Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bastille Day: The Languages of France

Today France celebrates Bastille Day, the French National Day, which is known as La Fête Nationale in French. In honour of the occasion, we thought we'd take a look at some of the languages spoken in the country, excluding French since we already covered it a while back in its own language profile. With today being a Sunday, most of the country will be shaking off a gueule de bois from the undoubtedly wine-fuelled celebrations that commenced yesterday evening. You can sit back, relax, and learn a bit more about the minority languages spoken in a country where the past relationship between the state and minority languages could be considered tense at best. Nowadays things are better and many of the languages have some degree of official status or legal recognition.

Bastille Day fireworks in Carcassonne, France.
German Dialects

Alsatian is France's most popular "native" language. We use the term "native" sparingly as Alsace, the region where it is predominantly spoken, has changed hands quite frequently between France and Germany. The language is technically a dialect of German and doesn't possess Latin roots unlike many of France's other minority languages. In total, Alsatian is spoken by nearly 1.5% of the population. Lorraine Franconian is another dialect of German that holds official status in France, and is spoken by around 0.2% of the population. Lorraine Franconian is closely related to Alsatian, too.


The group of languages known as Occitan, which includes the dialects Languedocian, Gascon, and Provençal, is the second largest group of languages spoken across France. The language in its >entirety accounts for around 1.3% of the population of France. The Languedocian dialect is spoken in, you've guessed it, Languedoc, the Gascon dialect in Gascony, and Provençal in Provence, so you really shouldn't have any problem remembering who speaks which dialect where. Occitan is also spoken in some areas of northern Spain.

Langues d'oïl

The langues d'oïl are a group of languages, or more correctly a dialect continuum, which is spoken from northern and central France to Belgium and Switzerland. Though only around 570,000 speak the language, due to the geographic dispersion of the language, differences can be vast and complicated and the classification of the languages and dialects is still disputed.

Josselin Castle alongside the River Oust in Brittany.

One of France's most out of place languages is the Celtic language of Breton. In Brittany, or Bretagne in French, the language is undergoing recovery after its UNESCO classification as an endangered language. Recently, there has been an increase in the number of children attending bilingual classes in the region. The language also has around 270,000 speakers. L'aise Breizh!

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