Brittany / Breizh / Bretagne (the region in France) gets a bit of attention from the Washington Post

Sunday, March 29, 2009

This article yesterday on the Washington Post was easy to miss so I thought I'd make a note of it. Not only is Brittany a rugged out-of-the-way place that doesn't resemble the rest of France all that much, but it of course is the home of the Breton language, a Celtic language and thus related to other Celtic languages like Welsh, Manx, and so on.


Doing a search on Google News or somewhere else for information on the Breton language will usually turn up articles by those who are already interested in the subject and so it's nice to see an article written from a completely neutral point of view in order to get a feel on just how much Breton you can actually see while in Brittany. Take this part for example:

The drive went fine for a minute. But at the first traffic circle, the signs seemed to be written in a tongue I'd never encountered. Which they were. Town names -- Guavapas (where the airport is located), Trebabu, Toulbroc'h, Kerzeveon -- didn't look so much like French villages as planets invented by George Lucas. To make matters worse, many town names were slightly different in French and in Breton, Brittany's Celtic-based language resembling Cornish and Welsh. Sometimes one was listed, sometimes both, along with arrows and bilingual road directions, making for some surreal split-second traffic moments.

I followed the arrow pointing to the ubiquitous Toutes Directions ("all directions") in French, translated on the same sign as Da Bep Lec'h.

as well as this part:

An odd stepchild, Brittany has an oddness that goes well beyond the normal regional distinctions, even for France.

Breton is a distinct language, not just a dialect. It is spoken by thousands of mostly older Bretons, particularly in the Finistere. It is broadcast by bilingual radio stations and is taught as a second language in public schools.

There are reminders everywhere that Brittany grew out of thousands of years of Celtic history intertwined with the British Isles long before it merged with France less than a paltry 500 years ago. Those reminders are the thousands of Celtic megaliths, mostly tall raised stones, or menhirs, and stone-chambered dolmens, both believed to have been used in funerals or burials.

I don't really like the expression "not just a dialect" though since Breton isn't even anything close to a dialect of French, and the expression "not just a dialect" is more something you'd see when saying that a language like Scots isn't just a dialect of English, or that Galician isn't just a dialect of Portuguese. In that case you're talking about two languages that could be confused with each other and thus "they're not just dialects" actually means something. It would have been better to say something like "Breton is a distinct language, as different from French as Dutch or Czech".

By the way, the Breton Wikipedia is now just a few hundred articles shy of 25,000. Nice work.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave!
Of course, Breton is a true language, a Celtic one. But the megaliths were not built by the Bretons nor the Gauls (though they used them for their rituals), but by older populations whose linguistic affiliation is unsure! Indeed, the Celtic language was reintroduced in Britanny in the V° century, when Celts fled from Britain before the Anglo-Saxons (thus the name Britanny).
The Breton language was strongly belittled by the French authorities during the III° Republic; nevertheless, Bretons remained faithful towards their language (at that time, more than one million people spoke Breton). The disaster occurred after WW2 when parents did not transmit the language to their children, because of modern life, and maybe shameful of the fact that some regionalists had engaged in nazism. In the last past decades, Breton culture has become very popular in whole France, but the number of fluent Breton speakers keeps on decreasing, as it remains hard for many reasons to preserve the language beyond a mere folkloric aspect.

Olivier

Unknown said...

There is also a strong increase in popularity of the Breton schools the last few years. At one school I heard it went from almost a single class, to like 300 students.

Socraton said...

There is also a strong increase in popularity of the Breton schools the last few years. At one school I heard it went from almost a single class, to like 300 students.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave!
Of course, Breton is a true language, a Celtic one. But the megaliths were not built by the Bretons nor the Gauls (though they used them for their rituals), but by older populations whose linguistic affiliation is unsure! Indeed, the Celtic language was reintroduced in Britanny in the V° century, when Celts fled from Britain before the Anglo-Saxons (thus the name Britanny).
The Breton language was strongly belittled by the French authorities during the III° Republic; nevertheless, Bretons remained faithful towards their language (at that time, more than one million people spoke Breton). The disaster occurred after WW2 when parents did not transmit the language to their children, because of modern life, and maybe shameful of the fact that some regionalists had engaged in nazism. In the last past decades, Breton culture has become very popular in whole France, but the number of fluent Breton speakers keeps on decreasing, as it remains hard for many reasons to preserve the language beyond a mere folkloric aspect.

Olivier

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