SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Influencing language policy and learning

The work of Dr Julia Sallabank, Senior Lecturer in Language Support and Revitalisation, in Guernsey’s little-studied indigenous language Guernesiais has constituted a significant contribution to the preservation of Guernsey’s identity and cultural heritage. Dr Sallabank has greatly informed language planning and policy on the island, particularly with regard to teaching methods and raising awareness of the language among the population.  

Since 2000, Dr Sallabank has been researching the endangered indigenous language of Guernsey, Guernesiais.  A Norman language strongly influenced by Norse and English at different points in its history, Guernesiais has just six-seven proficient speakers under age 60; under 2% of Guernsey’s population speaks Guernesiais fluently (2001 census). Guernesiais does not have official recognition or status, nor does it have an official name, often being referred to as a dialect. It is also rarely heard or written in the media. Dr Sallabank’s work is thus concerned with how the language might be revitalised, protected and preserved.

Dr Sallabank has led groups of SOAS MA students to Guernsey, working with the Language Officer, Yan Marquis, to ‘kick-start’ documentation and raise awareness of language shift; both trips attracted considerable attention from local media. In 2012, Dr Sallabank was also the recipient of a small grant from the British Academy for a project on the “Development of Electronic Language Corpus and Pedagogical Support Materials: Guernsey, Channel Islands,” allowing her to continue documenting Guernesiais, in association with Guernsey Museums Service and Mr Marquis (now a freelance researcher and teacher). As part of this research they are collaborating to investigate the needs and motivations of learners of Guernesiais; the findings will be used to develop appropriate learning materials for both school and adult learning material.

Her research into language attitudes has both reflected and fostered greater awareness of language issues in the Channel Islands and elsewhere. As well as interviewing government officials, she has collaborated with NGOs such as Lé Comité d’la Culture Guernésiaise (an umbrella body for language support groups) and La Société Guernésiaise, a scientific and cultural association. Since early 2013, she has been advising the new Guernsey Language Commission (GLC) on language planning. Dr Sallabank’s broader expertise on the revitalisation of endangered languages has also been solicited by language officials elsewhere, notably Jersey, the Isle of Man and New Caledonia, and resulted in her participation in UNESCO’s Panel of Experts on language diversity.