Sarkese, Sark-French
sercquiais, lé sèrtchais
Native toSark
Native speakers
3 (2022)[1]
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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Sercquiais (French pronunciation: [sɛʁkjɛ]), also known as lé Sèrtchais, Sarkese or Sark-French, is the Norman dialect of the Channel Island of Sark (Bailiwick of Guernsey).

Sercquiais is a descendant of the 16th century Jèrriais used by the original colonists;[5] 40 families mostly from Saint Ouen, Jersey[1] who settled the then uninhabited island, although influenced in the interim by Guernésiais (the dialect of Guernsey). It is also closely related to the now-extinct Auregnais (Alderney) dialect, as well as to Continental Norman. It is still spoken by older inhabitants of the island and most of the local placenames are in Sercquiais.

In former times, there may have been two subdialects of Sercquiais, but today the dialect is relatively homogeneous.[5] The phonology of the language retains features lost in Jèrriais since the 16th century.

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 notable ruler of Sark, Sibyl Hathaway, who was a speaker herself, proclaimed that it could "never be written down", and this perception has continued in the years since.

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 — a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
(9) He who has ears, let him hear."


As of 2022, Sercquiais had three native speakers.[6] The Czech linguist Martin Neudörfl has been trying to preserve the language by teaching it to children.[6][7] He has also conducted many tests, and created hundreds of hours of recordings, so that audio of pronunciation and rhythm — how the language sounds — is preserved.[6] Since 2019, the language has been taught in schools.[6]


Sercquiais Consonants[8]
Labial Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar/
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡʲ ɡ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ
voiced v z ʒ ʁ
Rhotic r
Lateral l ʎ
Approximant plain j
labial ɥ w
Sercquiais Oral Vowels
  Front Back
unrounded rounded
Close i y u
Open-mid ɛ ɛː œ œː ɔ ɔː
Open a
Nasal Vowels
Front Back
unrounded rounded
Close-mid ẽː ø̃ ø̃ː õ õː
Open-mid ɛ̃ ɛ̃ː
Open ɑ̃ ɑ̃ː
(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.

Sercquiais Jèrriais English French
lyer liéthe to read lire
kuoradj couothage courage courage
fere féther to iron repasser (ferrer: to clad in iron)

Palatalisation of velars /k/ and /ɡ/ (see Joret line) is less fully developed in Sercquiais than in Jèrriais. Palatalisation in Jèrriais of /k/ to [tʃ] and /ɡ/ to [dʒ] has the equivalent in Sercquiais of /kj/ and /ɡj/. 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.

[dʒ] is retained in Sercquiais where Jèrriais has reduced to [ʒ], 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 (meadowpré in Jèrriais as in French).

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

Sercquiais Jèrriais Guernésiais English
krwee crouaix kérouaïe cross
mekrëdi Mêcrédi méquerdi Wednesday

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

Sercquiais Jèrriais
(li representing /j/)
blyakyĩ bliatchîn shoe polish (blacking)
klyüt cliu patch
plyechi pliaichi to place
lyef lief roof

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

Sercquiais Jèrriais Guernésiais English
machunnii machonn'nie machounn'rie masonry
dje dmãdde jé d'mand'dai je d'mànd'rai I'll ask

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

Sercquiais Jèrriais English
brachii brach'chie brewery
brachii brachie armful
mãdji mangi to eat
mãdji mang'gie eating

In the second half of the 19th century the language changed considerably. We can observe this in the 40 idiolects that can be heard today. An important part of the language is the usage of diphthongs, which affects the pronunciation. It is unclear how words are pronounced because there are many possible ways to pronounce them depending on where they are in the phrase. It is important to codify the language since not even the native speakers follow all the rules.[9]

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).

Sercquiais Jèrriais
(St. Ouennais)
standard Jèrriais English
i vuliidr i' voulîdrent i' voulîtent they wanted
uu paaliidr ou pâlîdres ou pâlîtes you spoke
i füüdr i' fûdrent i' fûtent they were
uu prẽẽdr ou prîndres ou prîntes you took

See also


  1. ^ Jèrriais at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian (24 May 2022). "Oil". Glottolog. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Archived from the original on 8 October 2022. Retrieved 7 October 2022.
  3. ^ a b "51-AAA-hcf Sercquais". Linguasphere Register via Linguasphere Observatory. Archived from the original on 8 October 2022. Retrieved 7 October 2022 – via
  4. ^ "Language Subtag Registry". IETF. Retrieved 28 August 2023. Type: language Subtag: nrf Description: Jèrriais Description: Guernésiais Description: Sercquiais Added: 2015-02-12 / Type: region Subtag: CQ Description: Sark Added: 2023-02-07
  5. ^ a b "Voices – Multilingual Nation". BBC. 30 September 2005. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Corless, Blathnaid (23 February 2024). "Linguist preserves ancient British dialect with help of last three native speakers". The Telegraph.
  7. ^ Fitch, Zoe (27 November 2019). "Sark pupils keep the island's language alive – with the help of Czech student". Guernsey Press. Archived from the original on 28 November 2019. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  8. ^ Liddicoat, Anthony (1994). A Grammar of the Norman French of the Channel Islands The Dialects of Jersey and Sark. De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 103–140.
  9. ^ "Martin Neudörfl on codifying Sark Norman, saving Šumava Bavarian, and reviving Český Krumlov's Schwarzenberg guard". Radio Prague International. 5 July 2019.