The Nominoë Study of the Breton Language
Compiled From Field Research

The Background to the Reversing Language Shift Theories of Joshua Fishman

by Marcel Texier and Diarmuid Ciarán ÓNéill

February 2000

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Introduction     Return to Top

The background to this study is the 1991 prizewinning work of Joshua Fishman titled Reversing Language Shift. This work attempted to put forth a more methodical manner in which endangered languages could be strengthened as opposed to the often haphazard and not well planned and often emotionally laden efforts of many language movements which more often than not fell short of success in tackling this very difficult and challenging problem. Joshua Fishman is regarded as one of the more pre-eminent authorities in this field. The actual book itself included case studies of Irish-Gaelic, Basque, Frisian, Catalan, Yiddish (both secular and religious), Hebrew, Québec French, Maori, Navajo, Spanish in the United States, as well as the Aboriginal languages of Australia. These case studies are revisited by the same author in a new book being released in the fall of 2000 entitled Reversing Language Revisited; Can Threatened Languages Be Saved? published by Multilingual Matters of England.

The central theme of this work was that the most important facet of language renewal or restoration was the role of the family and the community in maintaining the critically important element of intergenerational mother tongue transmission of the language in question. What ever other factors went into the equation this was the one that would make or break the success of the language movement in question. In his work Joshua Fishman outlines an eight-stage process which must be tackled by any language movement or agency concerned with this process in order to achieve lasting success.

The eight-stage process is used in this analysis into the state of Breton today - that is in the year 2000. The year 2000 is an appropriate milestone to undertake such a study of the Breton language marking as it does the beginning of the 17th century of the history of the language. Breton itself was introduced into Brittany by British immigrants and refugees during the 400's during the tumultuous period of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain (from Denmark and Germany). It is to be hoped that efforts to rejuvenate this language which is an important part of the cultural heritage of European civilization in the new millenium will bear fruit.

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Breton: What Will The Future Be?     Return to Top

Historical Background

The language we turn our attention to is like Irish and Welsh a Celtic language and also like Irish, Frisian, Basque and others an endangered language. Breton with it's 500,000 or so speakers on the edge of the Armorican peninsula is also a rather obscure language to many North Americans and Europeans. Suffice to say that this "language of Arthur" as it is sometimes known does indeed have its roots in the distant mists of Celtic Britain as we shall see. Among other things the Arthurian legends of old promise a return by Arthur himself and a restoration of the British Celts of Wales, Cornwall and Brittany to their rightful patrimony and presumably an improvement in the fortunes of their much maligned culture and British Celtic speech. Breton RLS partisans might do well to ask themselves; failing a return by Arthur is there anything they can be doing in the here and now to strengthen the Breton tongue and to better grasp the nature of the problems facing Breton today? To help answer these questions let us take a closer look at Brittany and Breton.

The official Region of Brittany consists of the four departments of Finistère, Morbihan, Côtes d'Armor, and Ille et Villaine with a total population of 2,885,349 as of January 1, 1996. The administrative capital of Brittany is the eastern Breton city of Rennes. A more inclusive and traditional definition of Brittany also includes a fifth department, Loire Atlantique which contains the historic city of Nantes or Naoned in Breton. The population of the five departments of Brittany was 3,945,249 as of January 1, 1996. Loire Atlantique was partitioned from the rest of Brittany in 1941 by the Vichy régime of Marshal Pétain partly in retaliation for the large numbers of Bretons who were supporting the Free French National Council of Charles de Gaulle in London and partly also as a reproach to mainstream Breton nationalists as well who had long been advocating a separate Breton state. This administrative designation is still being contested however by Bretons both in the four official Breton departments and those living in the department of Loire Atlantique itself who continue to regard themselves as Breton (62% in a recent poll). This is hardly surprising since for a thousand years the city of Nantes in Loire Atlantique was one of the seats of the Breton parliament and de facto capitol of the independent Duchy of Brittany. There are today probably about 400,000 Breton speakers in western Brittany with another 50,000 to 100,000 in eastern Brittany. They constitute roughly a quarter of the population of western Brittany and about 15% of the official region's population. As virtually all Breton speakers are bilingual in both Breton and French with the exception of elderly monoglots, in Brittany we have arrived at a state where Bretons living via Breton are still very much a part of the scene but where virtually all Bretons are also Bretons via French as well. In addition the spread of English is creating a new class of Bretons via English. One trait which Breton does not share with Frisian, Basque, Catalan and certain other threatened languages, is heavy net immigration from the dominant ethno-cultural group. Relatively few French migrants have been attracted to historically under industrialised Brittany, rather the reverse, Paris and the centre have in the past drawn and continue to draw Bretons away from the rural regions of Brittany. Hence the threat in Brittany is Bretons who have relinguified and gone over to French, not intrusive Frenchmen in search of employment. Frenchmen have however for long been on the scene in Brittany of course. Since the union of Brittany and France in 1532 a significant stream of French speaking outsiders arrived to serve as administrators, teachers, merchants, clergymen who although not great in numbers were clearly the vanguard of the first real challenge to Breton by French on it's home territory. Their impact would only grow over the next four centuries.

The efforts on behalf of Breton RLS are both similar and dissimilar to the other case studies examined in this volume. As one might expect in a highly centralised state such as France up until very recently virtually all efforts, both organisational and financial being expounded on behalf of the Breton language came from voluntary and not state sources. As we shall see this situation has changed somewhat over the past quarter century as local municipalities and departments not to mention the Regional Council of Brittany itself have increasingly played a role in funding Breton medium schooling as well as more Breton in administrative matters as well as other initiatives such as the new Ofis ar Brezhoneg/Office of the Breton Language which presently has branches in both Rennes and Carhaix and which will soon have an office in Nantes. Increasingly the French Government itself has begun to match rhetoric with action and has begun to provide funding for Diwan the main Breton medium school organisation by agreeing to pay the salaries of the majority of Diwan teachers. In addition on May 7 1999 the French Government signed the European Charter of Minority Languages in Budapest. Ratification will inevitably follow. While many language activists (on behalf of other minority languages in France such as Corsican, Occitan, Basque, Catalan, Alsatian and Flemish not merely Breton) would argue correctly that there is still a long way to go France's accession to the Charter is of great symbolic value and hopefully heralds a new era of better relations between Paris and the regional languages.

The majority of Reversing Language Shift initiatives today have their origins in local voluntary agencies, increased public funding notwithstanding. However the increased role of the Cultural Council of Brittany and the agencies it has created such as Ofis ar Brezhoneg indicate that Breton RLS efforts are no longer on the fringes and are backed not only by Breton public opinion but also the official institutions of the region not to mention the obvious implication that Paris itself has itself given a type of de-facto recognition to RLS efforts in the region. As we shall also see while no one would deny the obvious limitations which still come to bear on Breton language agencies and organisations this has not necessarily prevented their effectiveness to a great degree and the Breton RLS scene is a particularly dynamic one in the first year of the third millenium despite the hurdles and obstacles it has had to face. So many new undertakings from Télé Breizh the Breton language television network to the Dudi (after-school activity in Breton) association are being and have been launched that it is difficult to say which ones are working and which ones are not, and if they are working how far reaching is their effect. Perhaps most promising is Ofis ar Brezhoneg/the Office of the Breton Language itself which is a body which can at last provide the necessary status and corpus planning that the Breton RLS movement can no longer do without. To some extent these tasks were carried out in the past by Skol Uhel ar Vro/The Cultural Institute of Brittany but there is no question that Ofis ar Brezhoneg represents a new departure and a greater sense of professionalism on the part of language planners in the Breton RLS movement.

Breton is also the only Celtic language still spoken on the European continent. It is not however a derivative of ancient Gaulish, the Celtic tongue of ancient France and much of central Europe. Breton is rather as it's name implies an import from Britain having being brought to what is now Brittany by various waves of refugees and immigrants from Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries who were dislocated by the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain during this period. Breton remains closely related to Welsh and Cornish and more distantly related to Scottish-Gaelic, Irish and Manx.

The French census does not record linguistic minorities such as Breton so those agencies working for the language must rely on surveys such as that carried out by the French language daily Le Télégramme of Brest on the number of Breton speakers in western Brittany in March-April 1997. Breton also does not have official status in Brittany or in France. Nor do the other minority languages of the state. Again this is also unlike the other Celtic languages which either enjoy official status as with Irish, or quasi-official status such as Manx, Welsh and Scottish-Gaelic, (Cornish being the exception as it has yet to achieve significant recognition). The legal basis for this is article 2 of the French constitution which declares explicitly that French is the language of the Republic. The continuing triumphal march of English as "the" world language has done nothing to assuage French fears that the French language itself must be safeguarded in France itself from encroachments by English. In Brittany too, knowledge of English is now widespread, further complicating the linguistic situation. Henceforth in Brittany we must also take into account the growing numbers of Bretons via English. The policy of centralisation and assimilation of linguistic minorities in France which has been both policy and practice for the past two centuries ironically has it's roots to a great extent in the era of the French Revolution which began in 1789. This was to a certain extent inevitable as it is estimated that at the time of the French revolution only 40% of the population of France understood French.

However long before the French Revolution in 1789, and even before the annexation of Brittany by France in 1532 there were forces at work in Brittany and France which were bound to lead to the weakening of Breton and the strengthening of the role of French in the very heartland of Brittany itself. During the Middle Ages even when Brittany was entirely independent much of the Breton nobility and clergy adopted French because of its greater currency in Europe at this time. From this period also many of the towns became largely French in speech though not exclusively because Breton retained it's hold on the agricultural hinterland and urban merchants and tradesmen could not ignore this.

In addition it must be remembered that a significant part of eastern Brittany had never been Breton speaking. The early British immigrants established political control over what would become the Duchy of Brittany but the Gallo-Roman population in eastern Brittany (particularly in the two very important cities of Rennes/Roazhon and Nantes/Naoned) retained it's Latin speech which eventually evolved into Gallo, a language which should be regarded as a parallel development with French and not a dialect of French. Like standard French it would appear that Gallo is a derivative of Late Latin which has been heavily influenced by Gaulish. Gallo, like the dialect which eventually evolved into Parisian French, is one of the Langues d'Oil of northern France which include Picard, Normand, Angevin, Manceau and Poitevin.

From about the year 1100 onwards Breton slowly yielded ground to Gallo and retreated westwards. It is estimated that by 1881 about 2,000,000 people out of 3.2 million in Brittany spoke Breton. By 1914 it is estimated that out of 3.1 million inhabitants of Brittany at least 1,300,000 were still Breton speaking. In addition, several hundred thousand Breton speaking emigrants were to be found in Paris, northern France, Belgium, Canada and the United States so that the Breton speaking world at this time probably encompassed some two million souls, and it is clear that Breton was the most widely spoken Celtic language in 1900.

Few would have predicted in 1900 that the twentieth century would witness the most massive erosion ever experienced in the sixteen century long history of the language. It is estimated that 90% of the population of Basse Bretagne or western Brittany (Breizh-Izel in the Breton language) was Breton speaking in 1900. In 1945 it is estimated that 75% of the population of western Brittany was Breton speaking. In 1997 a survey considered to be reliable, carried out by Le Télégramme the French language daily of Brest it was determined that only 25% of the population of western Brittany or some 240,000 persons virtually all above the age of fifty were still Breton speaking. The same survey determined that a further 125,000 persons in western Brittany had a more limited command of the Breton language for a total of 365,000 persons with varying degrees of fluency in the language not including the thousands of Breton speakers in eastern Brittany and Paris.

What could have wrought such thorough-going socio-linguistic dislocation in such a relatively short period of time? In the case of Breton many theories abound but several facts can be deduced with relative certainty. Firstly the critical period in question lies during the postwar era, broadly speaking from about 1945 to about 1960 when Breton parents virtually ceased raising their children in Breton and the critical cycle of intergenerational mother tongue transmission broke down. The suddenness of Breton language collapse in and around 1960 while long in the making was somewhat of a surprise to many. Despite the continued encroachments of French, Breton had maintained it's hold over family and community life among all age groups into the postwar era just as Welsh, Basque and others had in spite of the adversities in question.

It would appear there are two main reasons for the accelerated shift from Breton to French during this period. One reason was economic, the drift from the land to jobs in the towns and the cities as mechanisation reduced the need for farm labour during the 1950's clearly weakened Breton particularly in southwestern Brittany where industrialisation and urbanisation were more marked and where the tourist industry attracted a steady stream of monoglot French speaking outsiders.

The second reason the position of Breton was sharply undermined in this period was a political and ideological one. Postwar France was forced to come to terms with the phenomenon of widespread collaboration with the Nazi régime. Some Breton nationalists had worked with the Germans in the hope of establishing a separate Breton state. Little came of this. What in fact happened was an incredibly severe postwar suppression of virtually all forms of cultural expression of the Breton language, from journals to newspapers, to lessons in Breton to use of Breton in the schools, limited as that had been.

The negative impact on the morale of the Breton people and their attitude towards their language caused by postwar rhetoric which often labeled Breton as a patois and even worse as a language championed by the enemies of France (such as those right wing Breton nationalists who had sought to reach an accommodation with the Nazi administration between 1940 and 1944) cannot be overstated. In fact a very high percentage of the Breton population seems to have sided with the Allies from an early point in the war. In addition it should be noted that a position of neutrality was taken by mainstream Breton nationalism particularly the BNP (Breton Nationalist Party). Suffice to say that the divisions caused by the Second World War still haunt Breton society as they do French society.

The situation began to ease somewhat in the 1950's as Breton was reintroduced into the schools by a new socialist government. Breton had been officially barred from the schools in 1947. The "Loi Deixoine" of 1951 however specifically permitted Breton at all levels of education including the university level but the goal of this legislation was really to permit use of Breton in order to make acquisition of French that much easier for children not to strengthen the position of Breton and other minority languages in the schools. Ironically through the 1950's and 1960's it was increasingly the parties of the left including both the French socialists and communists who now began to speak up for regional languages and greater decentralization as opposed to the parties of the French right who were now more opposed to any concessions than ever. Within Brittany itself in the immediate postwar years it is important to note that much of the opposition to Breton in the schools or anywhere else in society came from Bretons, even native speakers who viewed French as the language of the future and a tool to better the lives of the people. It was precisely during these years that Breton began to lose its hold on community life. Breton/French bilingualism was a necessary milestone on the road to a unilingual French speaking society. By the 1940's at the latest bilingualism was well advanced in Brittany and the stage was set for the showdown between Breton and French. Now during the 1950's the critical break began to occur. Succumbing to the various pressures of modernisation and even French government rhetoric against the use of Breton, parents began to exclude Breton from their homes and use only French with their children. Breton however continued in use more strongly in certain areas such as the northwest and central Brittany and hence the advance of French was an uneven one which in the end did not succeed in eradicating spoken Breton.

By the 1960's in addition a new activism began to take hold which often expressed itself through music such as that of Alan Stivell but which proved effective in rejuvenating pride in the language and stimulating new literature and other activities which expressed themselves through Breton. It was this new activism which led to various protests carried out in the 1970's and to the establishment of Diwan in 1977. A further important outcome of the activism and lobbying of the 1960's and 1970's was the Cultural Charter for Brittany which was signed in 1978 between central government and local representatives. The articles of the Charter while somewhat ambiguous did expound on the need for the greater teaching of Breton culture. While not exactly an endorsement of greater Bretonization of society the Charter was clearly a watershed in that both central and regional officials were acknowledging that the Breton language and culture could no longer be ignored even if different parties read different interpretations into the nature of the agreement.

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The State of Breton Today     Return to Top

France and Brittany

Maps of France and Brittany

As with all minority languages, Breton has both factors working in its favour and other factors working against it. A recent survey carried out by the French language daily Le Télégramme in Brest in March to April of 1997; covering western Brittany the traditional Breton-speaking region helps to give us a clear picture of the real state of the spoken language today.

It is estimated that in 1881 about 2,000,000 people or 64% of the population spoke Breton. As mentioned previously in 1914 about 1.3 million people out of 3.1 million in Brittany as a whole were estimated as Breton-speaking. Of these about 500,000 are estimated to have been monoglot Breton speakers. This drops to about one million Breton speakers in 1945 out of a population of three million. Today all the evidence points to a catastrophic fall to about 240,000 fluent speakers and another 125,000 semi-speakers for a total of 365,000 in western Brittany and between 50,000 and 100,000 in eastern Brittany out of the four million inhabitants of Brittany. The survey of March to April 1997 in Basse Bretagne or Breizh Izel the traditional Breton speaking region of western Brittany (which is considered reliable) indicates a sharp drop over previous surveys. This region had been 90% Breton speaking in 1900 and 75% Breton speaking in 1945 and appears to have dropped to about 25% in 1997. A survey carried out in 1987 determined that there were about 550,000 Breton speakers in this area. Of these, those above 65 were 73% Breton speaking while of those over 35 all age categories exceeded the 50% mark. This can reasonably be construed as evidence that up until about 1960 intergenerational transmission of the language continued in most households but soon began to decrease very sharply.

The survey of March to April 1997 indicated a sharp deterioration in the situation with only 240,000 Breton speakers in the same region of western Brittany with an additional 125,000 classified as able to understand Breton but with a diminished ability to speak Breton for a total of 365,000 speakers and semi speakers in western Brittany. Of these 18% speak it occasionally, but only 5.5% daily. Those who can speak it well range from 45% of those over 75, 42% of those in the 60-74 age group, 20.5% of those aged 40-59, 5% of those aged 20-39 with less than 1% of those under 20. Another survey in 1991 had corresponding figures of 35.5%, 39%, 30%, 8%, (and omitted the under twenty group). The 1997 survey revealed some geographic patterns also. Due to more intense economic and industrial development in the southwestern coastal region of Morbihan 14% of the population at present speaks Breton. In the western department of Finistère/Penn ar Bed 22.5% of the population is now Breton-speaking while in the northwest in Côtes-d'Armor/Aodoù an Arvor 30.5% of the population is at present Breton-speaking.

Clearly the Breton language possesses an unhealthy age pyramid in it's demographic composition and the annual attrition rate of lost speakers as the elderly pass away is not being matched by comparable numbers of new learners in the younger age groups. On the other hand the expansion of enrollment in the Breton medium school networks has proceeded to the point that in parts of western Brittany 3% and more of primary students are now being educated in Breton and appear to be acquiring a fair fluency not to mention literacy in the language. Further than that the present annual growth rate of enrollment in the Breton medium schools is about 23% indicating that the percentage of Breton-speaking children will shortly be in the 5% to 10% range. Already the 1997 survey is out of date regarding the under 20 age group, so fluid is the situation. As we have learned in Ireland and elsewhere however Irish speaking youths do not add up to Irish speaking communities, a fact that Breton RLSers must bear in mind.

Despite the massive erosion which has taken place over the past 120 years and which is still ongoing as older native speakers are lost every year, in the past quarter century RLS efforts on behalf of Breton have overcome some herculean obstacles and are clearly making a difference in the battle to save this Brythonic Celtic tongue.

Breton language activists have established a network of Breton medium schools across Brittany which are expanding rapidly. They have launched a Breton language television service. They have launched several Breton language radio stations. Numerous new periodicals and books in Breton are now being published to serve a clearly increasing market. Plans are proceeding to launch a Breton language university within the next five years. A concerted effort to strengthen both youth and adult literacy in the language has been mounted. Municipality after municipality in Brittany has adopted a policy of Breton/French bilingualism. A region wide agency Ofis ar Brezhoneg/the Office of the Breton Language has been established to carry out and monitor both status and corpus planning for the language in the future.

Ofis ar Brezhoneg is only a year old at the time of writing and the exact limits of it's jurisdiction and just how far it's mandate permits it to go in pursuit of greater Bretonization are still a matter of debate among both Bretons and the central administration in Paris. What remains to be seen is whether or not Breton RLS efforts can reach a large enough segment of the population to achieve the critical mass that is necessary. What also remains to be seen is whether Breton can regain it's hold on family and community life - something which it had retained until very recently in sharp contrast with most other Celtic languages. The battle is not yet lost because when all is said and done a quarter of the population of Lower Brittany the traditional stronghold of the Breton tongue is still Breton speaking. However time is running out as the Breton speaking population ages and nothing less than a continuation of the present herculean efforts on the part of language activists - and a simultaneous realisation by Breton RLSers that some less dramatic areas of endeavour such as family life and community life must be conquered as well can in fact turn the tide for Breton. It is in this last area mentioned that the achilles heel of the Breton movement may lie for efforts at rebuilding home, family and community life in Breton are few and far between indeed as we shall see. The realisation that such efforts are a necessity not a luxury and their incorporation into the Breton RLS agenda will come not a moment too soon.

Breizh-Izel: The Traditional Breton Speaking Region     Return to Top

Any discussion of the linguistic state of affairs in Brittany has had for centuries to take into account two linguistic realities in Brittany - Lower Brittany or western Brittany and Upper Brittany or eastern Brittany. Breizh Izel, which means Lower Brittany in the Breton language, lies west of an invisible demarcation line traditionally used to differentiate between the Breton speaking west and the Gallo speaking eastern parts of Brittany. It includes all of the department of Finistère and the western parts of the departments of Morbihan and Côtes D'Armor. Upper Brittany or Haute Bretagne in French includes the departments of Loire Atlantique, Ille et Vilaine and the eastern parts of the departments of Morbihan and Côtes D'Armor.

Despite the undeniable setbacks already mentioned it is clear that Breizh Izel remains the stronghold of the Breton language. About a quarter of it's inhabitants can still speak the language. More understand it. Many rural farming regions and small fishing villages still contain Breton-speaking networks that contain members of most generations and where the language is still in daily use. Here, Breton can still be heard in use by the fishermen, by farmers at work in the fields and on market day. It is also in Breizh Izel that enrollment in the Breton medium schools is highest, enthusiasm for the language greatest.

As alluded to earlier these same rustic traits are also what have traditionally led to past and present outmigration from the region to the industrial areas of northern France as well as to Canada and the United States. Such outmigration has both sapped the strength of the language in it's heartland and also led to accelerated Francisation as returning emigrants (and soldiers in the cases of both the first and the second world wars) brought a greater fluency in French with them which they were not about to relinquish. The annual tourism along the southwest coast and greater industrialisation in the same area has clearly weakened Breton in this region in a more severe manner than other districts of Breton speaking Brittany. Never the less there is also growth in the region not only among the growing numbers of youth in Breton medium schools but also among older individuals who are undertaking to learn or relearn the language. While Breton today could no longer be called the dominant language in Breizh Izel it could not be called a thing of the past either as it is still a presence in that it is spoken and understood by between 25% and 35% of the population and in addition about 75% of the new Breton medium schools are to be found here. In addition most adult classes in Breton such as those run by Skol an Emsav and in truth the bulk of other cultural endeavours in Breton are to be found here and it is also in Breizh Izel that the ongoing policy of Bretonization is most visible in the increased public signage being posted in Breton. Whatever technocrats in Paris may think on the subject the locals and that includes local officials have clearly adopted a policy of Breton/French bilingualism as far as social policy is concerned and also at the municipal and departmental levels of administration as far as circumstance allows.

Eastern Brittany     Return to Top

Eastern Brittany known as Upper Brittany or Haute Bretagne in French is the section of the country with the weakest Breton-speaking tradition. Although most of eastern Brittany was at one time Breton-speaking (until about the 12th century), the two cities of Nantes and Rennes lie in a strip of territory which never became Breton-speaking. The two centres were however incorporated into the Duchy of Brittany but remained Latin-speaking as did their hinterland. The local dialect of Latin speech, which was not far removed from the other northern French dialects, evolved into what became known as Gallo. It was during the Middle Ages that Gallo began to advance westwards at the expense of Breton at a time when Brittany was still independent. This situation bears an ironic similarity to the relationship between Scottish-Gaelic and the local variant of Anglo-Saxon - Scots or Lallans which began to advance to the west and north at the expense of Gaelic during the 14th century. With the advent of more generally available public education in the late nineteenth century Gallo began to yield ground to standard French just as did Breton. The Breton language however has come to be regarded as the national possession of all Bretons whether in Lower or Upper Brittany. This attitude has undoubtedly contributed to the spread of Breton medium schools in the towns of eastern Brittany and even the introduction of bilingual Breton/French signage in many municipalities in eastern Brittany - usually the harbinger of more bilingualism in the future.

Geographically Upper Brittany encompasses just over half the land area of Brittany. It contains the entire departments of Ille et Vilaine, Loire Atlantique and the eastern parts of the departments of Morbihan and Côtes d'Armor. Although the Breton medium schools of Diwan, Div Yezh and Dihun remain most strongly represented in the west enrollment in the east is presently expanding by about 30% per annum and is clearly catching up with rates in western Brittany.

While it may not at once be apparent eastern Brittany is in many ways just as important for the future of the Breton language as is western Brittany. Due to it's greater urbanization in centres such as Nantes and Rennes about 2.5 million of Brittany's 4.1 million people are now to be found in eastern Brittany as opposed to the 1.6 million inhabitants of western Brittany today. This is in contrast to the situation a century ago when about 60% of the population lived in the Breton speaking west. In the long run Breton must establish a foothold for itself in such places as Rennes and Nantes if Breton is really to put itself on an equal footing with French in the everyday life of Brittany. Just as Irish cannot ignore urban centres such as Dublin or Belfast, and Basque cannot afford to ignore Bilbao or San Sebastian in its ongoing RLS efforts, neither can Breton afford to ignore the two largest cities in its midst. The importance of Montréal for the French language in Québec or of Barcelona for Catalan can hardly be overstated and language policy for both cities is given careful reflection by the respective language agencies in question (L'Office de la langue français in Québec and the Directorate General of Language Policy in Catalonia). That said the time may have come to acknowledge that different strategies are required for RLS in western and eastern Brittany. In western Brittany clearly there still exists the option (long since lost in most of Scotland and Ireland and Navarre) of strengthening Breton among younger sectors of the population as Breton is still a presence among older segments of the population. Eastern Brittany clearly is another story altogether as spoken Breton died out here in the middle ages and in the farthest reaches of eastern Brittany was never spoken at all. Breton RLS in the east will be a matter of eventually trying to reach all age groups without the benefit an existing Breton speaking population in place. Hence the expansion of family and community life in Breton here is all the more critical. It could be said that the challenge facing RLSers in eastern Brittany more closely approximate those that once were faced by activists on behalf of Hebrew in Palestine or those facing activists on behalf of Cornish and Manx today - how to build family and community life in Breton when Breton has been dead for many generations in the very environment in which it cannot afford to lose out.

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A Stage By Stage Analysis of Current RLS Efforts on Behalf of Breton and Their Prospects for the Future      Return to Top

Stages 8 and 7: Reassembling the language and bringing it to adults, some of whom once learned it and still remember it marginally and others of whom never accquired it before.

The fact that Breton is still today a living language in Brittany with roughly 500,000 speakers and semi-speakers in both Lower Brittany and Upper Brittany makes Breton a more widely spoken language than many other endangered languages in Europe. The apparent strength of numbers never the less cannot mask the perilous situation of the language today. Breton speakers are in addition concentrated overwhelmingly in western or Lower Brittany and also among the over 40 age groups. Today however many opportunities exist for adults to acquire Breton either for the first time or polish up a rusty knowledge of it.

Since the vast majority of native speakers of Breton are illiterate in the language and also usually only conversant in their own local dialect efforts to teach adults to read and write the language also are an exercise in standardisation since the universally accepted standard KLTG is almost always the dialect employed. As early as 1932 the OBER correspondence school was set up free of charge to teach literacy in the language to adults. Ober is still in existence and demand is as strong as ever. Many other correspondence courses are now in existence with plenty of textbooks, cassettes and other teaching aids such as the minitel and the internet now available to isolated learners. Since the war KEAV or Kamp Etrekeltiek ar Vrezhonegerien has brought people together for several weeks in July to practise their knowledge of Breton in a near holiday environment. Other organisations offering courses in Breton to adults include Skol an Emsav, Ar Falz, An Oaled, Spered ar Yezh, Roudour, Stumdi and many others. In addition on a local district level several cultural organisations have formed which also offer evening courses in Breton for both youth and adults such as Mervent in southwestern Brittany, Sked in Brest and Emglev Bro An Oriant (Lorient).

Clearly what is required in Brittany is greater scale. Many thousands of both native and non-native speakers have acquired both greater fluency and literacy through the various courses and organisations already in existence. Such organisations have already proved their worth. They also may have served their purpose in the sense that what is required now are greater numbers of literate adults to supplement the increasing numbers of young people who are emerging from the schools literate in Breton and hence buy time for the language in the short run and build a more solid foundation for the language in the long run.

Stage 6: Establishing the vital linkage with youth, family, neighborhood and community.     Return to Top

It may be tempting for Breton RLSers to sense victory due to the impressive and beyond a doubt important achievements in Breton language schools, publishing, radio and television. However the danger is as great as ever that the need to rebuild stage 6 in Breton may be overlooked and that RLS advocates in Brittany may become complacent with the string of eye catching successes being achieved. Indeed it is here at the stage 6 level of the RLS scale that the weaknesses of the Breton language movement are most glaring. Whatever may be achieved in improving the image and status of Breton by launching new television and radio services in Breton and by increasing the number of Breton medium schools, securing official status for the Breton language none of this can substitute for the creation or rather recreation of young Breton speaking families and authentic Breton speaking communities where Breton is an everyday medium of communication for all generations. The higher order functions mentioned above all rest solidly on the foundation of family and community life and if that foundation is solidly French speaking than what is being built on top of it in Brittany is a house of cards. True languages can be strengthened in a secondary role. This is already the case in Canada where over a million Anglophones have acquired French as a second language, in Ireland where several hundred thousand people have acquired Irish-Gaelic as their second language, in the Netherlands where over 80% of the population have acquired English as a second language but Bretons must ask themselves; do they want a French speaking society where Breton is reserved for schools and road signs or do they want a Breton-speaking society where Breton is a living language used as an everyday vehicle of speech whether it's for buying milk or cashing a paycheque at the bank? It may seem hard to believe but a mother insisting on raising her children in Breton or the inhabitants of a small hamlet or town insisting on employing their rusty Breton can be as devastating to the further encroachment of French as any activity undertaken on the part of language activists or militants.

As we will see Breton language activists seem to be tackling every field but this one although there are some isolated cases where Breton at the stage 6 level has been addressed in Brittany but with very limited results. There is no avoiding the crux of the issue. Family and community life are the cornerstone of any language restoration efforts. Belated recognition of this fact is taking place in Scotland and Ireland (where new Irish speaking communities are in fact becoming a reality) not to mention the social programs instituted by the Basque Government geared towards young families and the younger sectors of the population.

Media, education, and administration are important, but more important is the family-home-neighborhood context. The question that must be asked is; Where are children growing up with Breton-at-home-and-in-the-child-and-adult-community? Before school? Out of school and after school? If there are no such communities, then Breton is an icon, not a naturally living and breathing language-in-culture. Twenty Breton speaking families living and raising their children in proximity to one another are worth more than twenty poets, politicians, musicians and school principals "advocating". Who wants to build stage 6? Who is doing it? Who is helping them? How can more young adult speakers of Breton as a second language be prepared to raise their soon-to-be-born children with Breton as a first language? These are the questions that Breton status planners and language activists should be asking themselves.

Young adults have to be taught "Parenting skills in Breton: poems, games, routines, prayers, riddles, songs, reading readiness, etc.". Grandparenting in Breton is another crucial course that needs to be offered without charge everywhere. It is also one that could utilise the large number of over forty Breton speakers who still have a solid command of the language. Linking kindergartens to grandparents, linking parents to grandparents, linking elementary and secondary schools to out of school clubs (sports, choruses, hobbies), old age homes, theatre groups in Breton, etc. Community organization and community building in Breton. These are key. Breton language agencies such as Ofis ar Brezhoneg and Skol Uhel ar Vro must focus on exemplary instances of such linkages so that they can be nurtured and financial support can be planned for them.

Dudi     Return to Top

Dudi is an after-school centre where children in the 6-12 age bracket are immersed in Breton and engage in sports, crafts, arts and music and go on field trips together. It was founded in 1985 by Lena Louarn as a branch of Skol an Emsav. Lena Louarn is presently the editor of the Breton language magazine Bremañ and the President of Ofis ar Brezhoneg. The initial branch was opened in Sant Brieg/Saint Brieuc but several others are now in operation in Rennes, Lannion and Vannes. Riwall Le Meen is the present director. Dudi is an excellent example of the kind of backup support which must be provided to the Breton medium schools but in order to be effective as far as Brittany as a whole is concerned Dudi or something very similar to it must be available in all communities in both Lower and Upper Brittany. Dudi must be held up as an example of what is needed and planning carried out to increase its availability on a larger scale.

K.E.A.V. - Kamp Etrekeltiek ar Vrezhonegerien     Return to Top

K.E.A.V. was founded shortly after the war and is, as its name implies, a summer camp where Breton speakers gather annually. Initially it took place for only one week but now operates throughout most of the summer. One of the conditions is that only Breton be spoken and that French be avoided as much as possible. The present director is Anna ar Beg. We examine it here because although it does so only on a temporary basis KEAV does in fact recreate a Breton speaking society even if only for an annual summer period. Hundreds of people are brought together every year in a near holiday environment to practise their use of Breton at the six KEAV centres all located in western Brittany. While such an undertaking is useful at reinforcing the Breton of those who already have a knowledge of the language, KEAV and other existing summer camps where Breton are spoken are essentially only episodic backups which buy time for the language. Never the less K.E.A.V. does have an important role to play in disseminating the Breton language to both youth and adults.

The fact of the matter is that at present there are no efforts underway in Brittany to launch new and authentic Breton speaking communities or even Breton speaking networks. Such new Breton speaking communities and networks are a necessity in both Lower and Upper Brittany if Breton is to be strengthened at its foundational level. The already established Irish speaking community in Belfast and the planned Irish speaking communities in Dublin and Galway are pertinent examples here. Also extremely relevant are efforts underway since 1979 by the Basque and Catalan Governments to strengthen Basque and Catalan in areas where Xish is still spoken but has lost ground among younger age groups. This is because Breton is still widely spoken throughout western Brittany among the older generations hence Breton language agencies do have the Basque option of targeting younger age groups particularly new families for Bretonization through social planning. Such a two tiered strategy may be what is required in Brittany, that is both new Breton speaking communities in areas where the language has been lost (eastern Brittany) and the strengthening of the language in communities where the language is still spoken but has been weakened among younger age groups (western Brittany). The key word here is "community" in some shape or form. Whether or not such efforts geared specifically towards such community life in Breton will prove crucial to the success or failure of the survival of Breton as a spoken language.

Stage 5: The attainment of literacy, independent of the public education system.     Return to Top

In Brittany as elsewhere in western Europe literacy began with Latin. Writing in Breton began in the late fifth century. Although the Church favoured Latin, it was in fact the clergy who nurtured literacy in Breton through the centuries, not only translating most of the significant religious works into Breton but also in ensuring that the language was taught to those seeking an education, usually aspiring clergy or the children of the nobility who could afford an education. As French became more widespread in the middle ages among the upper classes and mercantile classes it was again the clergy, eager to ensure that the peasantry received a proper catechism and could understand the mass saw to it that priests in Lower Brittany were fluent - and literate in Breton. (The catechism was published in the four main Breton dialects). This remained the case even after French had become the dominant language of the Breton parliament and polite Breton society. In the period following the annexation of Brittany by France in 1532 and even following the French Revolution in 1789 it was again the Breton clergy, ever concerned to protect their flock from the supposedly decadent concepts of Paris, continued to favour Breton and continued to preach the mass in it, dispense catechism in it and keep church records in it. The great conflict between church and state in France in the early 1900's did little to change this pattern and the Breton clergy like the French clergy at large used the pulpit to criticise the socialist governments of the day. They didn't plan to, but they became guardians of Breton literacy. It is a little known fact today but because children in western Brittany were to taught to read and write the catechism in Breton until well into this century there were in fact several hundred thousand people at one time who were literate in Breton. Today the figure probably does not exceed 40,000.

For the greater part of recent history literacy in Breton had to be acquired outside of the school system. The various courses for adults such as OBER, KEAV, Mervent, Skol an Emsav, etc. have been mentioned. Despite the fact that Brittany is a part of France virtually all of her schools are and always have been manned by Breton born teachers. Never the less they almost exclusively use and have used French as their language of instruction. Even though Frenchmen were thin on the ground in Brittany the schools were controlled by Bretons utilizing French. With the advent of Diwan in 1977 for the first time a divide now existed between type 4a and type 4b schools. Diwan and the subsequently organised Breton medium schools of the public and Catholic systems are in effect schools of the type 4a model, Bretons instructing through Breton. The remaining French medium schools are in effect type 4b schools with Bretons instructing through French. They may be staffed by Bretons but they are run under the auspices of Frenchmen.

The various organisations in place are already well distributed enough that anyone who wishes to learn to read and write Breton in addition to speaking it can do so. Those thousands of adults who have already acquired literacy in Breton could not have done so without these organisations. The time may have come however to recognise that adult literacy in Breton and the social and language planning necessary to achieve this on a wider scale is a necessity if Breton is to survive on a viable scale into the next century.

Stage 4: Education in Breton and learning Breton at school.     Return to Top

Education in Brittany underwent a revolutionary change in 1977 with the establishment of Diwan, the first Breton medium school network. Diwan is of great symbolic importance to Bretons. It represents the embodiment of their hopes that their language can somehow be saved. Its current president is an Englishman, Andrew Lincoln, who took over his post in 1997. Inspired by both the Basque medium Ikastolak schools of the Franco era and the Welsh medium Meithrin of the 1960's Diwan was the first concrete example of a 4a type school to appear on the Breton scene. Breton is the only language of instruction for the nursery and primary students until the age of seven when French is gradually introduced as a medium of instruction. Beginning at age ten English is also introduced as a language of instruction and a fourth language usually either Spanish or German is introduced as a subject. Diwan students not only match the academic performance of students in type 4b schools they quite often exceed it. Diwan has continued to expand to this day in all five departments of Brittany. It provides Breton medium education at the nursery, primary and secondary levels. One of its most important goals for the future is to establish a Diwan school in every canton in Brittany and thereby make access to Breton medium education available to all who desire it. Presently the organisation is involved in negotiations with the French department of education to secure a public statute recognising Diwan as a public service. This would entitle the organisation to full public funding. At present the status of Diwan is of a private organisation. Its greatest difficulty is lack of such proper public funding particularly in regard to secondary schools. It's annual budget as of the school year 1999/2000 was about 13,000,000 French Francs. Of this about 4.75 million francs was provided by regional, departmental and municipal governments. In addition the French department of education pays the salaries of the majority of Diwan teachers both primary and secondary. Although the annual contribution to Diwan's budget from these various sources is rising by about 1,000,000 francs per annum at least 5 million francs every year must be raised through private fundraising. A training centre for new Diwan teachers has been established in Kemper/Quimper. In addition another training centre for Breton language teachers for both Diwan and Div Yezh exists in Sant Brieg. Dihun the Catholic Breton medium organisation has it's own training courses for Breton language teachers. Due to the various financial difficulties recruiting of secondary teachers is more difficult due to the fact that only short term contracts with Breton language teachers can be signed. In it's negotiations with the French Government Diwan has often joined forces with other minority educational groups such as SEASKA the Union of Basque language teachers in France, (the counterpart of Unvaniezh ar Gelennerien Brezhoneg -the Union of Breton language teachers). Further expansion is planned in the future at the university level, with plans for a Breton language university at Carhaix/Karaez. In general Diwan takes an optimistic viewpoint of future developments, although it has a realistic view of the struggles that still lie ahead. Increasing European integration and federalism is seen as a good thing by Diwan.

Due to parental demand both the National Education (public) system and the Catholic schools in Brittany introduced bilingual Breton/French streams in the 1980's, Div Yezh and Dihun respectively. Although the intensity of exposure to Breton is not quite as intense as with Diwan, Dihun and Div Yezh are essentially type 4a schools. While absolute numbers are at present still modest - some 6,554 students out of some 796,000 primary and secondary students in Brittany (or at the primary level 1.8% of all Breton students as of September 2000) - it is clear from the annual growth rate of over 20% that Breton medium schools are likely to continue their expansion to a point where they account for a far higher percentage of Breton students perhaps in the range of a quarter to a third of Breton students sometime within the next two decades.

Also on the scene in Brittany are type 4b schools where Breton is offered as a subject but the language of instruction is French. At present an indeterminate number of students are taking Breton as a subject. However the exposure of students in the National Education System with the exception of the Div Yezh bilingual streams can be at best described as fleeting and certainly not intense enough to impart a good knowledge of Breton let alone fluency in the language.

Breton medium students themselves seem to recognise the importance of the role they are playing in the survival of Breton culture and have even formed their own union - Dazont - which means future in English. Those Bretons who are committed to ensuring their children acquire a solid fluency and literacy in Breton put little faith in the non Breton medium schools and usually strive to have their children enrolled in Diwan, Div Yezh or Dihun classes. Nevertheless the increased availability of Breton even as a subject in the National Education System is also widely seen as an improvement over the previous state of affairs prevailing until the 1970's where Breton was almost entirely absent from schools and was present only as a tool with which to aid children in acquiring a knowledge of French more rapidly.

The percentage of Breton students who are now taking Breton as a subject is as mentioned difficult to determine. The percentage of Breton students who are in schools where Breton is present neither as a subject nor as a medium of instruction is probably still well over 90%. Clearly Breton medium education must achieve greater mass to have a significant impact on Breton society in the long run. It would appear that this is beginning to come to pass as in parts of western Brittany over 3% of primary students are already enrolled in Breton medium schools and it would appear that in Brittany as a whole probably between 5% and 10% of Breton students will within the next decade be enrolled in such schools.


Côtes d'Armor
Ille et Vilaine
Liger Atlantel/
Loire Atlantique

Diwan (Prim+Scnd) 1,424 397 325 87 181 2,414
Div Yezh (Prim+Scnd) 730 635 570 306 48 2,289
Dihun (Prim+Scnd) 642 192 937 34 46 1,851


Côtes d'Armor
Ille et Vilaine
Liger Atlantel/
Loire Atlantique
Primary 87,408 53,351 66,782 92,491 120,245
Secondary 77,090 48,836 59,456 81,826 107,450


Côtes d'Armor
Ille et Vilaine
Liger Atlantel/
Loire Atlantique
Primary 2,368 (2.709%) 1,001 (1.87%) 1,679 (2.51%) 374 (0.404%) 275 (0.22%)
Secondary 428 (0.876%) 223 (0.45%) 153 (0.25%) 53 (0.06%) 0

  Primary Secondary TOTAL
4 Departments 300,148 students
5,422 (1.806%)
267,204 students
857 (0.32%)
567,352 students
6,279 (1.106%)
5 Departments 420,381 students
5,697 (1.35%)
374,658 students
857 (0.228%)
795,039 students
6,554 (0.824%)

Stage 3: Breton in the worksphere.     Return to Top

Many trades still function in Breton, but this depends on how prevalent Breton is in the area. Fishermen often prefer Breton off the coast of the Bigouden country, but this isn't the case everywhere in the fishing industry. Breton fishermen operating off the coasts of Britain, Ireland and Spain often make use of Breton in radio communications which cannot be understood by anyone listening in. In central Brittany, in Brasparts and Gourin the farmers use Breton both at work and at home. Breton is also still widely used at the markets on market day. With so many bilingual Bretons, the use of one language or the other is largely dictated by circumstances. Breton can also it turns out be spoken in the workplace outside of Brittany. In Paris, one of the subway terminals was manned mostly by Bretons from Lower Brittany in the 1970's, and as a result, the messages, the communications, the conversations were all in Breton.

At the turn of the century many commercial enterprises in Lower Brittany posted their signs and literature in Breton as well as French. This was a tacit admission, not only of the dominant role still played by Breton as a spoken language in society, but also of the existence of Breton literacy among sectors of the Breton population. By the 1930's and 1940's French became much more dominant in this area. By the 1960's French was close to being almost the only language in the commercial field. This situation has changed today with local enterprises in particular now often employing Breton on signage as well as for advertising purposes. To a lesser extent this is also true of larger national and even multinational companies such as Volkswagen and Intermarché.

In general however it is accurate to say that the dominant, almost exclusive language of the work place is now French more than ever. As the Breton speaking population ages and leaves the work force the previous situation of an essentially bilingual workforce is being replaced by an even more exclusively French speaking one. At one time while middle and upper management avoided use of Breton even though many such people could speak it the language continued to perform a function among the lower order members of the work force itself. Clearly the work place is one important arena where RLS efforts in Brittany have to be focused as no language can afford to allow itself to be ousted from this area which is so critical in shaping a people's assessment of the actual importance of Breton in society. As we shall see below plans are in fact afoot to strengthen Breton among small businesses and by definition in the workplace but again the question of critical mass arises and whether or not Breton RLSers can make an impact in this important field in the next generation will be part of the equation of whether or not Breton can retain a place for itself in society and then build on that.

Stage 2: Local governmental services and media.     Return to Top

At the local level the Regional Council of Brittany has played over the last twenty years an increasing role in supporting both media in Breton and local governmental services in Breton. In 1999 the Ofis ar Brezhoneg/Office of the Breton Language was established with branches in both Rennes and Carhaix to be followed by a future branch in Nantes. This new institution, an offshoot of Skol Uhel ar Vro/The Cultural Institute of Brittany is intended to be a means of promotion, observation, and development of new terminology in the Breton language. It also carries out public opinion polls and collects data on developments concerning the Breton language. It is the chief body in Brittany with regards to both status planning and corpus planning for the Breton language. It operates in close liaison with the Regional Council and receives its entire budget from the Council.

National and even local administration is carried out almost exclusively in French. While increasingly Breton municipalities are posting signage in both Breton and French and in so doing they are receiving guidance from Skol Uhel ar Vro, Servij ar Brezhoneg and Ofis ar Brezhoneg actual provision of services to the public in Breton is not guaranteed by law. Hence while Breton is in reality used with the public by local officials this is a strictly off the record undertaking.

There has been a great deal of activism since the 60's and 70's to get Breton officially recognized by the French administration. As a result, Breton is now legally admissible in court, but since there is little funding for Breton interpreters, and since only activists have tried thus far to enforce use of the language in court (and often been told by the judge to speak French), it is hard to tell what would happen today if a monolingual Breton elder appeared in court. The same activist struggle also covered the ability to write checks in Breton, which has also been found admissible by the French courts. In practice if a Breton speaker shows up at a government office, and cannot be understood by the clerk, it is not unusual for the clerk to go and find someone who knows Breton. However such accommodation is by no means guaranteed by law.

In the towns, particularly in Finistère, a phenomenon common to all minority language regions can be encountered; government workers, doctors, nurses, shopkeepers, lawyers, etc. actually often either know Breton or know some of it. If they are dealing with a Breton speaker, who is not really fluent in French, the language they will speak is a mixture of both. The main words will be Breton, the grammar mostly French, the order of the words very close to Breton. Unfortunately this is also a trait of languages in their later stages of decay, where the speech of the endangered language is being corrupted by more and more intrusions both grammatically and vocabulary wise from the dominant language.

The media story is somewhat more successful than other areas. At present there are three government run television stations operating in Brittany. Only one of these however, FR3 broadcasts in Breton and only for four hours a week. However on August 4 of 2000 Télé Breizh, the first all Breton language television service is set to begin broadcasts. This project was launched at the initiative of the Cultural Council of Brittany. One of the goals of Télé Breizh is to coordinate its programming so as to assist the Diwan schools. Such broadcasts will try to serve as a link between Breton-speaking children and non Breton-speaking parents. This strategy attempts to draw on the experience of S4C the Welsh language television service with which Rozenn Milin the new director of Télé Breizh worked for several years. About 50% of this new service will be funded by the Agricultural Credit Union of Brittany with the remainder of the funding coming from private sources. The success of both Syannel Pedwar or S4C and Telefís na Gaeilge, television services in Welsh and Irish-Gaelic respectively augur well for Télé Breizh but as with other minority language television services it must be remembered that Télé Breizh will be always be surrounded by an ocean of French language television programming and that while a television service is an invaluable and important tool in the rehabilitation of the image and status of Breton, RLSers must not rely on it as a substitute for parenting and preschool infant care in Breton.

The Breton language is present on 13 different radio stations broadcasting in Brittany. This includes two public service radios, Radio Bretagne Ouest /Radio Breizh Izel (12 hours a week in western Brittany) and Radio France Armorique/Radio Arvorig (2 hours per week in the Rennes area) as well as two associative radios; Radio Kreiz Breizh and Radio Bro Gwened (both for 18 hours a week). This expansion in the use of Breton over the airwaves is a revolutionary success story in itself as the language was not heard on radio until the 1940's and remained virtually absent from this area throughout the 1950's and 1960's. Breton language radio too, however, at least in the initial stages of RLS, cannot hope to compete with the ocean of French language broadcasting available to the public in every part of Brittany.

The two daily newspapers of Brittany are Le Télégramme of Brest and Ouest-France. An attempt several years back to launch a Breton language daily failed. Both existing dailies are in French but carry weekly columns in Breton mostly about learning the language rather than actual news coverage. Publishing activity in the Breton language today is intense despite the obstacles of a limited readership (about 30,000 to 40,000 estimated Breton readers) and little state support. While there is as yet no daily newspaper in the Breton language, weekly, monthly and quarterly newsletters, newspapers and magazines are numerous. These include An Here, Al Liamm, Bremañ (circulation 1,000), Mouladurioù Hor Yezh, Brud Nevez, Hor Yezh, Al Lañv, Imbourc'h, Sterenn and others. At the same time publications in Gallo are on the rise with for example the literary review Le Lian. Several publishers have entered the professional and commercial field. These include Coopérative Breizh, Keltia, Skol Vreizh, and Al Liamm. The bulk of publishing they handle be it magazines or books is in French but the percentage of output in the Breton language and also in Gallo has clearly expanded in recent years. With annual sales of 30,000,000 francs and 60% of the Breton market Coopérative Breizh is the leading publisher in Brittany followed by Ouest-France which is really a French publisher rather than an exclusively Breton one as Coopérative Breizh. About 10% of the books it publishes are in Breton with the remainder being in French. Of those books published in Breton about 60% are related to learning the language and only about 40% are novels or other titles in Breton. In addition while the number of Breton dictionaries and learning aids being sold annually is rising both absolutely and proportionately, ordinary titles in Breton are remaining stable in sales, evidence that the number of Breton language readers also is apparently remaining stable.

Also worthy of mention is the great tradition of Breton language theatre with it's travelling troupes. Through theatre based satire political commentary and activism was and still is expressed just as it often is by Breton musicians.

Stage 1: Breton in the higher spheres of work, education and government.      Return to Top

Here at the higher order level functions we can see most clearly how severely Breton has been dislocated in the higher echelons of society and it's very own traditional heartland at that. The four universities of Brittany, Brest, Rennes, Lorient and Nantes all use French as their administrative language and their main language of instruction. The one minor exception being that some courses are now taught through Breton at Rennes university. The Université de Haute Bretagne-Rennes II probably has the strongest program of Breton medium instruction. All classes in its Celtic department are taught through Breton and this includes not only such subjects as history, geography and linguistics but will soon extend to Breton medium instruction of technical and engineering subjects. It had 335 students studying Breton (69%) out of a total of 485 in the 1999/2000 academic year. The Université de Bretagne Occidentale in Brest had 53 students or 11%, the Université de Bretagne Sud in Lorient also had 11% or 34 students studying Breton as a subject and the Université de Nantes had 9% or 30 students studying Breton.

At Brest university Breton is taught only as a subject and is not utilised as a language of instruction at all. The University of Nantes in the department of Loire Atlantique now supposedly no longer a part of Brittany does at least offer Breton as a subject if not a language instruction. Perhaps the most promising development are the plans of Diwan to develop a new Breton language university at Carhaix/Karaez which is envisaged to begin operation about 2005. It is envisaged that the new facility will accommodate the rising number of Breton speaking graduates from the secondary level schools of Diwan, Div Yezh and Dihun. Of course many obstacles and hurdles remain to be overcome before a Breton language university becomes a reality and it will likely be sometime before the new university establishes it's credentials academically but it is yet another sign that the Bretonization goals of the language movement for Breton society at large are real and with every passing year are becoming a reality.

In the administrative arena local civil servants often use Breton in their dealings with the public as they always have but this is entirely the prerogative of the individual official although sometimes the attitude of local municipal authorities can have a bearing. In general however it is safe to say that Breton plays no significant role or function at the higher levels of government administration. Not only has Breton no official status in Brittany. It has no status in France or at a European level (for example in dealings with bodies representing the European Community such as its parliament or various agencies). Not since the early 1700's (when the Breton parliament still sat) has Breton exercised or dispensed any of the higher order functions of a language in government administration . True official status for Breton is a goal of all the agencies presently labouring on behalf of the Breton language including Ofis ar Brezhoneg but it is a goal which seems as far off as ever.

In the economic sector the present situation while not what it should be has changed slightly for the better. National and foreign companies operating in Brittany rarely if ever carry out operations in Breton let alone publish literature or commercial advertising in the language. Some notable exceptions are Volkswagen, Leclerc, Intermarché, Carrefour and some airline companies which have begun to use Breton in their advertising, (although Breton was recently banned on Air France). Local smaller enterprises of course do have recourse to use Breton but only in a secondary role to French and usually only when absolutely necessary - as when dealing with the decreasing number of Breton monoglots. Never the less here too the situation is changing as local businesses and shops have increasingly begun to post signs in Breton and are increasingly printing commercial advertising and leaflets in Breton. Perhaps most promising is a project underway by André Lavanant to set up an association of businesses who use Breton in the workplace. As Mr. Lavanant is one of the individuals who helped found Diwan and is one of those who launched Télé Breizh there is reason to be optimistic about this project as well. It should be noted too that speaking Breton on public occasions, once taboo, whether for religious, cultural or civic occasions is also on the rise, another sign of the times.

In summary it can at least be said that Bretons are aware of the need for Breton to make a breakthrough in all three of these areas hence the ambitious and well thought out plans to establish more Breton speaking businesses, to establish a Breton medium university, and to push for official status for the Breton language. Broadly speaking however at the time of writing Breton has not secured a significant place for itself in any of these domains and it remains to be seen how successful Breton will be in establishing a foothold in the universities, the upper management levels of the economy, finance, and the higher levels of government.

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Language Planning in Other Countries     Return to Top


Of the languages examined here Québec French is perhaps the most secure in the field of community and family life. (French is spoken in the province of Québec by about 7.5 million people and in the provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick by another 2 million persons while about 10 million persons in Canada out of a total population of 31 million are of French ancestry). These are areas from which it was never ousted however due to the dominant role which English had come to assume in certain fields of Québec life by the 1960's (the economic, educational and increasingly even cultural) Francophones accurately began to perceive English as a threat to the survival of French if steps were not taken to safeguard the language in it's home base. Almost from the start these efforts were mainly effected through legislation beginning with Bill 22 in 1974 passed by the Liberal Party. This was followed by the much more thorough going Bill 101 of 1977 introduced by the new Parti Québecois Government. The new government also established a new language agency - the Office of the French Language/L'Office de la langue français - in order to monitor and enforce the francisation of the workplace and other areas of Québec life. Besides the workplace long-term strategies designed to strengthen the demographic basis of the Francophone population are pursued through the deliberate encouragement of immigration from Francophone countries and the enrollment of immigrant children in Francophone schools. The final political status of Québec itself is still undecided but about the question of language policy there is no disagreement among Francophones. They aspire to a French speaking and unilingual society at least for internal purposes. This is quite unlike the Bretons and the Irish for example who aspire to bilingual societies not merely for external relationships but even for internal purposes.

Wales     Return to Top

Welsh is the language most closely related to Breton and while its circumstances are certainly not identical to those of Breton they are comparable. The chief language agency in Wales is the Welsh Language Board/Bwrrd Yr Iaith Gymraeg established in 1988. The Board has recently published a five-year plan for the period 2000-2005 entitled; "The Welsh Language: A Vision and Mission For 2000-2005". Broadly speaking the policy of the Board is to plan and carry out Acquisition Planning, Usage Planning, Status Planning and Corpus Planning on behalf of Welsh. The climate in favour of Welsh has improved somewhat recently in no small measure due to political developments within Wales itself such as the 1998 vote by the Welsh electorate in favour of greater autonomy leading to the establishment of a Welsh Assembly/An Cynulliad. Thus Welsh, unlike Breton, is an official language on its home territory and has a status Breton language planners can only dream of. In addition Welsh has suffered less erosion then Breton in the postwar period although it has suffered losses. In 1900 Welsh was spoken by 977,000 people or about 50% of the population. By 2000 about 580,000 or 20% were still Welsh-speaking about double the number of Breton speakers.

In general it can be said that the Welsh aspire to language maintenance and to arrest the decline of the language in the Welsh speaking heartland, that is to say northern and western Wales rather than to any more ambitious plans to go on the offensive and reestablish the language in parts of Wales where it has died out. It remains to be seen how successful this fairly conservative policy will be since the situation of the Welsh language today is more serious than many realise. Only about 6% of Welsh children are still being raised in Welsh even though about 20%-25% of the population can be considered Welsh speaking. Efforts to combat the decline of Welsh in family life are being made through publicity campaigns stressing the benefits of bilingualism to young couples who are embarking on starting new families. In addition Welsh medium education has expanded to the point where about 22% of primary school children are being educated either entirely or partly through the medium of Welsh. However as Ireland has proved language initiatives which are based too heavily on the school system are not likely to succeed. While the present strategy of maintenance is probably well suited for northern and western Wales which are still largely Welsh speaking it is clear that a more ambitious and family-community oriented policy is necessary to deal with the heavily Anglicised east and southeastern regions of the country containing the larger urban centres such as Cardiff which cannot of course be ignored by language planners. Here more Welsh medium schools and television are not enough. The reestablishment of community and family life in Welsh are not merely necessary but of critical importance.

Ireland     Return to Top

Ireland is the only independent Celtic nation and as such it's linguistic policies are often scrutinised by other Celtic language activists. Irish has enjoyed official status since 1921 but the efforts to restore the Irish language itself have obtained mixed results. Spoken by about 4 million people in 1840, Irish today probably is spoken by about 300,000 people in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. Since 1960 language planning has undergone some significant changes. The old goal of pursuing an all Irish-speaking Ireland has been set aside in favour of the pursuit of a bilingual society. One encouraging and somewhat unexpected development which began in the late 1970's has been an increasingly more assertive and pro-Irish attitude among the public which has increasingly put pressure on the Irish Government to provide more Irish medium schooling as well as television and radio services in Irish. Hence it is apparent that public opinion in Ireland is by no means reconciled to an English only society contrary to what has often been said on the subject. Needless to say the Irish medium schools or Gaelscoileanna have expanded to the point where about 8% of Irish children are now being educated in Irish only and this figure is rising every year. In addition Radio na Gaeltachta and Radio na Life now provide full radio service in the language while Telefís na Gaeilge (since 1999) does the same for television. The pro Irish attitude of the Nationalist population in Northern Ireland is even more marked and has led to some important developments for the Irish language. These include increased publishing in Irish, increased Irish medium schooling, an Irish language newspaper - An Lá, greater use of Irish on radio and television and perhaps most important the successful reestablishment of urban community life in Irish with a new Irish speaking community in Belfast. The chief Irish language body in Northern Ireland has been the Ultach Trust a voluntary body.

One of the articles of the peace agreement reached in Northern Ireland was the establishment of a new language agency for both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic - Foras na Gaeilge. It is meant to supersede Bord na Gaeilge the former government agency in the Irish Republic as well as the Ultach Trust in Northern Ireland and to establish a united language strategy for the island in regards to status planning as well as corpus planning for the Irish language. The chief voluntary language body in the Irish Republic - Comhdháil Násiunta na Gaeilge remains in existence and this is probably a healthy thing as it is not entirely under government control, thus it will continue to bring a more independent viewpoint to the language debate. While it is probably true that the number of people able to speak Irish is rising moderately due to both increased Irish medium education and adult learners it is clear that greater community use of Irish has yet to be tackled. It is encouraging to note however that activists seem to recognise this and are pursuing the establishment of new Irish speaking communities in both Dublin and Galway in the next few years to be followed by others. Those families in urban areas such as Dublin, Cork and Belfast which employ Irish as the language of the home are also an important development which must be encouraged and built upon. While the government language agency has not yet backed the plans for new urban communities it is clear that the future of Irish as a spoken language lies in just such a community approach. One other point that also might be made about the language question in Ireland and it is a point that applies to Brittany and the other Celtic countries as well is that it is increasingly clear that a large percentage of public opinion do not accept the establishment viewpoint often pandered to by the government that Irish (or Breton in the case of Brittany) has no place in the modern life of the country. It is probably more accurate to say that while public opinion is divided on the language question a large number of Irish citizens do want to see Irish being spoken in everyday life and by their children hence the rates strikes to force the Irish Government to establish first an Irish language radio station in the 1970's and an Irish language television service in 1999 not to mention the ongoing pressure to open more Irish medium schools - even in the face of opposition from the government and the Roman Catholic Church - to the point where about 10% of children in the Irish Republic are now being educated in Irish not English medium schools - something the Irish Government had to be forced into doing.

Catalonia     Return to Top

Catalan is today spoken by some 7 million persons in Spain, Andorra, southern France and even the island of Sardinia. The vast majority of these reside in the Catalan Autonomous Community in Spain which was established in 1979 but also in the equally autonomous region of Valencia in Spain as well as another 250,000 people in southern France, 10,000 or so in Sardinia and about 25,000 in Andorra.

Catalan like Basque was openly suppressed by the Franco régime in Spain to a great extent because heavily industrialised and Socialist Catalonia staunchly supported the cause of the Republic during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939 however Castilian chauvinism would probably still have been on the scene in the 1950's and 1960's even if Catalonia had supported Franco. Since 1983 the Directorate General of Language Policy has coordinated all status and corpus planning in regards to Catalan as well as other language initiatives in what is termed the policy of "Normalization" for Catalan.

Catalan although it had suffered reverses under Franco remained far more widely spoken in 1979 when efforts at it's revitalisation came to the fore than other disadvantaged languages such as Basque or Breton or Irish. True literacy in the language had taken a beating during the Franco administration when the language was all but barred from the schools but the challenge which really faced Catalan language planners was somewhat more like that facing French in Québec during the 1970's; how to reintroduce Catalan into the higher order functions of government administration, the media and education which it had once exercised.

Ironically similar to the situation of French in Montréal too was the position of Catalan in Barcelona faced as it was with the large number of Spanish speaking migrants attracted to the city in search of employment. Montréal too had long attracted English speaking immigrants for similar reasons.

Friesland     Return to Top

It is a little known fact that Frisian is the language most closely related to English. The Frisian territories which once stretched from the Netherlands and northwestern Germany to Denmark were the homeland in the fifth century of the ferocious Anglo-Saxons, Jutes and other Germanic tribes who coming under pressure from peoples to the east such as the Huns, the Slavs and the Magyars began to look in other directions for new farmland and more secure homes. Their eyes turned to the prosperous Roman villas and the vibrant urban economy of Roman Britain. Early seaborne raids in the 300's gave way to full scale revolt of Saxon mercenaries in Britain in 442 and all out war between the British and the Anglo-Saxons. Although London and most of Britain successfully defended themselves Colchester and other eastern cities were destroyed. The result was a stalemate in which Britain was partitioned with the Anglo-Saxons remaining in control of much of eastern Britain. The shock of the war led many Britons to depart for what are now Brittany and Normandy in search of safer homes. Hence the Breton tongue of today.

During the middle ages Frisian gradually lost ground to languages such as Dutch, German and Danish. Partly this was due to the greater social status of these languages but was also due to some extent to the great floods of the thirteenth century which drowned much of the coastal population in the traditional Frisian speaking areas and led to the dispersal of many others.

Suffice to say that today Frisian is spoken in three well-defined areas; the province of Friesland in the northern Netherlands (400,000 speakers), the Saterland in Germany (10,000 speakers) and on the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein in Denmark (4,000 speakers).

A Frisian Language Board/Berie Foar It Frysk has been in existence for some years now to promote efforts to maintain and strengthen the Frisian language. While it is true that Frisian is an endangered language, in many ways its demographic heartland - rural Friesland - is still much more intact and much more Frisian-speaking than say Ireland is Irish-speaking or Wales is Welsh-speaking. Mixed Dutch/Frisian marriages and rural migration to cities such as Leeuwarden or Amsterdam or Rotterdam almost always lead to loss of the language. Some 73% of the population remained Frisian speaking as recently as the 1980's. In addition Dutch migrants to Friesland usually do not have too much difficulty in acquiring the language because of its closeness to Dutch which is a sister Germanic language. Where the real danger for Frisian may lie is in the fact that (like Breton, Welsh, Irish-Gaelic and others) virtually to a man all Frisian speakers are bilingual and able to speak Dutch. In addition it is clear that Frisian has already lost control of urban centres in Friesland itself while the workplace also has become almost entirely Dutch speaking. In addition there is no autonomous government body as there is Wales, Euzkadi or Catalonia to provide funding in critical areas which need to be addressed such as more publishing in Frisian not to mention the almost total lack of Frisian in the school system. A great deal will depend over the next decades on how successful Frisian language activists are in securing language legislation in their favour not to mention mobilizing public opinion in Friesland to a greater extent than has previously been the case.

The Basque Country/Euzkadi     Return to Top

Among other things the ancient Basque language is the only surviving Neolithic and possibly Mesolithic language in western Europe and is of non Indo-European origin. Links with the ancient Iberian language as well as the Hamitic and Semitic languages and even the Caucasian languages have long been suspected. Suffice to say this very mysterious language is today spoken by about 800,000 people in Spain and France. More recently the Basque language was openly persecuted by the Fascist Franco régime. With the death of the dictator and the establishment of an autonomous Basque Government in 1979 a new and more hopeful chapter in the history of the language began. Since 1982 efforts to strengthen the Basque language in society have been coordinated by the Secretariat of Language Policy. Today in 2000 we can look back upon many solid achievements; the establishment of a Basque language University, the establishment of a Basque language daily newspaper, the establishment of Basque language television and radio service, the extension of financial and logistical assistance to Basque language agencies in Navarre and France, the expansion of literacy in the language and the dramatic expansion of Basque medium education to the point where a majority of Basque children (in Spain) are now being educated in primarily Basque medium schools. However it does seem that the stage 6 level of demographically concentrated family and community life in Basque is not being tackled to the extent that it might be. Much of rural and small town life is still Basque speaking so the present policies which amount to language maintenance or damage control may be appropriate in this setting but how appropriate can they be in tackling the question of Basque language use in urban life in the heavily Spanish speaking cities such as Bilbao and San Sebastian? Or in reestablishing Basque in regions from which it has been ousted such as Alava province and most of Navarre? Clearly Basque language planners are in earnest and are aggressively pursuing the reestablishment or rather establishment of Basque at all levels of society but like the Welsh and the Irish they may be overlooking some critically important and key areas of family and community life in areas where it must be reestablished.

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The Sum Total; Lower Order and Higher Order Functions of Language Use by Minority Languages     Return to Top

In summary it can be said that various diverse strategies are being attempted at present in the above mentioned countries not to mention Brittany itself as well as the other Celtic nations (Scotland, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man). At present great emphasis is placed on media such as television, newspapers, and government administration. At the time of writing only the Québecois, Welsh, the Catalans and the Basques are making serious efforts at strengthening community use of the languages in question although efforts in this area are coming to the fore in Ireland also. Nevertheless even these cases leave a fair bit to be desired in this field. Although perhaps it was inevitable that language agencies in these countries would be drawn towards such higher order and status oriented functions for their languages and less so towards family and community life in their languages which are so difficult to regulate and control.

It may also be true to say that if language status is partially dependent on political status then none of the above countries has yet successfully resolved it's own national question in say the manner that Estonia or Latvia or Slovakia or Macedonia or other smaller nation states recently has. In these other newly formed and independent nations the primary status of the native language and independence are both unquestioned and mutually intertwined tenets of the state.

This is not so in the Celtic nations or in Québec or Euzkadi or Catalonia. Québec has largely solved its language question but has not resolved it's final political status. Ireland has also not solved it's own political question since two million people remain under British rule in Ulster and the language question though coming to the fore once again in public debate in Ireland also remains unresolved. Wales has partly addressed its language question but its final political status is unresolved. The same remark could be made of Catalonia, Scotland and Euzkadi. The point being that the political status of a nation and the power relationship of its language to the dominant state language cannot in reality be ignored. In short the political status of Brittany though at present unresolved is in fact highly relevant to efforts to promote Breton in Brittany itself in the long run and extremely relevant to how the Breton people themselves perceive the Breton language and its importance in Breton society. In other words, yes Bretons must pay more attention to Breton in the family and in the community than has previously been the case but they cannot ignore the political status of their language either.

Concluding Remarks     Return to Top

Breton has achieved a number of successes since the mid 1970's which are clearly of great importance for the future of the language; it's introduction into the school system as a medium of instruction on an ever increasing scale, (the annual rate of increase in children who are enrolled in Breton medium schools is presently about 23% per annum), the establishment of a Breton language television network, increased publishing in the language, it's increased use in other media such as radio and the theatre and by municipalities all over Brittany. A new generation of not only Breton-speaking children but Breton literate children - something unprecedented in Brittany - is being turned out by the schools in ever-increasing numbers. A wide range of programs from preschool to school to workplace to media are being put into place at the time of writing. In order however to avoid the pitfall of "too little, too late" Bretons must achieve more critical mass in all these areas if their efforts are to be crowned with success. Preschool in Breton, primary school in Breton, radio, books and TV in Breton are all necessary components of any RLS agenda and they are all present in Brittany but they must be present everywhere not just in certain towns or areas. Judging by recent growth rates it would appear that these trends and institutions will continue to grow. In addition the Breton language movement is not without goals and direction. As articulated by Ofis ar Brezhoneg, official status for the Breton language in Brittany as well as it's more widespread use at the administrative level in dealing with the public whether, regionally, departmentally or municipally is envisaged. A public statute is being sought by Diwan to recognise the school system for what it is - a public service. Increased Bretonization of this society is also evident in the increasing amount of signage being posted bilingually in Breton/French not only in western Brittany but also in eastern Brittany. This is an important development because such increased visibility of Breton does keep the language in the public eye and consciousness when all is said and done.

Nevertheless the most critical question facing Breton today - it's reestablishment at the stage 6 level, that of the intergenerational, demographically concentrated family-home-neighborhood-community level is not being addressed on any significant level and even worse may not even be comprehended by most language activists on behalf of Breton today. It is clear that less than 1% of Breton families are raising their children in Breton and while this figure is tending to rise slightly as the parents of children in Breton medium schools often make an effort to speak Breton around their children these efforts cannot be equated by any means with the reestablishment of Breton speaking communities. While K.E.A.V. , Skol an Emsav and the other summer camps are a useful instrument in constituting even if only temporarily and seasonally "new Breton speaking" communities the proficiency in Breton they impart to people cannot be maintained from year to year.

There is no dodging the main question. Unless Bretons focus squarely on the demographic concentration of Breton speakers at the home-family-neighborhood-community level, particularly in western Brittany where it is not too late to utilise the 400,000 strong reservoir of native speakers in the over 40 age group whose Breton can still be reactivated and who could supplement and strengthen new Breton speaking communities the erosion of Breton as a community language will continue unabated probably at the same disastrous rate as prevailing during the past five post-war decades before the eyes of uncomprehending Breton language activists who will be left scratching their heads (again like the Irish before them) wondering aloud, "what went wrong, the schools are full of Breton but nobody speaks it?". There is no need to labour the point - the schools are not enough. Diwan is not enough. Language restoration is a complex socio-linguistic phenomenon which must encompass the involvement of all sectors of the community and all age groups and it is not only unjust to place the responsibility for language restoration solely on the shoulders of children it is also a fatal error.

Community wide social programs in Breton and new Breton speaking communities.
The strengthening of existing Breton speaking communities.
A new Breton speaking community in each canton?

One possibility in this respect would be for groups of Breton speaking families to form in clusters around the Breton medium schools, be they Diwan, Div Yezh or Dihun (Diwan being a more probable candidate for ideological reasons). Communal and group activities for these Breton speaking families could be organised. Despite the surrounding French speaking milieu such communal groups would allow for the establishment of Breton-speaking youth groups and also for the organisation of Brittany wide programs for preschool care in Breton (perhaps staffed by elderly native speakers on a volunteer basis), youth groups in Breton, grandparenting in Breton, instruction for young families on how to raise their children in Breton and the provision of instructors as well as parenting aids such as games, riddles, songs, prayers, reading readiness books in Breton for parents and other forms of guidance for these new Breton speaking families and communities as well as financial assistance for them. While financial resources and staff are limited we have seen in Brittany how much can be achieved at the local voluntary level without large sums being expended. A realistic and attainable strategy might be the establishment of a new Breton speaking community in each canton, both in western and eastern Brittany. Such a strategy would not be out of step with the Diwan goal of establishing a Diwan school in every canton of Brittany. It is worth stating that Diwan might also be the most appropriate agency for ensuring preschool infant care in all of Brittany as well as the coordinator who in the initial stages at least might help in the formation of new Breton speaking community life because of it's already widespread infrastructure which will continue to open new schools in new cantons. Both the existing schools and those established in the future could become the nuclei of new Breton speaking networks or communities. While some would probably regard such a task as operating beyond the mandate of Diwan no other organisation at present in Brittany possesses the infrastructure or trained personnel capable of instituting such a social program on any significant scale. The Dudi organisation and other youth groups are at present too localised and limited in their scope. One possible solution would be for a new organisation to be established, working closely with Diwan (but separate from it) Ofis ar Brezhoneg and Skol an Emsav to attend to the task of organising such new Breton speaking networks and their support network in the vicinity of all Diwan schools. It might sound revolutionary and difficult to achieve but nothing short of this will halt the further erosion of Breton as a spoken community language - or begin to build up significant numbers of new speakers among the younger generations. The concept of Diwan, Skol an Emsav and Ofis ar Brezhoneg collaborating in the establishment of new Breton speaking communities can of course only be food for thought for the present as such a wide-scale undertaking would require a consensus among these bodies and others such as the Cultural Council of Brittany and the Regional Council of Brittany - the democratically elected and representative bodies of Breton political and cultural life.

It should be recalled that while any such proposed Bretonization goals like this or any other may or may not be practicable in the present due to financial, logistical and even political constraints however this does not mean that no thought should be given to just exactly what forms of status planning it will take to reestablish Breton on an equal footing with French as one of the two major languages of Brittany, a goal which the Breton people have clearly and unequivocally adopted.

Another problem which must be addressed is the massive illiteracy in Breton among all age groups and sectors of the population even among native speakers. Again a Brittany wide policy and strategy would have to be formulated and then implemented among both Breton speakers and non-Breton speakers. The present practice of employing the long established KLTG standard dialect should be continued with any new literacy initiatives. Again it has to be recalled that present circumstances may or may not be expeditious for expanded programs of adult literacy but this should not prevent such issues from discussed openly and frankly.

While the agencies working for the Breton language such as Ofis ar Brezhoneg, Servij ar Brezhoneg, and others are only establishing themselves and are still at a very formative stage (as opposed to the somewhat older Skol Uhel ar Vro) the formulation and the eventual implementation of such programs (free of charge and available to all) in the community at large and indeed throughout all of Brittany will probably make or break the revival of the Breton language.

Western Brittany today despite the massive erosion of the past century still possesses a pool of about 400,000 native Breton speakers and semi-speakers who constitute about a quarter of the population. They are almost entirely confined to the over 40 age groups never the less they still constitute a reservoir which could be utilised over the next two decades for the implementation of such social programs because in effect these native Breton speakers constitute ready trained social workers who because they are in the older age brackets would have more time on their hands for volunteer work than younger people, but their Breton speaking abilities must be utilised rapidly for every passing year more and more elderly native speakers pass away. In the Autonomous Basque Region in Spain the policies of the Deputy Ministry For Language Policy have demonstrated since 1979 that it is possible to strengthen use of the weakened language (Basque) among younger sectors of the population through social programs instituted for specifically this purpose. It is worth noting that by 1979 Basque (like Breton today) had largely retreated to the older sectors of the population. This is no longer the case today as Basque has clearly made inroads among young families and other sectors of the under 40 population. As much of this progress was made by utilising older native speakers as well as overt government social programs, there is little reason to suppose that the same principle does not apply to Breton. Ofis ar Brezhoneg, Skol Uhel ar Vro and other Breton language agencies could establish direct liaison with the Deputy Ministry For Language Policy in the Basque country of Spain and the Directorate General of Language Policy in Catalonia in order to benefit from what Basques and Catalans have learned about what works and what does not work in regards to strengthening a weakened language among younger sectors of the population because both Euzkadi and Catalonia are examples of where like in Brittany the challenge is to arrest language decline in very specific age groups. This is particularly true of western Brittany. Other bodies which could prove to be useful because of their similar role are Bwrrd Yr Iaith Gymraeg/The Welsh Language Board, Foras na Gaeilge/The Irish Language Board and Comhdáil Násiunta na Gaeilge/The National Association of Irish. With regards to eastern Brittany the same broad principles apply despite a somewhat different linguistic history. Here no pool of native speakers has existed since the middle ages but unless Breton-speaking communities are formed, particularly in urban centres such as Nantes/Naoned and Rennes/Roazhon and indeed on a canton wide basis than there can be no question of establishing Breton as a widespread vehicle of communication on a par with French. Here too, just as in western Brittany programs encompassing the wider community must be implemented among all age groups not merely school age children. Breton speaking families have to be encouraged to cluster together as much as is possible so as to facilitate joint social and communal activities coordinated for them. As Basque has proved during the 1980's and 1990's it is possible to strengthen a weakened language among younger sectors of the population and indeed within the family even after that language has been confined to older sectors of the population (as Breton now is in western Brittany).

During the past quarter century between 1975 and 2000 Breton has made phenomenal progress. Relying largely on local initiative and resources, though to a significant extent inspired by Welsh, Basque and even Canadian initiatives in bilingualism and bilingual education, Bretons have in effect reestablished the infrastructure of a Breton speaking society. Breton medium schools are a reality and it is clear that their growth will continue, very probably to the point where a quarter or more of Breton primary and secondary students are being educated primarily through Breton. Also in media Breton is already a modest success story, Télé Breizh the Breton language television network, Radio Kreizh Breizh, and Radio Arvorig with their increasing influence, the large and increasing number of newspapers and magazines in Breton.

In addition the climate has changed favourably on behalf of Breton. Breton public opinion solidly supports the hard won gains by Breton in the schools, municipal administration and elsewhere. France too has changed to some extent for the better in its position on minority languages and signed the European Charter of Minority languages in Budapest on May 7 of 1999. Ratification of the treaty by the French Government will inevitably follow. French public opinion has also grown somewhat more tolerant on this issue as 67% recently stated in a poll that they supported the use of regional languages in schools. Clearly France too, not just Brittany is changing. The new pro-active attitude towards the Breton language by the Breton people themselves however probably is more important than any change in state policy. The old stigma of Breton as a language for farmers, fishermen and old people is gone, replaced by a new pride in Breton as a modern language, a Celtic language and a desirable element of the Breton heritage. Without this change of heart on the part of the Breton people towards their language none of the very considerable achievements which have been attained in the past quarter century could have taken place.

Nevertheless it is difficult not to see the strong parallel between Breton and her sister Celtic language Irish. Much has been achieved yet the main problem facing Breton has not been addressed - the reestablishment of the language at the family-home-neighborhood-community level on any scale whatsoever. Time will tell - probably within the next generation - whether Bretons can 1; recognise this fact and 2; successfully meet the challenge.

In addition those who are working for the Breton language have to bear in mind the complexities of the Breton identity itself. Many Bretons regard themselves as only Breton, others as only French while the majority appear to fall somewhere in between. This strong attachment to the French language, to French culture and indeed to France itself - demonstrated during two world wars by an almost fanatical devotion to France as evidenced by the fact that in both world wars the Breton level of enrollment in the French armed forces was higher than for other sectors of the French population. The fact that 85% of the Free French naval forces were Breton during World War II is only one example of this. Nationalism has long been on the scene in Brittany but thus far the majority of Bretons have rejected independence and even autonomy hence it would appear that Bretons are still pursuing a more pluralistic and federal France which they can call home while at the same time pursuing cultural autonomy for their region. True, the more robust Celtic nationalism of Ireland, Scotland and Wales has not gone unnoticed in Brittany and despite the relatively mild aspirations of Bretons today Breton nationalism has yet to take on the stronger dimensions that nationalism has assumed in Scotland and Québec for example. That said it should be noted that nationalism is a reality in Brittany with a recent poll taken in Brittany indicating that 23% of the population did in fact support independence while 42% opposed it with the rest of those surveyed lying somewhere in between.

So clearly while Bretons are stubbornly determined to keep their ancient Celtic tongue they are also equally keen to retain French as a valuable tool in the modern world hence it is clear that what Bretons are really pursuing is bilingualism unlike those activists who have laboured on behalf of Québec French in the present (in pursuit of French only) or Hebrew in Palestine during the the 1920's (in pursuit of Hebrew only) and made no secret of their aspirations towards a unilingual Hebrew speaking society. Regionalism and nationalism have affected Brittany just as the other smaller nationalities of Europe but the future result will be one tailored to suit Breton needs and desires not those dictated by others.

It is clear to anyone who has spent time in Brittany that there is a vast undercurrent among the people to see their language live. The reverses suffered by the language in this century are deeply regretted by the people and they truly wish to see it survive, even if they are sometimes at a loss to say how this may be done. Just how the various challenges of formulating and implementing policies geared towards greater Bretonization of the schools, the family, the community, the various media, the civil service, effectively mobilising public support and participation in such programs not to mention the need to work with and sometimes around a largely centralised French bureaucracy - are met, will determine what the future holds for Breton.

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Proposals and Suggestions of the Nominoë Study and How They Fit Into the Different Stages of Reversing Language Shift     Return to Top

The main thrust of the proposals is a two-stage policy or approach to Bretonization for Brittany:

The first stage is a policy of Bretonization in Breizh Izel or western Brittany beginning in 2002 or thereabouts so as not to overextend the limited financial resources of the Breton language bodies such as Ofis ar Brezhoneg, Diwan, Skol Uhel ar Vro, the Cultural Council of Brittany etc. and also in order to immediately address the issue of the declining Breton speaking population in Breizh Izel whose Breton speaking ability must be used as soon as possible.

The second stage would be the extension of a policy of Bretonization to eastern Brittany beginning about 2010.

Bretonization Incorporating The Principles of Reversing Language Shift

This policy of Bretonization should ultimately entail:

1.) The establishment of new Breton-speaking communities in each canton, (initially the cantons of western Brittany but later to be followed by the cantons and towns of eastern Brittany). New Breton speaking communities are the most central tenet of stage 6.
2.) The continued establishment of new Breton medium schools in each canton by the Diwan, Div Yezh and Dihun organisations with priority being given to Breizh Izel during the next decade. This corresponds to the Stage 4 level but is necessary for stage 6 to take root.
3.) The establishment of a new organisation to assist young families who wish to raise their children in Breton. Existing language agencies are already overtaxed and such a new body whose mandate is the establishment of new Breton-speaking communities would signify an unequivocal commitment and link to stage 6 efforts.
4.) The mounting of a publicity campaign aimed at young parents to raise their children in Breton and to use Breton at home. The Welsh Language Board is presently doing so and what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Again priority should initially be given to western Brittany. (also stage 6)
5.) Learning aids and counseling must be provided to young families who opt to raise their children in Breton. Booklets on parenting skills in Breton, poems, games for children in Breton, prayers, riddles, songs, reading readiness in Breton, etc. Such services and supplies so necessary in any serious attempt to rebuild family and community life in Breton could best be provided by the new organisation recommended above - to coordinate the rebuilding of Breton language use at stage 6.
6.) Grandparenting and babysitting in Breton free of charge is another crucial course which must be made available all over western Brittany while there is still time to utilise the large numbers of older Breton speakers. Such a service might be coordinated by Skol an Emsav because of it's links with adult learners or even Ofis ar Brezhoneg but however linkages are established with older native Breton speakers they provide valuable backup for stage 6 efforts in general.
7.) The expansion of the Dudi Breton-speaking youth groups to every community. Youth groups in Breton are not merely backup for stage 6 but are an actual part of the process of providing a Breton-speaking environment for youth outside of school.
8.) The establishment of a Breton medium University. Diwan aspires to establish one at Carhaix/Karaez in 2005 but it cannot be overstressed how important it is to have such an institution whether at Carhaix or anywhere else. Efforts to expand Breton at University level fall within the range of stage 1 and hence are greatly dependent on the success of earlier efforts at the stage 4 and stage 6 levels.
9.) The expansion of the K.E.A.V. organisation to every community so that Breton language learners everywhere in Brittany have access to summer facilities where they can practice their Breton. (this is at the stage 5 level but again is necessary backup).
10.) The establishment of a daily newspaper in the Breton language perhaps subsidised by the Cultural Council of Brittany. (stage 2)
11.) The continued expansion of Breton on radio and television. Télé Breizh which began broadcasts on September 1, 2000 in Breton for 17 hours a day was a major victory in the battle to save the Breton language. An increase in Breton language broadcasts on other television and radio stations should continue and can help reinforce the position of the language in the media. (stage 2)
12.) A policy of Bretonization must be extended to the workplace. Ofis ar Brezhoneg is already assisting organisations, municipalities and private companies that ask for guidance regarding terminology in the Breton language. The project by André Lavanant to launch new Breton speaking business enterprises is a good example of what must be undertaken. (stage 3)
13.) The campaign to secure official status for the Breton language in all five departments of Brittany must be increased and intensified. Only then can Breton language use be extended with the civil service at all levels of administration whether on a municipal or a departmental or a regional level. Indeed all of the efforts and recommendations mentioned above will be fortified when official status for Breton becomes a reality. Unfortunately language is a political issue and long-term efforts to strengthen Breton cannot in reality ignore the legal status of the language (or lack thereof).
14.) The planned establishment of more Skol an Emsav classes for adults in more Breton communities to help expand adult literacy in Breton. At present about 9,000 adults across Brittany are enrolled in Breton language classes. (In Wales there are about 23,000) (stages 8 and 5)
15.) A publicity campaign be mounted to attract Breton speakers in Paris, northern France and Belgium back to the new Breton speaking communities in Brittany. Financial and political constraints are a consideration here it is true but the present and past efforts by the Irish Government to attract Gaelic speakers back to western Ireland did in fact have some success and increasing the Irish speaking population. Hence such a strategy may also secure some success for Breton. (stage 6)

Marcel Texier
Diarmuid Ciarán ÓNéill

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