Saturday, December 18, 2004

Brittany on the offensive

The regional council of Brittany, fed up with the national government's dormancy with regard to the protection of local culture and language, has decided that both Breton (the Celtic patois) and Gallo (the local Romance language) will be taught alongside French in their schools. The decision, taken by the left-socialist coalition, is a reaction not only to French cultural policy but to the unwillingness to ratify the European Charter for Regions and Minority Languages, which protects the rights of linguistic groups and works to preserve language (especially against homogenization of language throughout Europe, not just sub-national languages).

Breton, like other dialects, are disappearing as the population who speaks it is aging.
"Il y a urgence à intervenir. Le breton a été classé par l'Unesco comme langue en danger sérieux d'extinction", souligne Jean-Pierre Thomin. En 1983, on comptait encore 600 000 bretonnants (16,5% de la population des cinq départements). Ils ne sont plus que 300 000 locuteurs aujourd'hui , dont 64% ont plus de 60 ans, et 4% moins de 40 ans.
According to the loi Deixonne (1951), Breton can be taught in schools. However, state support for education has been weak, and most learning has occurred in special schools rather than within the larger state-sponsored schools.

In the larger sense, this decision may point to a larger shift within the politics of the French left. Recently, socialists took over many of the regional councils in France. It war, in part, a protest to the social reforms proposed by Chirac and Raffarin. Until now, it has not been clear that the left was interested in decentralization and deconcentration beyond using it as a position to critique Chirac's government. It appears that some socialists may be willing to develop the competencies of the French régions, stepping outside their historical interests in centralization.


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