Local language recognition angers French academy

Don Osborn dzo at bisharat.net
Fri Jun 20 17:55:54 UTC 2008

The proposal was ultimately stiffed by the French Senate:

"Le Sénat refuse d'inscrire les langues régionales dans la Constitution" (Le
Monde, 19.06.08)



And this during l'Année Internationale des Langues, of which I believe
France was one of the principal proponents



From: owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
[mailto:owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of Dennis Baron
Sent: Friday, June 20, 2008 1:07 PM
To: language language policy
Subject: Local language recognition angers French academy




Local language recognition angers French academy

·          <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/angeliquechrisafis> Angelique
Chrisafis in Paris

·          <http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian> The Guardian, 

·         Tuesday June 17, 2008

·         Article history

For years France's regional languages were seen by Paris as a taboo that
threatened national unity and should be repressed - children were punished
for speaking Breton in the playground, banned from speaking Occitan in
southern schools or Alsatian dialect in the east. But now, just as the
French parliament has taken a historic step to recognise minority languages
in the constitution, a new war of words has broken out.

L'Académie française, the institution that defends the purity of French,
yesterday issued a furious warning that recognising regional languages in
the constitution would be "an attack on French national identity". In turn,
local language militants criticised the academy as a ridiculous relic of
outdated nationalism.

The row has highlighted how far France differs from other European countries
in the defence of minority tongues. Unlike the UK, which has acted to
protect languages such as Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, France is one of the
few European states which refuses to ratify the European charter for
minority languages and give legal status to its various language groups.

France boasts 75 regional languages, including those spoken in far-flung
territories from the Indian Ocean to South America. Regional languages such
as Alsatian, Occitan, Corse, Breton and Basque, and even smaller ones such
as Béarnaise and Picard, have increasingly powerful and well-organised lobby
groups. Parents have campaigned to set up regional language schools outside
the state system, while the state has started offering some bilingual

But minority languages have no legal status and are deemed by Unesco to be
dying out. Before 1930 one in four French people spoke a regional language
to their parents; that figure has nosedived.

Last month the parliament broke a taboo by holding a debate and agreeing to
insert a line in the constitution recognising local languages as part of
French heritage. "Speaking or singing in Breton, Alsatian or Basque doesn't
stop you being patriotic," said one Breton MP. All parties were unanimous.

But before the senate examines the issue today, l'Académie française has
objected, warning that writing regional languages into the constitution
would dilute French identity.

Dàvid Grosclaude, president of Occitan language group l'Institut d'Estudis
Occitans, issued an open letter to the academy, which he called "full of
bitterness, resentment and fear" and too blinkered to recognise France's
diverse citizenship.

Philippe Jacq, director of l'Office de la Langue Bretonne, said the
constitutional change was only a small step, and France must provide legal
recognition and sign the European charter.

He said: "All we ask for is to speak our languages in public life, to have
services in our languages, for parents to have the right for their children
to be taught in the language of their choice."

Small Talk

Alsatian Dialect of German spoken in Alsace and Lorraine (at times part of
German state) by 500,000 in 1999; only 15% pass it on to children, though
160,000 pupils learn it at school

Occitan or Langue d'oc; 780,000 speakers in southern Europe in 1999, half in
Aquitaine and Midi-Pyrénées

Corse Spoken by 90,000 on the island, and studied by 90% of primary pupils

Breton or Brezhoneg Celtic language spoken by one million in Britanny at
start of 20th century; now down to 270,000, with two-thirds aged over 60

· This article was amended on Thursday June 19 2008. A panel in the article
above about France's regional languages gave the Breton word for the Breton
language as Breizh. That is the word for Brittany. The language is
Brezhoneg. This has been corrected.


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


 <http://www.uiuc.edu/goto/debaron> www.uiuc.edu/goto/debaron


read the Web of Language:






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