|Spoken in ...
|Number of speakers
|206.000 speakers in 2007 & 340.000 who can understand the language
|No official status
|Ofis Publik ar Brezhoneg / Public Board for the Breton Language
Short explanation about the history For more information (other web sites)
Breton: a Celtic language
Breton, the only Celtic language spoken on the continent
The Celtic languages, like Romance languages and Germanic languages, are Indo-European languages.
Today they are spoken in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. Cornish and Welsh are the languages most-closely related to Breton, the only Celtic language spoken in continental Europe. The Celtic languages, and especially Breton, are related to the Gaulish language, now extinct.
Four dialects are usually identified in Breton: cornouaillais, léonard, trégorrois and vannetais. The names of those dialects correspond to the 4 dioceses of Lower Brittany. However, there is no
clear-cut division between dialects that could prevent understanding. Throughout the 20th century, due to the development of bilingual education, the media and a modern Breton language
literature, a common language has emerged, with local variations. Today, speakers under 40 can read and write the language and they easily understand each other.
The settlement of Britons in Armorica
Breton comes from the island of Britain
The Celtic peoples who migrated to Armorica from the 5th century B.C. onwards brought with them their own language: Gaulish. It was spoken there until the end of the Roman Empire, even if Armorica had been quite Romanised, by that time.
Later, migrations from Wales, Devon and Cornwall, were to recelticize Armorica. Britons crossed over the Channel at the beginning of the Middle Ages (5th and 6th centuries) and settled down in the peninsula, giving it its new name, Brittany.
The new settlers brought great changes to Armorica. They stamped their presence by naming their settlements : plou (parish) as, for instance, in the name of Plougastell-Daoulaz, gwik (the middle of the parish) as in Gwimilio, lann (monastery, oratory) as in Lannuon, tre (inhabited place, village, ‘treve’, succursal church) as in Trevendel, lez (court, palace) as in Lesneven, bod (mansion, residence) as in Bodsorc’hel…
Declining after blooming
In the 9th century, the Breton state reached its peak. Bretons invaded parts of Normandy and Anjou. The capital of the kingdom was placed in the East side of Brittany, in the non Breton-speaking part of the country. The language of the elite was Latin, or rather Romance. Little by little the Breton language recessed westwards, and three different areas emerged:
In the East, Brittania Romana, an area where the Breton-speaking settlements were always in small numbers. Breton was to disappear soon;
West line Saint-Brieuc/Saint-Nazaire, Brittania Celtica, where the Breton language was to prevail;
And in the middle, a mixed area, where both languages were used and where the Romance language was eventually to prevail.
In the 16th century, the linguistic border came to a halt on a North-South line, from Saint-Brieuc to Saint-Nazaire. Today this linguistic border tends to disappear as standard French has spread everywhere and the Breton language has become a symbol of identity for all Bretons.
A thriving language
Breton as a medium of education
Since the 19th century Bretons have struggled for the recognition of their language by the ministries, according to the wishes of the people, but they have been confronted to the refusal of the Minister for Education. Parents then decided to create their own schools where Breton would be the means of education. The first Diwan school opened in 1977. Breton-French bilingual classes were then opened in public schools (1982) and in private Catholic schools (1991).
The figure of 13,000 pupils educated in bilingual classes (Diwan, public schools, Catholic schools) was reached in September 2009. For the Regional Council of Brittany, the development of the bilingual schools is one of the priorities of its linguistic policy.
Besides, around 15,000 pupils are taught Breton as a subject.
A professional asset
Breton classes for adults are quite popular too and they concern almost 5,000 people.
Recently, knowing Breton has become a professional asset to get a job. More than 1,200 jobs now require some knowledge of Breton, either in schools, in the media, in associations, in services, in local jobs…
Breton, a language for the 21st century
Some local authorities are engaged in programmes to promote the use of Breton in their fields of power. The Breton language conquers new areas, like trading, media, advertising, computing, banking… The Public Board for the Breton Language, with its Ya d’ar brezhoneg campaign, encourages and enhances those initiatives, in the private sector as well as among local authorities. Breton is the main Celtic language used on Wikipedia, which shows that the language is well established in the 21st century. OpenOffice, Skype, Mozilla, FireFox and Thunderbird softwares all have Breton versions.
A new attitude
The number of Breton-speakers is still decreasing but, thanks to the growing number of bilingual schools, there are more and more young people who can speak the language. In the same way, activities like dancing, acting, singing are full of life and cultural enthusiasm. The Breton language has wide support and it is used more and more in public life. Since 2010 and for the first time in its history, the Breton language has a public body which mission is to set up the linguistic policy entrusted by its members (State, regions, departments): the Public Board for the Breton Language.