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An Anglo-Norman Reader

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Jane Bliss

Appendix

Texte intégral

‘Et pis y avait quat’ e: enne histouaire de ma graond’mé’, an adventure story

  • 1 He is working on more of these.
  • 2 Local gossip at one time believed the language (of Guernsey in this example) to be that of witches: (...)
  • 3 In the 1860s Le Cerf said, of Wace, ‘De nos jours encore ses chants pourraient etre compris dans le (...)
  • 4 The latter (Raymond, ed., Fishermen’s Tales) includes the story presented here, with minor differen (...)

1My appendix presents Insular French of another kind, as it survives into modern times: here is one of the stories told to Royston Raymond of Alderney by his grandmother;1 he is writing them down for interested colleagues. Although the Alderney patois, or ‘parler’, has effectively died out, Raymond remembers his grandparents’ speech. On first looking into Wace’s Roman de Rou, he said to himself ‘This is the language of my grandparents!’ He tells me his grandfather boasted of speaking the language of Duke William. Now retired, he is compiling a dictionary of Alderney vocabulary (the language differs from that recorded in the other islands), and working with the local school to bring knowledge of the language to the next generation. He has transcribed his grandmother’s speech as exactly as he can, from memory. This was a spoken language only, and as far as we know was never written down;2 the Island administration used standard French in official documents until 1948. The stories have been studied in the Oxford Anglo-Norman reading group, because of notable similarities to the extant Anglo-Norman of medieval times;3 and also recorded, when he visited Oxford. One or more of them are to appear in the Alderney Society Bulletin; some are in Raymond’s Fishermen’s Tales.4

  • 5 Evans, ‘The Taxonomy of Bird-Naming in Anglo-Norman and Channel Island Patois’.
  • 6 For example, note 1 p. 170. See also Hogg, ed., The Cambridge History of the English Language (ch. (...)
  • 7 Essai sur le patois normand de la Hague.
  • 8 I am grateful to Ian Short for further material on the subject of Island languages (his ‘Mainland a (...)

2A comparatively recent essay on Island patois is illuminating because it demonstrates correspondence between a medieval language and a modern dialect or dialects.5 Unfortunately Daffyd Evans omitted Alderney from his study because, he said, the local dialect died out when the island was completely evacuated at the beginning of the Second World War. He seems to be unaware that at least six of the returning evacuees still spoke the patois, after 1945. The last one died in the early 1980s. In Darmesteter, La Vie des Mots, remarks on patois remain useful when researching old forms of a language.6 A similar dialect is alive and well in [Cap de la] Hague; Raymond corresponds with native writers and speakers in their own language; Fleury noted its closeness to Aurignais (or Aourgniais).7 The present volume is called An Anglo-Norman Reader, and it must be remembered that Insular French does still exist outside the medieval field.8

3The distinctive spelling, below, represents Raymond’s effort to render his memory of what the language sounded like. Neither this, nor his pronunciation on the recording, sounds much like Old French as medievalists are taught to pronounce it. He prefaces his current work as follows: ‘[This] is merely an estimated reconstruction of Alderney patois based on amateur research and 65 year old memories from the late 1940s when my grandmother told me this story. It cannot claim to be 100 per cent accurate.’ Elsewhere, he notes ‘li’ is masculine (as in Old French) and ‘lé’ is feminine.

Text

A daeux milles au norouet d’Aur’ni y a en p’tit ilôt noumai Burhou. Dans lé laoungawge des Vikings che veurt dire ‘Ilôt dove enne caumine’.
Réel’ment enne p’tite caumine ou maisounette en pierre se tint au milli de l’ilôt quai fut bastie y a laoungtemps a l’assinant de Chretiannetai p’tête coumme en ermitawge pour en anacorite irlandais.
Depis des chentoines d’onnoaies les paissouniers et pis les Etats d’Aur’ni ont moint’nu che bastiment coumme abri pour les mariniers nawfrawgés ou des coilliers d’ormés durant les graound’s maraies. En d’dans y avait terjours en coffre de biscuits de mé et enne barrique d’eau a bere.
Choque Ernouvoi en guoing de treis d’ouveriers, en tcherpentier, en machaon et en peintre fut enviai a Burhou pour faire les reparaciaons tch’il faout. Y em’noient en dedans lé maisounnette tous leurs outi’s; des sacs de chiment et de caue sans oubilloi en amas de mang’rie, enne barrique de cidre et des bouteilles de rhom.
Enne foueis durant les onnaies sessantes de lé dix-neuvième siecle au mouais d’avril mon arrière graond onc’e, Daniel Sebire, en tcherpentier, s’est atterri a Burhou dove les autres ouveriers pour faire les travaux coumme de couteume.
Oprès chinq jours leurs tâques furent finies et y se sont mis à préparai pour li r’tour en Aur’ni. Par malheur en Nordvouestin fut arrivaïe et y furent abandonnaïe acore treis jors sur l’ilôt.
Che seir law y furent assis a sen aise d’vant en gros fouaie de bouais rammassaïe sur lé banque. En graond bachin de croc fut a mitounniair et les treis hoummes fumaïent leurs pipes et craquiaïent tandis tche dehors le vent heurlaïe et lé maisounette tchatchaïe sous les bourdèques.

Translation

And then there were four! A story of my grandmother’s9

  • 9 The translation is broadly my own, though I have consulted Raymond every step of the way with this (...)
  • 10 The French name for Alderney is ‘Aurigny’.

4Two miles to the north-west of Alderney10 there is a tiny islet called Burhou. In the language of the Vikings this means ‘Islet with a Hut’.

  • 11 Legend has it that Alderney, with the other islands, was converted by Celtic missionaries in or aro (...)

5In truth, a little hut or tiny house of stone stands in the middle of the islet; it was built long ago at the dawn of Christianity perhaps as a hermitage for an Irish anchorite.11

  • 12 The ormer (oreille de mer) is a univalve shellfish much prized in the Channel Islands: a kind of no (...)

6For hundreds of years the fishermen, and then the States of Alderney, have maintained this building as a shelter for shipwrecked mariners or for the ormer-gatherers during the great spring tides.12 And inside there was always a chest full of ship’s biscuit and a barrel of drinking-water.

7Every spring a gang of three workmen — carpenter, mason, and painter — was sent to Burhou to do the necessary repairs. They took all their tools into the hut, and sacks of cement and lime, not forgetting a stock of provisions, a barrel of cider, and bottles of rum.

8One time, during the sixties in the nineteenth century, in the month of April, my great-great uncle Daniel Sebire was the carpenter; he landed on Burhou with the other workmen to do the repairs as usual.

  • 13 ‘tâques’ (pronounced ‘tork’); Raymond alters the spelling of ‘taches’ so as to represent the long d (...)
  • 14 A century and a half after these events took place, Burhou remains inaccessible in bad weather: it (...)

9After five days, their tasks13 were completed, and they began to prepare for the return to Alderney. But unfortunately a north-wester had blown up, and they were marooned for another three days on the islet.14

  • 15 Locals are proud of their ‘bean jar’ (this appears in Island recipe books, and no two households ma (...)

10On that evening they were sitting comfortably in front of an enormous fire of driftwood gathered at the water’s edge. A great pot of bean stew was simmering,15 and the three men smoked their pipes and chatted while outside the wind howled and the hut shuddered in the blasts.

Soudain’ment y aont ouï en grattement affaiblli a li hus. Li sang a g’laie dans leurs voines. Durant tchitchuns secaonds y furent paralisaïe par lé crointe. Enfin Daniel s’est butaïe. ‘N’ ouvre por Daniel!’ ont criaie les aout’s, ‘ch’ est li tchen bodu!’
‘Ach foutu feignaonts! Ne porle por du bavin!’ il a répondu, mais tout de maesm il a gardaïe en graond couté a lé moin destre quand il a ouvaert li hus.
Law sur li peraon était en houmme, ses hardes en nocq de nocq et erachiaïes, les moins et gambes ensanguinaïes.
Y l’ont trognaïe en d’dans, ont degraïe ses hardes et l’ont enveloppaïe dans en bllanquet et l’ont mis près de faeu. Nou l’a dounnaïe en graond bolaie de croc brulant arrosaïe de rhom.
Li landemoin matin li naufrawgaïe a pu leur racontaïe sen histouaire. Son baté, enne barquentine en passage de Birdeaux a Li Havre, par enne faoute de navigaciaon fut naufrawgi sur lé greune de Renonquet.
Par en miraclle il a pu nouaïr enviars l’ilôt de Burhou et a grimpotaïe a tchique bord sur lé banque ou les houlingues n’étaient paw trop fortes. Enne fwais a terre y a vu li lueur d’lé lampe a huile dans lé f’nête d’lé caumine. Naette paumaï il a catounaïe enviaers li.
R’venu en Aur’ni il fut mis a l’hôpital des paoures et pllus tard lé paraesse a payaïe son retour en Angllectaire.
Ma graon’mé m’a terjours assaeuraïe tche chutte histouaire était vraïe, mais jo ne l’ai jomais trouvaïe racontaïe dans lé Presse de Djernesi.

  • 16 This creature was reputed to be a dog (see my introduction to Bozon’s Conte, above).

11Suddenly there was a feeble scratching at the door! The blood froze in their veins… for several seconds they were paralyzed with terror. At length Daniel sprang up. ‘Don’t open it, Daniel!’ cried the others. ‘It’s the werewolf!’16

12‘You bloody feeble lot! Don’t talk such balls!’ he retorted… but, all the same, he kept a big knife in his right hand as he opened the door.

13There on the threshold was a man, his clothes torn to rags, and drenched to the bone, his hands and legs bloodied.

  • 17 A word looking like ‘nous’ is in fact third person singular; it means ‘on’ (‘oun’ reversed) and may (...)

14They hauled him inside, pulled off his clothes and wrapped him in a blanket, and put him in front of the fire. Then he was given a big bowl of hot stew laced with rum.17

  • 18 The waters around Alderney are littered with wrecks, over untold centuries; the rocks and reefs are (...)

15Next morning, the castaway was able to tell them his story. His ship, a barquentine on her way from Bordeaux to Le Havre, had been wrecked on the reef of Renonquet through a fault of navigation.18

16By a miracle, he had been able to swim towards the islet of Burhou, and crawled ashore at a point where the breakers were less ferocious. Once landed, he saw the light of the oil-lamp in the window of the hut. Almost fainting, he had dragged himself towards it.

17Back in Alderney, he was put into the paupers’ hospital, and later the parish paid his passage back to England.

  • 19 The scribe, Raymond himself, speaks. The site of this wreck, at least (together with numerous other (...)

18My grandmother always assured me this story was true, but I have never been able to find it reported in the Guernsey press.19

Notes

1 He is working on more of these.

2 Local gossip at one time believed the language (of Guernsey in this example) to be that of witches: Edwards, Ebenezer Le Page, p. 317.

3 In the 1860s Le Cerf said, of Wace, ‘De nos jours encore ses chants pourraient etre compris dans les chaumières des iles’ (L’Archipel des Iles Normandes, Paris 1863, p. 29). This was written around the same date as events in the story presented in this book, less than a century before its recital in the 1940s. The name of our hero, Sebire, is still current in Alderney.

4 The latter (Raymond, ed., Fishermen’s Tales) includes the story presented here, with minor differences, in Raymond’s own translation and without the original French. This same one has now been published in the Bulletin (Raymond, ‘And then there were four’), again with minor differences. I am very grateful to him for allowing me to include it in this book.

5 Evans, ‘The Taxonomy of Bird-Naming in Anglo-Norman and Channel Island Patois’.

6 For example, note 1 p. 170. See also Hogg, ed., The Cambridge History of the English Language (ch. 3), p. 68, for the value of dialect in tracing the history of a language.

7 Essai sur le patois normand de la Hague.

8 I am grateful to Ian Short for further material on the subject of Island languages (his ‘Mainland and Insular Norman’ provides a number of references).

9 The translation is broadly my own, though I have consulted Raymond every step of the way with this unique material.

10 The French name for Alderney is ‘Aurigny’.

11 Legend has it that Alderney, with the other islands, was converted by Celtic missionaries in or around the sixth century (see my ‘Vignalis, or Guénaël, of Alderney: A Legend and its Medieval Sources’).

12 The ormer (oreille de mer) is a univalve shellfish much prized in the Channel Islands: a kind of northern abalone. OED: the Ormer (Fr. Ormier, Lat. auris maris, ‘Sea-ear’, in Alderney patois ‘ormé’) is haliotis tuberculata. It is difficult and dangerous to gather, and very good to eat when properly cooked; the shell, pictured on the back cover of this book, is beautiful.

13 ‘tâques’ (pronounced ‘tork’); Raymond alters the spelling of ‘taches’ so as to represent the long drawling ‘a’ sound, and the hard final consonant, of the local pronunciation as he hears it.

14 A century and a half after these events took place, Burhou remains inaccessible in bad weather: it has no harbour or landing-place.

15 Locals are proud of their ‘bean jar’ (this appears in Island recipe books, and no two households make it the same way); it is not unlike cassoulet.

16 This creature was reputed to be a dog (see my introduction to Bozon’s Conte, above).

17 A word looking like ‘nous’ is in fact third person singular; it means ‘on’ (‘oun’ reversed) and may be used either thus or to indicate a passive.

18 The waters around Alderney are littered with wrecks, over untold centuries; the rocks and reefs are deadly, and the tidal currents surging past the island are among the fiercest in the world (a tidal-power project is currently in development).

19 The scribe, Raymond himself, speaks. The site of this wreck, at least (together with numerous others), may be identified on a map in the Alderney Museum.

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