Kemper, Breizh (Quimper, Brittany), 2012
Kemper, Breizh (Quimper, Brittany), 2012

Once again the political establishment in France has shown its opposition to any recognition of the cultural rights of the historic nations that currently lie within the administration of the French Republic. From a report in EurActiv:

“French centre-right MEPs voted against a resolution on endangered regional languages, passed by a large majority in the European Parliament this week, claiming that it violated the unity of the French Republic. 

With 92%, EU lawmakers gave their overwhelming backing on Wednesday (11 September) to a report, prepared by the Green group, aimed at protecting endangered and minority languages across Europe.

Drafted by Corsican MEP François Alfonsi (Greens/EFA), the resolution called on EU member states to set up action plans to promote endangered languages and for countries such as France and Greece which had not ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages to implement it immediately.

MEPs also demanded more financing and concrete policy measures to help preserve the EU’s linguistic diversity.

The majority of MEPs even from countries which had not or had no intention of the ratifying the Council of Europe’s Charter for Regional and Minority Languages backed the report, which is not legally binding.

But the strongest opponents were MEPs from the French centre-right UMP party, with 14 of them abstaining and 8 voting against the resolution. Among them were some prominent politicians such as former Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, a close ally of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

At the beginning of his mandate, President François Hollande announced he would ratify the charter, but backed down in the first half of 2013. In France, minority languages often belong to regions with a separatist history, such as Corsica or the Basque Country, making it a sensitive subject among the public.

However, MEPs in EU countries with separatist regions did not reject Mr Alfonsi’s report, as it is non-binding. In France, only those French Conservatives and far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen and far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said no to the report.

Out of 255 languages currently spoken across Europe, 128 are listed as endangered languages and 90 are “severely endangered” according to Unesco’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.

In France, languages native to Burgundy, Picard and Lorrain are considered “severely endangered, while the Spanish dialect Gascon is “definitely endangered” and Dalmatian in Croatia is considered “extinct”. The UN predicts that half of the world’s 6,000 languages will become extinct by the end of the century.

The process, however, is neither inevitable nor irreversible, Unesco said, as policies can support the efforts of speaker communities to maintain or revitalise their native tongues.

Cultivating endangered languages requires financial backing and strategies to help and fund training, education, media and research programmes throughout Europe, say the supporters of the report.“

Of course, over a decade after the signing of the multi-party Belfast Agreement of 1998 which brought an end to the Irish-British conflict in the north-east of Ireland, we are still waiting for the regional Irish Language Act that was promised in the peace accords. In fact we are as far away from genuine equal rights for Irish-speaking citizens and communities with their English-speaking peers as we were at the height of the Northern War.

3 comments on “France Says No – Again!

  1. France, in relation to languages, has a strong fascistic tendency which cuts across right and left. The constantly get away with it.Were Serbia, Russia, Estonia or some other eastern European nation not to ratify this charter then there’d be articles in the press about the narrow minded and nationalistic ‘balkan’ tendencies in the state. For some reason France doesn’t get this stick. I refuse to make any effort to learn French and will speak English in France because I have no respect for the state.

    However, I have to take issue with this figure of 255 languages spoken in Europe. Unless they are counting immigrant languages like Bengali, Punjabi, Arabic, Mandarin, Igbo etc there there is no way that we get even close to 100 languages.

    I also have to take some issue with the plethora of Romance dialect continiuums which you list – Picard, Gascon, Lorraine etc? These are languages, really? I know the debate about the definition of languages and that Macedonian and Bulgarian or Croatian and Serbian; Danish or Swedish are recognised as languages when they could be just as easily seen as the same languages. To some extent we have to accept that if people define themselves as Croat as to opposed to Serbian or Bosnian speakers then that’s it.

    But I think by the beginning of the 21st century unless a language has some cannon of published literature and contemporary material, unless it’s a medium of instruction in schools then it isn’t a language. It is effectively dead. This definition doesn’t include Breton or Cornish or Scots Gaelic or Galician as they do have a cannon of literature – contemporary literature – and are mediums of instructions in schools. They would have more had the state not stifiled it. But, frankly I don’t think we can call Picard a language any more nor Gascon. It’s almost a fettish to do so as it’s impossible to revive a language or dialect which are parts of a larger language continium which all Picards / Ullands / Gascons speak. Heavens – it’s difficult enough with a small language like Welsh or Irish who do posses an impressive history of literature and contemporary expression and community in the language.

    My back of a packet estimation is that there about 60 languages in Europe (not indluding Caucases). The languages of immigrants don’t count. The faustian pacts an immigrant makes – any immigrant – is that they will better themselves financially by emigrating but that they will lose their identity.If immigrants won’t accept that, then they shouldn’t emigrate. Many of use have made a conscious decision not to move to England for work for this very reason – that our children will not be Welsh/Irish speaking.


    • Some good points. I tend to agree that there is a distinction between language and dialect, though the latter can certainly develop to become the former.

      I would hate to see the loss of any languages or dialects but unfortunately I do believe we need to prioritise distinct languages and cultures in their own right (and dialects within those endangered or minority tongues). That is the hard facts though in successfully reviving distinct languages we can then apply those rules to other dialectal tongues.

      What frustrates me the most is the knowledge that Irish would be a relatively easy language to revive as the majority speech of the nation of Ireland over the space of 50 years. It could be done. It simply takes the willingness of the state in co-operation with its people to make it happen. The truth is that willingness is lacking and always has done so. The Anglophone lobby is simply too powerful, too entrenched, too self-sustaining.

      Which is why I always argue that language revival is a political act. It cannot be anything but political.

      Political acts brought English to the forefront. Political acts will push it to the back again.

      Language action without political action – at some stage – is a waste of time.


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