• France's news in English

Hypocrisy? France and its regional languages

Joshua Melvin · 23 Jan 2014, 14:40

Published: 23 Jan 2014 14:40 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Protecting the French language is so important in Gallic culture that the country has an official body tasked with keeping creeping Anglicization at bay.

Yet at the same time France is home to over two million speakers of several regional languages, which successive governments have appeared reluctant to protect and promote in the same way. 

Needless to say this stance of "one country one language", which dates back to the French Revolution, has led to accusations of double standards.

Although France made the symbolic move to sign the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages - originally drawn up in 1992 - Paris has never ratified it. It has been a source of discontent in regions like Brittany, the Basque country and Corsica.

This week French lawmakers took another crack at it, reopening the long-standing debate over the issue of France and its apparent refusal to accept its regional languages.

But once again ratification of the document seems decidedly doubtful because it collides with a sacred and founding notion of the French Republic, a campaigner from Brittany tells The Local.

“In France the Republic is singular, indivisible and must have only one language, or so the thinking goes,” Yann An Aod, a leader of Kelc'h Sevenadurel Gwened, a Breton cultural promotion group said. “The regions interest the country’s leaders, but only from a cultural point of view, as a place to visit as a tourist.”

For An Aod the current debate is somewhat hypocritical. France seeks to promote its language throughout the world, he said, but barely lifts a finger to protect its own cultural diversity at home.

“In France we are told we must have one centre of power and only one language, it’s that way of thinking,” he said. 

France lagging behind most of Europe

The French now number 66 million, and among them there are over 2.2 million speakers of regional languages like Breton and Corsican, according to a recent survey carried out by FLAREP, an organization that promotes the teaching of these languages in state schools. France’s border region near Germany, including the department of Alsace, counts over 750,000 speakers of Alsatian, among its population.

The strong grassroots support for regional languages saw tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets in 2012 calling for Paris to ratify a charter, which most other European countries have been happy to adopt. 

Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are among the 25 nations that have ratified that pact. France, Italy, Russia and five other nations have not gone further than the largely symbolic act of adding their signature.

Story continues below…

The problem for speakers of Breton, Basque, Alsatian and the like is that the same barrier remains in place. France’s top legal advisor, the Counsel of State (Conseil d’état), said in March 2013 that the charter would introduce “a fundamental inconsistency into the constitution.”

President François Hollande promised to show that France has moved on. In his 2012 campaign he vowed to finally officially adopt the charter, but that promise, like others he has made, does not look like being kept.

But there are some who still hold out hope.

“In the end the ratification of the charter is inevitable,” Fulup Jacq, head of the Public Office of Breton Language told newspaper Le Figaro. “It springs from a fundamental movement in society.”

The proposal that provoked a heated debate in parliament this week includes an effort to work around France’s attachment to its language. The proposal would accord no “collective rights” to the speakers of regional languages, though it would still offer to promote and protect them, French daily Libération reported.
A vote on the proposal is set to take place in the coming weeks but the battle between France and its regions will no doubt rumble on a lot longer.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France migrant crisis
Migrant crisis won't end with Calais 'Jungle' closure
All Photos: AFP

The Jungle camp may be being cleared but this won't be the end of the migrant crisis in France.

How Paris is rapidly becoming Europe's 'City of Innovation'
Photo: AFP

If you want to start a company then Paris is the place to do it, it seems.

'Jungle' clearance: Migrants begin to leave Calais camp
All photos: AFP

The "Jungle" clearance is underway.

France’s 'Jungle' children arrive in UK
Authorities will start to clear the ‘Jungle’ migrant camp on Monday. Photo: Denis Charlet / AFP file picture

The first group of children from the French "Jungle" migrant camp with no connection to Britain have arrived in the country, the Home Office said Sunday, ahead of the camp's planned demolition.

French FM calls for end to Aleppo 'massacre'
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says the international community cannot ‘come to a negotiation under the bombs’. Photo: Dominick Reuter / AFP file picture

France's foreign minister urged the international community to "do everything" to end the "massacre" in the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday after fighting resumed following a 72-hour truce declared by Damascus ally Russia.

Parisians cheer on protesting French police
French police officers on Saturday demonstrated for the fifth night in a row to protest mounting attacks on officers. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

Angry French police have taken to the streets for five nights in a row -- and Parisians have started to cheer them on, reviving scenes last seen following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in 2015.

Scarlett Johansson turns popcorn girl in Paris
US actress Scarlett Johansson greets customers at the Yummy Pop gourmet popcorn shop in the Marais district of Paris. Photo: Benjamin Cremel / AFP

Hollywood superstar Scarlett Johansson swapped the red carpet for a turn behind the counter at her new popcorn shop in Paris on Saturday.

US couple donates huge art collection to Paris
Marlene (centre) and Spencer (right) are donating their collection ‘for the benefit of art lovers’. Photo: Thomas Samson / AFP

A Texan couple who discovered their love for art during a trip to Paris in the 1970s are to donate the multi-million dollar collection they have amassed since to the French capital.

France to clear 'Jungle' migrant camp Monday
Migrants will be bussed from the camp to some 300 temporary accommodation centres around France. Photo: Denis Charlet/ AFP

The "Jungle" migrant camp on France's northern coast will be cleared of its residents on Monday before being demolished, authorities said Friday.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
A market in Eymet, southwestern France. Photo: AFP

Foreigners in France explain how life has changed over the years.

How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
The ups and downs of being both French and English
How Brexit vote has changed life for expats in France
Twelve French insults we'd love to have in English
jobs available