VIÓLÉTE / wallflower, violet, stock

photo source: wikimedia

vióléte“, s.f., pronounced [vɪjɔlɛt(:)] 🔊, is the Sarkese generic name for “violet” in the Norman understanding of the term, which is, however, different from the English concept. Most importantly, it covers primarely flowers of the genus Matthiola, such as “wallflower” (Erysimum cheiri) its garden cultivars of any colour, and flowers that ressemble them, f.e. “red campion” (Silene dioica), “vióléte d’vyò“, native to Sark, and then the flowers of the genus Viola, f.e. “dog violet” (Viola riviniana), known as “ptite vióléte“, which also grows commonly on the island.

The generic word for the colour “violet” in Sarkese is “půrpre”, lit. purple. The distinction between purple and violet isn’t automatic, meaning that if we wanted to say “violet is violet”, we would say “la violéte ê půrpre”. If we needed to specify the tone matching the modern concept of the violet colour, we would have to say, “la cůleur d’violéte”.

origin: Gallo-Romance / first recorded for Sarkese: 1889 (EE) / current status in the 21st century: preserved, in use

“violéte” is a feminine countable invariable noun (a she-word that does not change in plural). Today, the word is countable, meaning we may count violets, so “une violéte”, one violet, “deù violéte”, two violets, “dê violéte”, (some) violets, etc. Nevertheless, it is possible, as indicated by E. Edmont in 1889, that the word used to be uncountable, so “d’la vióléte”, probably in the meaning of “dog violet”. Since countability is prefered today, it is recomended, especially in the meaning of “wallflower”. Nevertheless, in the meaning of “dog violet”, the use of the so-called partitive is not discouraged.

Regarding the pronunciation, it is possible that in the past, the word may have been pronounced by some as [vjɔʊ̯lɛt], so “vyoléte”, according to E. Edmont’s ALF and Patrice Brasseur’s ALEN. Today, however, the word is regularly, according to the known rules of the Sarkese phonology system, pronounced strictely as [vɪjɔlɛt], which means that we pronounce a “y” between the ‘i’ and the ‘o’, producing three sounds and not just two, as if the word was written as “viyóléte”. Only rarely, due to improper pronunciation the [ɪj-V] may merge into [j-V]. It should also be noted, that the ‘ó’-[ɔ], as indicated by the diacritic, is unusually simple (one sound only), due to the contact, and not the common diphtong [ɔʊ̯]-‘o’. This occurs whenever “i” and “o” are in contact, as in f.e. “brióche”, pocket knife, etc.

On the origin – violets in Norman tongues

The Sarkese “vióléte” is directly related to the Jersey Norman, Guernsey Norman and French “violette”, as well as to the English “violet”, which all come from the Old Gallo-Romance “violette”, originating from the Latin name for violet, “viola”.

photo source: wikimedia

In general, “violéte” in Sarkese means simply “violet”, the plant. Nevertheless, the idea of a violet in Norman languages does not always correspond to the same plants we call “violets” in English. Interestingly, the group of flowers called violets in Norman includes not only flowers of the genus Viola, but most importantly flowers of the genus Matthiola, “wallflower” or any similar plants with violet, red, pink or yellow flowers.

The inclusion of wallflowers and violets into one group called “violets” is not actually a Norman particularity, but a common reality in several languages, such as Dutch, Spoken French, Catalan or Czech. It is unclear, whether the non-French languages where directly influenced by the Old French term “violier” for “wallflower”, but we actually know that in at least some parts of the former Gaul, the terms “viole” or “violette” etc. were used for both violets-violets and wallflowers, which is still reflected by the Sarkese “violéte”.

photo source: wikimedia

In Sarkese, we therefore do not formally distinguish between wallflowers and violets, and some speakers even consider the sole meaning of “violéte” actually wallflower only, a mostly garden plant, cultivated from “jòne vióléte“, the original yellow variety, which grows in the wild on the island too. There is, however, a violet-violet growing in Sark, known as “violéte” or “ptite vióléte”, dog violet (Viola riviniana). The other native wild flower, counted among violets in Sarkese, is red campion, known as “vióléte d’vyò“, lit. “calf violet”, whose name corresponds to the Old Guernsey name for the same plant, “violette de vée”.

In the other two Norman tongues of the Channel Islands, more flowers of the genus Matthiola bear special names, as well as several other flowers that more or less ressemble “wallflower” and that are called violets in these two languages. For Sarkese, no other special name have been recorded, and suchflowers are colectivelly known as “violéte”.


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

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