BALÉNE / whale

photo source: wikimedia

baléne“, s.f., pronounced [bälɛ̃n(:)] 🔊, historically possibly “baréne” too, is the Sarkese word for “whale”, i.e. any marine mammal that falls under the category of “whale”, as oposed to smaller species known as “márėsuên“, dolphins or dolphin-like marine mammals. While whales are extremely rarely seen in the vicinity of the island, whales do occur off the shore in the Channel Islands, f.e. humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). The word “balnẏ“, whaler, is a direct derivation of “baléne”.

There are two big rocks in Sark called la Baléne and l’Balnẏ, after which the whole body of sea between the south-eastern tip of Little Sark, known as la Brénẏre, and the rock known as la Conchê is called la Bê d’la Baléne, lit. the Whale’s Bay, one of the four “great bays” of Sark.

origin: Gallo-Romance / first recorded for Sarkese: 1970s (PB) / current status in the 21st century: preserved, in use

“baléne” is a feminine invariable countable noun (a she-word that does not change in plural), which means that we say “une baléne”, a/one whale, and “dê baléne”, (some) whales, with no change in how we pronounce or write the word. The pronunciation is regular.

On the origin

The Sarkese “baléne” is directly related to the Guernsey Norman “baloîne” as well as to the Jersey Norman and the French “baleine”, the Spanish “ballena” or the Italian “balena”, i.e. to any form descended from the Latin “balaena”, meaning “whale”, a word adopted by the Romans from Greek in the ancient times.

Since rhotacism (a shift from ‘l’ to ‘r’) was once common in Insular Norman, a form “baréne”, instead of “baléne” was recorded in the past even for Sarkese. Nevertheless, except for the so-called “cračẏ”-phenomenon, which follows specific rules, generic rhotacism is no longer common and practically inacceptable, except for codified forms, among which “baréne” is no longer counted.

Trivia – la Baléne, l’Balnẏ and la Bê d’la Baléne

In the Sarkese waters, there are two famous rocks related to whales, la Baléne, lit. the Whale, and l’Balnẏ, lit. the Whaler, which are close to each other. La Baléne is naturally larger, while l’Balnẏ, chasing it, is smaller. Moreover, la Baléne, gave the name to the whole body of water, known as la Bê d’la Baléne, lit. the Whale’s Bay, approximately between la Brénẏre, a prominent rock on the south-eastern coast of Little Sark, and la Conchê, another rock, which was once an important navigational point for spots in the eastern waters.

This particular “bay”, is one of the four so-called “Great Bays” around the island of Sark, which always comprise more bays together and some technically do not qualify as bays, but more as “sea sectors”, which is atually the case of this bay too.


Citation: NEUDÖRFL, Martin. baléne/whale. In: Sark Norman Dictionary Online [on-line].

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