the second largest city of Denmark, which was founded in the 8th century as a fortified Viking settlement. What fascinates me about the linguistic origin of Jèrriais is the influence of Old Norse, which can be found in Jersey’s native tongue; such as the place name L’Etacq - meaning a stack. On a linguistic level the project is exploring the space between the formal, etymological and vernacular use of Jèrriais. Photography as a medium is mute and the challenge is to photograph, what essentially is a spoken language.
Each portrait is titled with a Jèrriais word that each native speaker has chosen to represent a personal or symbolic meaning, or a specific memory linked to his or her childhood. Some portraits are darker in tonality to reflect the language hidden past at a time when English was adopted as the formal speech in Jersey and Jèrriais was suppressed publicly and forbidden to be spoken in schools.
Juxtaposed with portraits of Jèrriais speakers are a series of photographs of Jersey rocks that are all designated as Sites of Special Interest (SSIs); important geological outcrops that are protected from development and preserved for future public enjoyment and research purposes. The native speakers of Jersey French should be classified as People of Special Interest (PSIs) and equally be protected from extinction through encouraging greater visibility and recognition as guardians of a unique language that are essential in understanding the island’s special character.
CCA Galleries International, St Helier Jersey, 23 May - 12 June 2019