In defence of Regional Languages
Above all you mustn’t mislead people, because when you deceive people, you know, there are some examples in Yugoslavia, the people were deceived, they held the people under a weight of lead at a given moment with a hard and dictatorial regime and one day the (situation) explodes. Well, it’s the same in Provence. We are in the same condition. With different conditions, we will not take up arms; it’s not in our nature. We fight with our ideas and through representation.
Jean-Pierre Richard, president of the Collectif Prouvenco, knows well how to attract people’s attention. But if the civil war in Provence is not only for today nor very probably (just) for tomorrow, the passions to which one appeals are very real. How to defend regional cultures in a world where the push for centralisation, indeed for globalization, seems to be able to crush everything in its way.
First of all we must have agreement on a strategy. And in the south of France is where the problems begin. From Spain in the west to Italy in the east, you can hear at least a dozen variations of a language, which resemble one another but are in reality different. At the beginning of the 20th century some intellectuals from the south gave birth to the “occitaniste” movement. Their goal is to unite all these cultures under on single name “la langue d’oc”, of which the regional variants will be called “dialects”: le limousine, l’auvergnat, le Provencal...
M Richard a son of Provence, remembers the day on which he, he met these ideas for the first time:
We met with a member of parliament who wanted to have information as to...just that, to know if the language “d’oc was likely to unify, etc. He wanted to propose some things to the national assembly. And there...much to my astonishment. I discovered we didn’t live in Provence but in l’Occitanie, that our language wasn’t provencal but l’occitan and that everything was “occitanisant” or “occitanisable” I didn’t know what to say. And there with others we said to ourselves “wait! It’s a dream; we have heard some things, some people who shout out saying our language isn’t Provencal but l’occitan. Finally I said we cannot leave it like this! Because it is also linked to our identity.
At the Institute d’Estudis Occitans relations with the Collectif Prouvenco are cold, to say the least. We proudly insist that there is common history which unites all the languages of the south:
The village burnt. Some soldiers cried in the streets waving lighted torches, they would become enemies. Who knows? In time of war everything is mixed up and soldiers are all soldiers.
So l’occitan is a language spoken mainly in the south of France, let’s say in the southern third of France and it’s spoken in the form of different local varieties, that’s to say le provencal, le languedocien, le gasgon, le limousin, which we also call dialects. That’s to say a dialect is a variety of a language.
To justify this position we give as evidence intellectual heritage, with a more realistic approach to the place of regional languages in today’s society.
So the social usage of l’occitan continues to diminish because today the people who speak it are mainly country folk born before the Second World War but l’occitan continues to be used, let’s say by a small group of intellectuals, by militants and especially in the production of literature.
It is of little importance the name you give to it, the history of languages from the south of France have much fascinated the curious:
To begin with the Occitan literature was the first literature in Europe, in a romance tongue since before this it was only written in Latin. It’s the poetry of troubadours who were the Occitan poets. The poetry of the troubadours from the twelfth century, from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries which has given birth to the lyrical European poetry and which has spread throughout all Europe. In prose, from the thirteenth century, it was from the biographies of troubadours, the biographies more or less imaginary. They are called the “Lives” the lives of troubadours. The main thing which emerged after 1490, notably in the edicts of Charles VI, was the wish to exclude Latin. You cannot say yet “in French, in the language of the King” but he said that the acts must be written in the common language or in the language of the people concerned as there was at first a widespread liberal standpoint which dominated which was the willingness to move away from Latin. Then at the beginning of the 16th century this became more entrenched. The edition of Villiers-Cotterets says clearly “in the French mother tongue and no other way”. That’s to say there is a development between.....in the space of fifty (years) when it really passed let’s say from a desire to exclude Latin and once Latin is excluded to impose real French, the language of the king, on everyone, so finally in the non-native speaking regions Latin was replaced by another Latin since French was not the language of the region.
After 1550 there were many writers who wrote in Occitan but after this time it became, how would you say...a militant act. This is what is explained by the poet Gascon Pey de Garros who wrote...he said moreover that he had chosen to write in gasgon...that’s to say to support the honour of the country and to maintain her dignity.
A lovely story, to be sure, but for the supporters of Provence like Henri Feraud de l’Union Prouvencao, the only small difficulty is that it is not theirs....
I challenge you to find for example a prince of Occitanie or a king of Occitanie. If we, we have been ...we have queens or kings in the history of Provence there never was a political Occitanie. It is a romantic vision which was created at the end of the 19th century and which is widespread today.
If you like when you go to the Grand Sud-Ouest and me I tell you once again I pass all my holidays there and as I go there what is their identity, what is their culture? They have rugby, they have foie gras, they have literature to some extent, they have a little of .... very little of the theatre, they have no folklore moreover they deny folklore because it bothers them in some parts that we wear the (traditional) costume like the Bretons, it’s like the big regional entities. And well for us it is the same. The costume we wear whether it be from the Cote d’Azure or from Arles....the people from Arles have an extraordinary beauty.
At the Felibrige, an association founded 150 years ago to defend the culture of the Oc region, we preach unity and peace. Alain Guiony and Francine Prigent-Picard explain to us that instead of fighting amongst themselves the militants must persuade the central powers to respect their traditions. To start with the French government hasn’t yet ratified the European charter for regional languages...
Nowadays at the national ministry for education, for some years there has been a movement, there is a CAPES of the Provencal language of regional languages in all the regions, there are some teachers but it is rather at the discretion of the head of the establishment. The hours are always the hours between mid-day and two for the pupils or in the evening, it’s a bit discouraging to go there(at that time) and ultimately if a teacher or a head teacher has to make a choice between a regional language and mathematics, well it’s sure he will go for the mathematics, for sure. There isn’t....You must through the recognition of the language.....There was a means of.....not of obligation but if an establishment anticipated during it’s development, in it’s courses the hours for the Provencal language or the Breton language or others, well it will actually be done. They are afraid of separating the regions. There are extremists, that’s true everywhere, there are Corsicans who detonate bombs and the Bretons, there are the Basques also, there are extremists everywhere. So we fight against some articles of the French constitution, that we don’t call into question because it is all there and I think the constitution of the French republic is quite good.
No but there is just one remark to make on the subject, it’s this, at present France having not ratified this charter cannot enter into Europe anymore because it’s one of the conditions now, for many years it has been one of the conditions. So, if France presents her candidature she will not enter into Europe because of this article.
The defence of regional languages is surely a battle lost in advance. The younger generations have their eyes fixed on far horizons, the regional languages have not acquired the vocabulary which corresponds to to-days world, the commercial world pushes us all in the direction of uniformity.....The battle is lost except if you have the imagination to believe in it like Henri Feraud:
If I take my family, I have spoken Provencal to my children, my children speak Provencal. I now have grand children and I speak to them in Provencal and the children also speak a little Provencal to them. So I tell you, your question was very pertinent. In reality we have been excluded from school, excluded from the media who say that our language has become personal and within the family. Secondly we have ...we must take into account that the world is not static with regard to languages. We are the region of France, we are the third economic region of France, the Provencal region. And we are the region of France which has known the biggest demographic increase in the last 50 years, that’s to say that close to half of the people, let’s say, do not really originate from the region. In spite of everything, one mustn’t be pessimistic and if you are pessimistic we will not be there. Why? Because I believe that life....As long as there is life we are from the country of the olive, and you burn the olive it comes again....There are always the roots which come again when there is a fire. So we are there to reverse the fumes but the fumes will not reverse themselves if there isn’t will of the people of the country wanting it. And the first wish concerning this is the teaching which is very important and it is that we ask that Provencal is included in normal teaching hours and that only the parents who do not wish their children to be enriched by this language and the Provencal culture do not follow the courses, and moreover starting in the primary school. Because the primary school is the base and once the children have loved the language in the primary school they continue to have it for the future and we are not pessimistic.
Institut d'Études Occitanes - 05 34 44 97 11
Collectif Prouvènço - 04 90 55 70 04
Unioun Prouvençalo 04 92 74 23 48
Felibrige 04 42 26 23 41
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