LÉCTON / dandelion

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lécton“, pronounced [lɛktɔ̃ʊ̯̃] 🔊, is the Sarkese generic term for any dandelion-like weed with yellow flowers, not only for “common dandelion” itself (Taraxacum officinale), but mainly sowthistles of the genus Sonchus, known in local English as “milk thistles” or simply “dandelions” too. The necessary characteristics for a weed to have, to be called “lécton”, is 1) the colour and shape of its flowers, 2) its edibility and a possible use as fodder and partially 3) dandelion milk. Within this group, we distinguish the proper “léctôn”, common dandelions, and the “léctôn á lét“, lit. milk dandelions, which include the local subspecies of sowthistles, known as “milk thistles” in Sark English and the original bearers of the name “lécton”, and finally the “płâ léctôn“, lit. flat dandelions, including “cat’s-ear”.

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

The word “lécton” is a masculine variable countable noun (a he-word that may be counted and changes its form in plural), as most of the names of flowers ending in ‘-on’. We may therefore easily say “one dandelion”, “two dandelions” etc. in Sarkese as in English, so “ûn lécton”, “deù léctôn” etc. Though “easy” to count, we should remember that the pronunciation changes with the plural form ending in ‘-ôn’, if in final stressed position, according to the standard rules, to [lɛktɑ̃:ʊ̯̃], but if something follows, the pronunciation reverts back to [lɛktɔ̃ʊ̯̃].

The Sarkese “lécton” is related to the many variants of the same word conserved in Norman languages, with the same or slightly different meaning, see below, both on the Islands and Mainland Normandy.

On the origin

In modern Jersey Norman (Jèrriais), the common name for dandelion is “pissenliet”, in Guernsey Norman “pissenllet”, in common Mainland Norman “pissenlié” and in French “pissenlit”, which all share one ancestor – a slightly vulgar name related to the fact that dandelion is a diuretic.

Such a word, in the given forms above or as a hypotetic “pisanłét”, has never been recorded in Sark and is not known by any of our last speakers. The only acceptable and used name for dandelion or sowthistle (“milk thistle”) in Sarkese is “lécton”, with a conserved [k]-sound.

In Guernsey and Jersey, the equivalent term is “laiteron”, meaning primarely sowthistle, although in Guernsey Norman it may and very often does include dandelions too. In Jersey, the dominant meaning is “sowthistle”, but on the other hand, we find in Jersey Norman varieties several different variations, such as “lait’ton”, “laiton”, and even “laicton” or “lacton”, which also conserve the [k]-sound. To our knowledge, the Sarkese “lécton” and the last two mentioned Jersey Norman forms are one of the few rare examples of the Latin “lact-” conserverd with the [k]-sound, apart from late latinisms and scholarly terms.

The reason for its conservation in our “lécton” is most probably the contact of the three sounds [ktr] in the Old Gallo-Romance “laicteron”, which subsequently possibly changed to “léctton” and then to today’s “lécton” in Sarkese.

Finally, it is unclear if the ancestor word “laicteron” used to mean both “sowthistle” and “dandelion” in Old Norman and that only later on the “French” name for the dandelion penetrated some Norman languages or whether in Sark and some parts of Normandy a different name for dandelion disappeared and was replaced by the name of sowthistle.


Citation: NEUDÖRFL, Martin. lécton/dandelion. In: Sark Norman Dictionary Online [on-line]. https://www.bonjhur.net/sndo-vocab-flora-lecton

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