Breton : The fight to save a language

“No spitting on the ground or speaking Breton.” This notice was displayed in most school playgrounds around France after World War 2. This was after Breton activists, suspected of having collaborated with the Germans, were killed. Breton was then banned in public schools. This limited the language to being spoken at home or with family members only. This led many parents not to want to pass on the language to their children as they feared that it would lead to the stigmatization of the children. In any case, Breton was viewed as being backward and to make it in society one had to learn French.

Breton is at the risk of dying, with most Breton speakers being well advanced in age. By the start of the 20th century, about 2 million people spoke Breton. Currently, 250,000 people speak the language, which has now been classified as being severely endangered by UNESCO. With most Breton speakers being 70 years and above, the language is approximated to be losing 100,000 speakers every year. If the situation is not controlled, there will be only about 70,000 speakers in 10 years time. What has made matters worse is the fact that France has not ratified the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, which helps in the campaign for the protection of cultural diversity in Europe.

Breton is a Celtic language that is spoken in Brittany, France. It is closely related to the Welsh and Cornish language and distantly related to Irish Scottish Galeic and Manx. The language descended from the Celtic British language which came from Great Britain. Breton has absorbed words from different languages such as French, Latin and some Gaulish languages. Fortunately, Breton has not been completely obliterated despite all the odds against it. This can be attributed to the efforts of various groups and individuals such as the clergy, aristocrats and Romanticists who have fought through the centuries for the preservation of the language. More recently, the publication of various literature, availability of teaching resources and a Breton dictionary, have helped to ground the language.

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