Breton (Brezhoneg)

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Breton is an Insular Celtic language spoken in Brittany in the western parts of France and is closely related to Welsh and Cornish. Despite being spoken in continental Europe, Breton is an Insular Celtic language. In fact, Brittany received its name during the 6th century when Celts from the British Isles, particularly Wales and Cornwall, immigrated to the continent. There seems to have always been an uneasiness between the Celts and their Roman or Germanic neighbors. These tensions which existed as warfare along the borders of Brittany in the medieval times were recast as language suppression in more modern eras. Until the 20th century, Breton was banned from schools and people were punished for speaking it. Outside attitudes toward the Breton language and its revitalization are further complicated by the political history of Brittany, but Breton-speakers want their language to survive. Breton is now taught in schools, visible on road signs, and is largely associated with positive identities and unique musical traditions.


There are four traditional dialects of Breton: Kerneveg, Leoneg, Trezerieg, and Gwenedeg. These correspond with geography rather than linguistic distinctions. 


Over 200,000 people in Brittany, around 5.5% of the population (around 13% in Lower Brittany and 1% in Upper Brittany), speak Breton, with more having passive knowledge of the language. That said, it is suffering setbacks despite the energetic commitment of the Breton people to its continued use. Breton is threatened by a lack of public awareness and support from the central French government, an aging speaker population, and a fracture between native speakers and those “Neo-Breton speakers” who learn the language in schools. The Breton used by Neo-Breton speakers shares an interesting relationship with French that distinguishes it from the Breton of older generations: the phonology is converging with French but French loan words are being purged from the lexicon. The attitudes regarding the validity of these linguistic changes are not entirely positive, but the enthusiasm of Neo-Breton speakers plays a key role in the revival of the language and its passing on to the next generation.


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