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France: Taking a Stand for Regional Languages

[All links are in French, unless stated otherwise]

On March 31, 2012, several simultaneous events took place in France's major cities, driven by the overarching goal of showing an unfailing support to regional as well as indigenous languages. These demonstrations took place three weeks prior to the French presidential election and showed a strong citizen commitment in favor of the recognition of regional and indigenous languages.

Participants called for the endorsement of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages [en]. Even though the treaty was signed by France in 1999, it has never been ratified. The participating associations are asking the presidential candidates to take a stand on the status of regional languages. As of today, regional languages are considered unconstitutional because the French State doesn't recognize minorities.

Demonstration in Toulouse on March 31, 2012. Photo by @elpasolibre on Twitter

Demonstration in Toulouse on March 31, 2012. Photo by @elpasolibre on Twitter

A real political and legal imbroglio is surrounding these languages and their recognition due to people's prejudices and lack of knowledge about the issue. One hopes that a change of perspective is in the works.  The amendment introduced to the Constitution in 2008, seemed to pave the way for the definition of a status for these languages in addition to their teachings in schools. Nicolas Sarkozy had cut short these hopes arguing that such a procedure would lead to a community-based cultural evolution which is not compatible with a unified country.

Many local representatives  and regional representatives attended these events which brought together thousands of people in Toulouse, Quimper, Strasbourg, Bayonne, Perpignan and Ajaccio (Official hashtag on Twitter: #op31m):

@fredverbeke#Deiadar: 7000 demonstrators in favor of  the formalization of Basque language in Bayonne!!!! bit.ly/HvvCCx
@urtzai: Breton language  is supported by 12000, Catalan by 8000, #Euskara by 7000, Corsican by 2000 and Occitan by 30000! #kolosala #deiadar
The front page of the  Télégramme newspaper : "Le Breton, a living language ". Photo : @letelegramme on  Twitter

The front page of the Télégramme newspaper : "Le Breton, a living language ". Photo : @letelegramme on Twitter

@elpasolibre: Hurray! 6 000 comrades in Perpignan, 12 000 in Quimper, 3 000 in Strasbourg, 30 000 in Toulouse, 7 000 in Bayonne #deiadar
@caillonm: Human chain in front of Ajaccio Prefecture in defense of Corsican language. #op31M

@la_setmana posted an online photo gallery of the demonstration held in Toulouse. Langues régionales blog, cites more resources in addition to  a flow of real time tweets with the hashtag #op31M.

Méridianes has posted videos of the events showing various positions and debates as they ocurr. Until now, François Hollande (the Socialist Party candidate) is in favor of a status recognizing minority languages while Nicolas Sarkozy (UMP and party in power) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Left party) are showing their opposition to the project, Finistère Deputy Jean-Jacques Urvoas points out on his self-titled blog:

Pour le premier [c.-à-d. Nicolas Sarkozy], « aimer la France » c’est tout simplement  « refuser de ratifier la charte des langues minoritaires » !!! […]

Quant à Jean Luc Mélenchon, on se rappelle qu’il avait dans un débat au Sénat qualifié Diwan de « secte » et qu’il avait dans le même endroit proclamé sa fierté d’être  » jacobin, ne parlant que la langue française – et l’espagnol, langue de mes grands-parents. » Personne ne songe évidemment à lui en disputer le droit. […]

For the former [i.e. Nicolas Sarkozy], “To love France” means simply «to  refuse to ratify the minority languages charter”!!! [...]As for Jean Luc Mélenchon, we remember him qualifying Diwan as a “sect” in a debate in the senate and also having proclaimed his pride in being ”a jacobin” (ed note: a historical french revolutionary party) , only speaking French language and Spanish the language of my grand-parents.” Evidently, no body thinks of contending with him for that right. [...]

The issue of the status of regional languages is open not only with regards to presidential candidates. The readers’ comments on Bigbrowser blog, following the post announcing the 31 March demo, are also mixed:

Xavi: The importance of Regional Languages? For Whom? For What? I'm not convinced that it's crucial to grant all local dialects an official status. I live in Spain and I witness the havoc that the linguistic division ended up creating. Thank God, in France, only French is the official language.

Language is part of the ties uniting all fellow citizen of a country: Let us not capitulate and yield to these communitarian claims.

ericparis11: With such type of arguments, we will soon reach the point where we will soon tell Quebecker, that it is time to relinquish their ‘patois’ and speak the majority language of the country where they live, i.e. English for instance.
And it's within that same type of thinking that tomorrow all European Commission Documents and of the parliament will be in English, as for “the minorities”, (French, German, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Finnish and others speaking in Dutch or Portuguese) well they will have to live with this so logical and Cartesian “simplification”.
In fact, should our French researchers and teachers still use for the purpose of their work a language as obsolete and as rarely used as Molière's native tongue ?  This is already happening – clearly to the benefit of  our country's radiance around the world…

Elg: Ah… Regional languages! It's always that topic kindling passions, murderers from one side but idolatrous from the other!

While the best thing we can do is to get some balance. Knowing the Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Occitan or Basque does not live differently from people who do not speak a minority language. We can just read, write, speak and understand one more language!

thiziri: And when we don't have particular roots with a territory what language do we speak? neither Basque, nor Breton, nor Catalan etc living with a stranger, which already means two languages at home. In which school shall we place our children?

This debate scares me since it supposes belonging to a territory to which we identify. But for this, for how many generations should have we been living there? and stay for the rest of our lives.. I feel I am French and nothing else, I can't help it, it is my history and it doesn't bother me that some people wish to speak another language but they shouldn't forget the other French who also have the right to live with one single language. That too means tolerance.

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