Martin Boudier

Languages, the heritage of Brittany

Breton is a Celtic language from the Brythonic group. It arrived in Brittany at the same time as the Britons who migrated from what is now known as Great Britain between the 5th and 7th centuries. One hundred years ago, more than one million people spoke Breton, five times as many as today: according to a survey (Fañch Broudic – TMO) in 2007, 206,000 people speak the language, representing 5.5% of the population of historic Brittany, with three-quarters over the age of 70. Like French, Gallo is one of the Oïl languages, which belong to the Gallo-Romance group. Between 2 and 5% of the population in Brittany speaks Gallo.

Two languages seeking recognition

The languages of Brittany have long been without legal status and banned from being used in schools. In the 1950s, the use of Breton between families almost stopped, and the passing on of Gallo gradually came to an end.
In December 2004, Brittany unanimously adopted a language policy. This language policy was the subject of an update report, which was also unanimously adopted in March 2012. It sets objectives in the area of the transmission of the languages of Brittany and their presence in everyday life. The region affirms that "the existence of Breton and Gallo will be officially recognised as languages of Brittany alongside French".
In 2008, an amendment allowed for the integration of regional languages in the Constitution Française (Constitution of France) as belonging to "French heritage" (article 75-1), but the Conseil Constitutionnel (Constitutional Council) has since decided that it "does not establish a right or liberty guaranteed by the Constitution". The updating of the language policy therefore calls for a new amendment to the Constitution, the ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the adoption of a framework law to develop the languages of France.

Language teaching recovers

Since the establishment of the Diwan language immersion schools in 1977 and bilingual French-Breton classes in public (1983) and private (1990) schools, the number of children enrolled is increasing each year. From nursery to the lycée (a secondary school for 15-18 year olds), children can attend one of 413 bilingual establishments (with Breton, like French, being the language of instruction for some subjects). Of the 14,082 students that attended a bilingual or immersion school in 2011-12, 42% were enrolled in a public school, 33.2% in a Catholic private school and 24.7% in the Diwan association network.

Some public primary schools in Finistère offer an introduction to the Breton language. Collèges (secondary schools for 11-14 year olds) and lycées offer Breton and Gallo courses as an option or modern language. Thus, in secondary education, one in six schools offer Breton courses (102 collèges, 26 lycées), and Gallo is taught in seven collèges and seven lycées.

Extracurricular activities are being developed: in 2011, 41 trips to holiday camps were organised (including 2 were Gallo was spoken), with 676 children taking part.

Regarding the opportunities available for adults to learn Breton, around 5,000 people attended evening classes, short courses, longer vocational training courses (3 or 6 months) and distance learning courses between 2010 and 2011. There are also evening classes, workshops and courses to help adults learn Gallo.

Finally, the first Breton immersion nursery opened in Vannes in 2011.

Culture and media in Breton and Gallo

Cultural expression in Breton and Gallo (publishing, theatre, singing, music, performing arts, etc) has always helped to preserve the vitality of the languages of Brittany and pass on the linguistic heritage to the entire public.

The media also allows Bretons to hear their languages in everyday life. Thus, several radio stations broadcast in Breton (Arvorig FM, Radio Kerne, Radio Bro Gwened, Radio Kreiz Breizh and France Bleu Breizh Izel) and Gallo (Plum FM). Programmes in Breton are broadcast on some television channels (France 3, TVR, Ty Télé, Tébéo), and there is also a web channel entirely in Breton, Brezhoweb. A weekly newspaper (Ya!) and a monthly newspaper (Bremañ) are published exclusively in Breton (with Ya! featuring an article in Gallo), and other newspapers regularly publish articles, columns and games in both languages.

Breton in economic life

In 2006, around 900 jobs (full-time equivalents) requiring knowledge of Breton were filled by Breton speakers. These jobs were in the fields of education (75.5%), culture (10.9%), audiovisuals (6.2%), local governments and authorities (2.5%), and publishing (2.5%). It is estimated that in 2012, the figure should be around 1,200 jobs.


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