French Academy sees linguistic diversity endangering national identity

Dennis Baron debaron at ILLINOIS.EDU
Sat Jun 21 04:17:17 UTC 2008

There's another new post on the Web of Language:

French Academy sees linguistic diversity endangering national identity
Right after the French Academy strongly denounced a constitutional  
revision recognizing linguistic diversity as part of France’s  
heritage, the French Senate voted 2-to-1 to kill the measure.

Article 1 of the French Constitution defines France as an indivisible,  
secular, democratic republic.  On May 22, the French National Assembly  
voted all-but-unanimously – there was one negative vote – to modify  
that formula by adding the nation’s many local languages to the short  
list of constitutionally-protected civic virtues: “[France’s] regional  
languages belong to its patrimony.”

But on Monday the Académie Française rejected any attempt to  
constitutionalize local languages as “an attack on French national  
identity.”  Article 2 of the French Constitution clearly states, “The  
language of the Republic is French.”  As the Academy reads it, the  
national identity can only be expressed through French.

While France has always been a linguistically-diverse country – the  
nation is even named after the Franks, a medieval Germanic tribe – the  
French government has often denied that heritage, preferring the myth  
of one nation speaking one language.
After the French Revolution, the government actively sought to  
eradicate local patois, replacing them with French.  But at the start  
of World War I, French army officials were shocked to discover that  
many of their new recruits still could not understand the language of  
command (as Monty Python might have asked, how do you say, “Run away,”  
in French?).  By 1930, one quarter of the French were still speaking a  
regional language, and even today, a good 10 million of France’s 60  
million residents don’t speak French at home.

Not counting the languages of immigrants, there are 29 local languages  
spoken in the Hexagon, as the French call mainland France.  (Another  
45 or so native languages are spoken in current French territories and  
in its former colonies.)  According to Ethnologue, the regional  
languages of France include Alemannisch, or Aslatian (1.5 million  
speakers); Auvergnat, or Occitan (1.3 million); Breton (500,000);  
Provençal (250,000); Romani (about 50,000); Corsican (340,000) and  
Yiddish (numbers not available).

Historically, students in French schools were punished for speaking  
Breton, Alsatian, and Occitan (while speakers of Yiddish were simply  
deported), and France is one of the few nations refusing to sign the  
European Union’s charter giving legal rights to minority-language  
speakers. . . . .

read the rest of this post on the latest example of French  
protectionism on the Web of Language


Dennis Baron
Professor of English and Linguistics
Department of English
University of Illinois
608 S. Wright St.
Urbana, IL 61801

office: 217-244-0568
fax: 217-333-4321

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