Informing Approaches to Endangered Language Protection and Revitalisation in the Channel Islands (Julia Sallabank)

Submitting Institution

School of Oriental & African Studies

Unit of Assessment

Modern Languages and Linguistics

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Language Studies, Linguistics

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Summary of the impact

Dr Julia Sallabank's research into Guernsey's little-studied indigenous language, Guernesiais, 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. Moreover, her documentation of Guernesiais, specifically the recording of audio samples, constitutes a significant contribution to the preservation of Guernsey's identity and cultural heritage. 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.

Underpinning research

Dr Julia Sallabank is Senior Lecturer in Language Support and Revitalisation at SOAS' Department of Linguistics, where she has worked since 2007. She completed her PhD in Linguistics at the University of Lancaster in 2006, focusing on identity and language maintenance in Guernsey Norman French, while continuing to work as Commissioning Editor for Applied Linguistics books and journal at Oxford University Press. Her research centres on policy and planning for endangered languages and is directly related to improving the outcomes of language revitalisation programmes.

Since 2000, Sallabank has been researching the endangered indigenous language of Guernsey, Guernesiais. Sallabank works closely with the island's endangered language community and is currently working on a British Academy-funded project into learning Guernesiais with a local collaborator, having previously held an Endangered Languages Documentation Programme grant to document Guernesiais. A Norman language strongly influenced by Norse and English at different points in its history, Guernesiais has just 6-7 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. Sallabank's work is thus concerned with how the language might be revitalised, protected and preserved.

Sallabank has examined approaches to endangered language revitalisation employed in other contexts to determine whether they could be applicable to Guernsey. Specifically, in output a, Sallabank assessed the concept of `polynomic' languages, a pluralistic language model with no prescriptive standard and open to functional distinctions, which has been employed in the teaching of Corsican. Sallabank's research has shown that many in Guernsey view regional variation of Guernesiais as enriching for the language, suggesting therefore that the polynomic approach could be an appropriate model. Such an approach, however, is problematised by the increasing trend towards linguistic purism. Taking into account such challenges, Sallabank's article compared the language planning of Guernsey and Corsica to determine the feasibility of the polynomic model of language planning in the former.

Sallabank also investigated how changes in attitudes towards Guernesiais among Guernsey residents might result in increased measures to protect it. In output b, Sallabank traces shifts in language ideology in Guernsey from a monolingual ideal to the more recent recognition of a bi/trilingual linguistic heritage. Sallabank examines to what extent this shift has led to official support and concrete language planning measures. Sallabank also compares Guernesiais with other Norman languages of the Channel Islands (output c), comparing the success of their respective revitalisation measures.

Sallabank's extensive research into the languages of the Channel Islands has fed into her recently published monograph, Attitudes to Endangered Languages: Identities and Policies. Using a combination of ethnographic research and quantitative surveys, the book examines language revitalisation efforts in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, identifying and confronting issues frequently faced by practitioners and researchers working in these communities. The book also assesses the implications of ideologies, identity and language-related beliefs and practices for such revitalisation measures.

References to the research

a. "Standardisation, Prescription and Polynomie: Can Guernsey Follow the Corsican Model?" Current Issues in Language Planning 11 (2010): 311-30.


b. "Norman Languages of the Channel Islands: Current Situation, Language Maintenance and Revitalisation." Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures 5/2 (2011): 19-44.

c. "Can Majority Support Save an Endangered Language? A Case Study of Language Attitudes in Guernsey." Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 34/4 (2013): 332-47.


d. Endangered Languages: Attitudes, Identities and Policies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.


e. and Yan Marquis. "Speakers and Language Revitalisation: A Case Study of Guernesiais (Guernsey)." In Keeping Languages Alive: Documentation, Pedagogy, and Revitalization, edited by Mari C. Jones and Sarah Ogilvie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, in press.


British Academy small grant, £10,000 (2012): "Development of Electronic Language Corpus and Pedagogical Support Materials: Guernsey, Channel Islands'.

May 2009: Arcadia/Hans Rausing Endangered Language Documentation Programme small grant SG0021 for Indigenous Language Documentation in Guernsey, Channel Islands (in collaboration with the Guernsey Language Support Officer, Mr. Jan Marquis).

July 2008: Nuffield Foundation Social Sciences small grant no. 36136 to compare language policy in small island polities around the British Isles (Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man), with specific reference to the role of a language officer (Sept 2008-Dec 2009).

Details of the impact

Through her research into Guernesiais and wider approaches to endangered language protection, Sallabank has for many years been actively involved with officials and endangered language community members in Guernsey, providing advice and practical support to their attempts to revitalise this almost extinct language.

In 2009 and 2010, she 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, 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. Often schools are the focus of revitalisation efforts, but for many small languages there are few fluent teachers or materials. Effective adult language learning is thus a vital step in re-establishing speaker communities. Research into this area is of great significance since standard models/frameworks for teaching major languages are not applicable.

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/cultural association (1 and 2, below). Data from her research is used by officials in language planning and she was commissioned to write a paper (based on her doctoral research) for the Guernsey Ministry of Culture and Leisure in 2007, whose recommendations were implemented in the appointment of a Language Officer. From 2007 to 2011 she advised the Language Office and was a member of the Language Advisory Panel.

Since early 2013, she has been advising the new Guernsey Language Commission (GLC) on language planning (3). In July 2013 Sallabank was invited to attend a meeting with the GLC's members; in the invitation email, it was stated that Sallabank's input was requested based on the need for `high level advice on strategy.' Sallabank's recommendations and findings were distributed to all members following the meeting. These included: a need for collaboration at strategic level; the lack of younger speakers is a major concern (she knows of only 5-6 under 60, the youngest aged 45), thus a core of proficient younger adult speakers needs to be developed to take the language into the future; she recommends a mentor system to go with adult education; and the development of integrated, usage-based materials — Sallabank is currently compiling a corpus of audio language samples to create a multimedia dictionary of Guernesiais. Sallabank is listed as a partner in the GLC's `Business Plan' with particular respect to plans to research and record the language, to raise awareness of it, and to develop effective teaching of Guernesiais. Sallabank's publications are also listed on the GLC website.

Sallabank is also in frequent contact with the Language Offices in the Isle of Man and Jersey. Research conducted on the teaching of Jersey's indigenous language, Jèrriais, in 2012 was sent to L'Office du Jèrriais in Jersey's Department for Sport, Language and Culture (4). In their response, the Office described her research as excellent and has invited Sallabank to run a short course on how Jèrriais lessons can be improved. Her research has been shared with multiple people involved in the preservation and promotion of Jèrriais throughout the island.

Sallabank's wider expertise on endangered languages more broadly has also resulted in demand for her expertise by organisations unrelated to the Channel Islands. In June 2011 she was invited to join a Panel of Experts on language diversity at UNESCO in Paris (5). Additionally, on 7th Nov 2013, she addressed a ministerial meeting of the British-Irish Council (intergovernmental agency set up to further collaboration and best practice in regional affairs) on legislation in support of small languages.

Moreover, in March 2013, Sallabank visited New Caledonia to conduct research into language attitudes following an invitation to attend a meeting of L'Académie des Langues Kanak (which oversees language planning) (6). She is currently planning surveys into language attitudes and shift in New Caledonia and the Cook Islands, collaborating with local researchers.

Finally, in 2010 Sallabank participated in BBC Radio 4's "Word of Mouth" programme about endangered languages (7), heard by a 6th-form pupil in the UK who then researched Sallabank and came across an interview with a BBC News report from 2010 (8). Her interest sparked by these interviews, the pupil invited Sallabank to participate in a language conference at her school and has expressed interest in attending SOAS' Endangered Languages Week in 2014 (9).

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Lé Comité d'la Culture Guernésiaise: [Most recently accessed 18.11.13]
  2. La Société Guernésiaise: [Most recently accessed 18.11.13]
  3. Guernsey Language Commission: [Most recently accessed 18.11.13]
  4. L'Office du Jèrriais : [Most recently accessed 18.11.13]
  5. Information on the UNESCO meeting on language policies, May 2011: [Most recently accessed 18.11.13]
  6. L'Académie des Langues Kanak: [Most recently accessed 18.11.13]
  7. BBC Radio 4 `Word of Mouth' programme featuring Sallabank: [Most recently accessed 18.11.13]
  8. BBC News item on endangered languages featuring Sallabank: [Most recently accessed 18.11.13]
  9. Email from 6th-form pupil can be provided upon request.