In 1972, then-president of France Georges Pompidou encompassed The State’s longtime repression of regional minority languages in the following statement: “There is no room for regional languages in a France that is destined to set its seal on Europe” (ELA, 2012). Even a decade later, J.P. Chevenement, the Minister of Education under president Francois Mitterrand, said in reference to the Corsican language that “teaching the youth languages that offer them no perspective is not doing them a good service,” (Kelly-Holmes, 35). These disheartening statements about regional minority languages have been fairly de rigueur throughout France’s history. So how is Breton still surviving against all odds?
Like many severely endangered languages today, Breton has had a history ripe with repression and degradation in status. In recent years, Breton has made strides to reconstitute its status, in a similar way to Irish Gaelic and Welsh. Although the education system has likely been the main way through which use of Breton has spread, media is another important source of revival for the language (Holmes-Kelly, 35).
Breton, along with Cornish and Welsh, is a Brythonic language (Mogn, 3). Before the immense growth of Germanic and Romance languages, Breton was widely used among Western Europeans (ELA, 2012). Today it is spoken in the Brittany region of France, which makes it the only Celtic language spoken on the European mainland presently (ELA, 2012). Breton is estimated to have around 500,000 speakers currently. The number of active speakers falls far below that, in all likelihood. In 1986, it was estimated that there were 50,000- 100,000 active users of the language, a figure that has probably diminished since (ELA, 2012).
|This map shows the regional dialects of Breton in the Brittany region of France. Languages used in this region are Breton, Gallo, and French. In the bottom left corner, a smaller map points out the location of Brittany in reference to the UK.|
The creation of the first independent Diwan school in 1977 followed a number of protests lead by Breton language activists throughout the 1970s. The Diwan schools are primary- and secondary-level schools that offer material in Breton through the emersion method. Today, around 6,000 students attend these schools. While 6,000 is minute percentage of the total number of schoolchildren in France (Kelly-Holmes, 36), the annual growth rate in these schools is over 20 percent-- a more promising number (Kelly-Homes, 36).
The sign for a Diwan school in Brest, in the Brittany region of France. Diwan schools offer education in Breton through the emersion method.
Availability of media in a language naturally has a large impact on the daily use and maintenance of that language. For the Breton language revival, media has helped increase social recognition of the language (Kelly-Holmes, 38). Broadcast media is the most popular form of media in which Breton is used, since there are far more people who can understand Breton when spoken to than are literate in the language (Kelly-Holmes, 38).
France-Bleu Breiz-Izel is a publicly funded radio station that has two hours of daily programming in Breton (Kelly-Holmes, 38). This programming includes local news, talk, and music (Kelly-Holmes, 38). Several independent radio stations also offer programming in Breton (Kelly-Holmes, 39).
|The logo for publicly-funded French radio station France-Bleu Breiz-Izel. The radio station offers two hours of daily programming in the Breton language.|