It all started in 2015 when Dr. Richard Axton, MBE, a great Englishman with the heart of a true Sarkee, invited Martin Neudörfl, a Czech student with an interest in Norman languages, to come to Sark and take his part in preserving the linguistic heritage of the island through a systematic and professional documentation, codification and revitalization of the native Romance language of Sark, a unique archaic variety of the Norman language, Sarkese.
Martin first came to Sark in 2016 and immidiately started to learn and document the Sark Norman language, l’Sérčê in Sarkese, with the help of the four last native active speakers, Mrs Esther Perrée, Mr Bas Adams, Mrs Margaret Toms and Mrs Joyce Southern and several other semi-speakers or so-called rememberers who have been involved in our project ever since, f.e. Mrs Suzette Adams, Mr Dick Adams and Mr Phil Perrée and many others.
Through the truly extraordinary dedication of our speakers and the generous financial support of the Charles University in Prague (since 2018) and la Société Sercquaise (since 2021), we have been working together, via intensive annual consultations and sessions with Martin in person in Sark, and weekly telephone consultations through out the year with our speakers, learning and describing the ancient language of the Sarkese.
Our primary goal was to reach such a level of understanding that Sarkese may be learned and passed on again, as well as taught in a modern, professional and (most importantly) responsible way. In 2019, we were finally able to start passing our knowledge onto the new generations of the Sarkese via regular Sarkese classes for children at the Sark School, introduced that year. In 2021, we started our online weekly courses for adults.
Despite these remarkable successes, which we wouldn’t have reached without general support, be it financial or moral, and in the first place without our speakers investing their time and energy, a long way still lays ahead of us – not only on the revitalization level, bringing Sarkese back to life and to the people of Sark, but even on the documentation level, as every session and consultation we recover new words and sometimes even learn previously unrecorded features.
Given that Sark Norman represents an extraordinarily unique and archaic variety of the Old Norman language, our main focus was the description of the phonology (how the language sounds) and the morphosyntax (how we form words and sentences) in order to propose a standardized and functional orthography (the way how we write a language). The subsequently developed orthography system was finally introduced in 2019 and has been tested and in use since then at the Sark School and in cooperation with new L2-speakers involved in our courses for public.
In 2021, we believe, we reached the necessary level of understanding to declare that Sarkese, in its original form as a language, shall survive if the Sarkese claim it again as their own. Nonetheless, regarding phraseology (unusual sayings, phrases) and vocabulary (words and their meaning) there are still many things to record and learn – imagine learning and reconstructing English with only four speakers left! However, thanks to the most active approach of our speakers, we are making progress with every single consultation.
Our current goal is finishing the SNGO (a on-line toponymy database with 750 entries on authentic Sarkese names of places, i.e. names of houses, fields, bays, streets, rocks and caves in Sark ‘Sark Norman Gazetteer Online) and the SNDO (Sark Norman Dictionary Online). With Bas Adam’s passing in 2021, three remaining native speakers are being involved in our project and our cooperation with the Sark School continues in 2024 as well as our evening Sarkese classes for public.
Anyone interested in Sarkese, from Sark or from abroad, willing to help or learn the language of the “Crows and Rabbits”, is most welcome to join us! For more information please contact Martin Neudörfl via email@example.com 😉