CRETIŁON / navelwort

photo source: wikimedia

cretiłon“, s.m., pronounced [krɪtɪʎɔ̃ʊ̯] 🔊, rarely [krətɪʎɔ̃ʊ̯], is the Sarkese name for “navelwort” or “wall pennywort” (Umbilicus rupestris), an edible flowering plant which grows in many rocky or stony places all over Sark, from man-made walls to the island’s steep cliffs.

origin: obscure, prob. Old Germanic / first recorded for Sarkese: 1930s? (JPC) / current status in the 21st century: fully preserved, in use

The word “cretiłon” is a variable countable masculine noun (a he-word that changes in plural). Unlike most of the masculine names of flowers, but similarly to almost all names of flowers ending in ‘-on’ in Sarkese, “cretiłon” may be counted. We can therefore say f.e. “one navelwort”, “two navelworts”, i.e. “ûn cretiłon”, “deû cretiłôn”, “trê cretiłôn” etc.

Regarding the pronunciation, it should be noted that the first “e” is extremely weak, usually pronounced as [ɪ], although [ə] would be acceptable too. Nonetheless, the now lost second weak “e”, written as ‘i’, is in today’s Sarkese pronounced strictly and only as [ɪ]. The “on” is pronouced regularly almost as the English “ow” in low, but nasalised. In plural, if and only in final stressed positions, the pronunciation of ‘-ôn’ in “cretiłôn”, “navelworts”, differs from the singular form “cretiłon”, as the Sarkese phonology dictates. Otherwise (i.e. if another word follows), the pronunciation of “cretiłon” and “cretiłôn” is the same.

On the origin – Carve me a kerf!

The Sarkese “cretiłon” is directly related to the Jersey Norman variant of the name of the same flower “crétillon”, which in Jèrriais coexists with several more forms, among which “cratchillon” seems to be the most common.

In Jersey, with regard to the latter from, it is generally accepted that the name is derived from the word “cratchi” or “craque”, “to crack” and “crack”, as navelwort does indeed grow in craks, in between rocks or stones. Although a quite logical assumption and mostly true, it does not nevertheless explain the existence of the many other local forms similar to the Sarkese “cretiłon”. Whilst knowing the evolution of the Sarkese phonology and given that Sark Norman is an extremely archaic language, very often conserving forms long lost in the other Gallo-Romance languages of Northern France, it is impossible to defend a possible transition from “crač-” to “cret-“. This does not mean, however, that we refute that the Jèrriais “cratchillon” is not related to “cratch-“/”crač”, but we cannot accept “cret-” being a later mispronunciation of the former. We actually believe that the Sarkese “cretiłon” and the Jèrriais less often “crétillon” originate in a different precursor word than the Jèrriais “cratchillon”, although not so different.

photo source: wikimedia

The word we are looking for is of Old Germanic origin, the same one that over the centuries gave the English “kerf” or “to carve”, the German “Kerbe”, the Low German “Krete”, and most importantly the Old Wallon “crète”, “crètale”, “crétia” or “cért’ler”, related more or less to the idea of cut, fold, line, wrinkle, crevasse and crack.

The link between the presented words in Germanic languages and mostly Walloon descendant words, all issued from the ancient Germanic “kerbana” was identified already in the 19th century. Most importantly, it was found out that the “kerf-“/”kerb-” resulted in “kert-“/”cert-“/”cret-“, with a ‘t’ and often with swapped ‘e’ and ‘r’, both in some Germanic languages, but also in Romance tongues of Northern France and today’s Belgium – and the last “cret-” of the series, is, we believe, the one we have been looking for.

Firstly, the meaning fits perfectly for our “cretiłon”, as navelwort grows in cracks and crevasses. Secondly, and most importantly, it explains the historic backround for how we pronounce the word in today’s Sarkese – the first vowel being a weak ‘e’ pronounced as [ɪ], due to the historical instability of the ‘er’-‘re’ swapping and the second vowel being a simple [ɪ] in ‘tił’ as a result as of a precursor weak ‘e’ in between ‘t’ and the palatalised ‘ł’, ‘teł’. So there we have it all, with a later addition of the Gallo-Romance ending ‘-on’.

photo source: wikimedia

Now, does that mean, that our “cretiłon” of Germanic origin, has nothing to do with the Jèrriais “cratchillon”? Not really! Given that “cretiłon”‘s Jersey cousin “crétillon” coexists with “cratchillon”, it could be, that a) the Jersey Norman “cratchillon” is a corruption of the Sark-Jersey “crétillon”, coincidentely looking like issuing from the word “cratchi”, to crack” or B) that “cratchillon” is a later natural modification of “crétillon”-“cretiłon” to correspond with the word “cratchi” or C) that the word was formed along with the “crétillon”-“cretiłon” with the same idea.

To be exhaustive, we should also mention that in Old Norse there was a very convenient word “kerti”, meaning “candle”. Given that flowering navelworts do look a bit like candles, it would be tempting to claim that “cretiłon” actually means “little candle” in Old Norman. Nonetheless, as we have no other example or precedent, we cannot support such an idea simply for convenience. At the moment, the Germano-Romance root “Kert-“/”cert-“+”Kret-“/”cret-“, as the source for “cret-” in our “cretiłon” seems much more plausible.


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

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