Breton

French, the only official language of the French Republic, is today spoken throughout Brittany. The two regional languages have no official status with regards to the state, although they are supported by the regional authorities within the strict constitutional limits: Breton, strongest in the west but to be seen all over Brittany, is a Celtic language most closely related to Cornish, and Gallo, which is spoken in the east, is one of the Oïl languages.

From the very beginning of its history and despite the end of the independence of Brittany, Breton remained the language of the entire population of western Brittany, except for bishops and French administrators or officers. French laws and economic pressure led people to abandon their language to that of the ruler, but until the 1960s, Breton was spoken and understood by the majority of the western inhabitants. Since the beginning of the 20th century, it has been very efficiently fought by the French administration and educational system ("It is forbidden to spit on the ground and to speak Breton") in the process of promoting French as the sole language of the country. According to an interview with Erwan Le Coadic, the development officer of the Breton Language Service, "Over the course of the twentieth century, the policies of the government in Paris were calculated to eradicate the use of Breton completely". While he says that there are signs that the "situation has now stabilized", he points to the "almost catastrophic decline" in the Breton language: "Fifty years ago, there were 1,300,000 people who spoke Breton; today there are just 300,000".[1]

Breton was traditionally spoken in the west (the "Breizh-Izel" or "Basse-Bretagne"), and Gallo in the east (the "pays Gallo", "Breizh-Uhzel" or "Haute-Bretagne"). The dividing line stretched from Plouha on the north coast to a point to the south-east of Vannes. French had, however, long been the main language of the towns. The Breton-speaking area formerly covered territory much further east than its current distribution.

In the Middle Ages, Gallo expanded into formerly Breton-speaking areas. Now restricted to a much reduced territory in the east of Brittany, Gallo finds itself under pressure from the dominant Francophone culture. It is also felt by some to be threatened by the Breton language revival which is gaining ground in territories that were never part of the main Breton-speaking area.

Privately funded Diwan ("Seed") schools, where classes are taught in Breton by the immersion method, play an important part in the revival of the Breton language. The issue of whether they should be funded by the State has long been, and remains, controversial. Some bilingual classes are also provided in ordinary schools.

Despite the resistance of French administration, bilingual (Breton and French) road signs may be seen in some areas, especially in the traditional Breton-speaking area. Signage in Gallo is much rarer.

A large influx of English-speaking immigrants and second-home owners in some villages sometimes adds to linguistic diversity.




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