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A world of languages Posted by on Jun 1, 2021 in Culture, Language, News

French is a world language, but France also has its own world of languages. Like many countries, modern-day France evolved out of a collection of smaller duchies, principalities, kingdoms, and territories … regions that – in addition to their own political structure – often had their own language.

Photo [CC0] courtesy of Pixabay vie Pexels.

One country … a world of languages

While le français is the langue officiel de la République1official language of the Republic it is far from the only language spoken in France.

It’s literally in the constitution … Article 2 of the constitution of the Ve République makes French the official language of the country. It also states that “l’emblème national est le drapeau tricolore, blue, blanc, rouge 2the national symbol is the tri-color flag, blue, white, red; l’hymne national est “La Marseillaise 3the national anthem is La Marseillaise; la devise de la République est “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité 4the Republic’s motto is Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood; et son principe est: gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple5its form of government is government of the people, by the people, for the people

From the Celt-ish breton in the west to basque in the south; from the germanic alsacien in the east to picard in the north, the French government recognizes une vingtaine de langues régionales6more than 20 regional languages just in l’hexagone. And as it has from time to time, the status of those languages has become a source of political conflict across the country. Why?

La loi Molac

At the end of 2019, French deputy Paul Molac introduced a bill to protect and promote regional French languages. “La loi reconnait, dans le code du patrimoine, l’existence d’un patrimoine linguistique, constitue de la langue française et des langues régionales.”7The law recognizes, within the rules of patrimony, the existence of a linguistic patrimony, made up of French and the regional languages.

The law initially passed in early April, but on May 21 the Conseil constitutionnel declared two parts of the law – l’enseignement immersif et l’utilisation des signes diacritiques comme le tilde (~) dans les actes d’état civil 8immersive education (in which all, or a major part, of the day’s education is delivered in the target language) and the use of accents like the tilde (which are not part of the French alphabet/language) in official documents– unconstitutional9The Constitutional Council is responsable for reviewing laws and determining their alignment to the principles set out in the French constitution. (given Article 2).

This latest decision of the Conseil constitutionnel led to protests across France, especially since “15 000 enfants apprennent une langue régionale en immersion. Il y en a 4 400 en Bretagne, 4 000 au Pays basque, ou encore 1 200 en Alsace.1015,000 kids already learn a regional language in immersion including 4,400 in Bretagne, 4,000 in the Basque region, and 1,200 in Alsace.  You can see what all the fuss is about here.

Things are at un tel point11such a state that the President of the Republic had to weigh in. In a Tweet, Emmanuel Macron said that “Les langues de France sont un trésor national. Toutes, qu’elles soient issues de nos régions en métropole ou de nos territoires d’outre-mer, ne cessent d’enrichir notre culture française” and “en tant que Président de la République, je suis tout à la fois protecteur de la langue française et gardien de la richesse que constituent nos langues régionales.”12The languages of France are a national treasure. All, whether they arise from metropolitan France or our overseas territories, continuously enrich our shared culture; as the President of the Republic, I am both defender of the French language and guardian of the richness of our regional languages

Cool resource alert! Would you like to hear how the different regional languages of France sound? This site, un atlas sonore des language régionales de France13an audio atlas of the regional languages of France, lets you listen to one of Aesop’s Fables in the different regional languages.

La dernière classe

My favorite story about language is the charming The Last Class from French author Alphonse Daudet. You can find it in his Contes du lundi14Monday tales on Project Gutenberg. The story includes a reference to a poem by the French writer Frédéric Mistral that is very a propos of today’s topic:

Car meme si, face contre terre,15For even if, face to the ground,
Un peuple tombe en esclavage,16A people falls into slavery,
S’il garde sa langue, il garde la clé17If they keep their language, they keep the key
Qui de ses chaines le délivre … 18That from their chains will deliver them  

Read more about it here.

 

  • 1
    official language of the Republic
  • 2
    the national symbol is the tri-color flag, blue, white, red
  • 3
    the national anthem is La Marseillaise
  • 4
    the Republic’s motto is Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood
  • 5
    its form of government is government of the people, by the people, for the people
  • 6
    more than 20 regional languages
  • 7
    The law recognizes, within the rules of patrimony, the existence of a linguistic patrimony, made up of French and the regional languages.
  • 8
    immersive education (in which all, or a major part, of the day’s education is delivered in the target language) and the use of accents like the tilde (which are not part of the French alphabet/language) in official documents
  • 9
    The Constitutional Council is responsable for reviewing laws and determining their alignment to the principles set out in the French constitution.
  • 10
    15,000 kids already learn a regional language in immersion including 4,400 in Bretagne, 4,000 in the Basque region, and 1,200 in Alsace.
  • 11
    such a state
  • 12
    The languages of France are a national treasure. All, whether they arise from metropolitan France or our overseas territories, continuously enrich our shared culture; as the President of the Republic, I am both defender of the French language and guardian of the richness of our regional languages
  • 13
    an audio atlas of the regional languages of France
  • 14
    Monday tales
  • 15
    For even if, face to the ground,
  • 16
    A people falls into slavery,
  • 17
    If they keep their language, they keep the key
  • 18
    That from their chains will deliver them  
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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris


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