The BBC has announced that Marie de Garis, an expert on the Guernsey language and culture, passed away on Tuesday, a little over a month after she reached her 100th birthday. According to the BBC’s obituary:
“Mrs de Garis was highly respected as one of the leading authorities on the Guernsey French language, her knowledge of the island and its language has been described as encyclopedic and she took the greatest of pleasure in passing on her knowledge, especially to the young.”
She was the author of 5 books on local Guernsey history and folklore, including the most recent Guernsey/English dictionary, the Dictiounnaire Angllais-Guernésiais. Guernsey French, also known as Guernésiais, is a Norman language, closely related to French but also heavily influenced by Norse and English. UNESCO lists the language as “severely endangered.” According to Wikipedia, only 1,327 people, or about 2% of the people living on Guernsey, can still speak it. 70% of Guernsey-speakers are over the age of 64, and only 1 in 1,000 young people can understand it. Most people on the island speak English now, with standard French the most popular choice for a second language.
The slow decline of the Guernsey language is what inspired Mrs. de Garis to write the Dictiounnaire Angllais-Guernésiais. In a BBC article written earlier this year to mark her 100th birthday, she explained:
“My grandmother and her friends were always bemoaning the fact that Guernsey French was on the decrease and I thought when I’m grown up I’m going to write a list of all the Guernsey French words I know so they won’t be lost. It’s not finished yet, I still find words and add them to my own copy of the dictionary… my son and Bill Galliene are writing a new edition.”