The academy strikes back

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Those who are following the attempts to give English legal status as the official language of the U.S. may be interested in the analogous debate going on about the role of French in France. One difference: French already has a special official status, guaranteed not only by French law but by the French constitution itself, which asserts in Article 2 that “La langue de la République est le français” (“the language of the Republic is French”).

The special constitutional status of French is in conflict with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, adopted by the Council of Europe in 1992. As a result, France has refused on constitutional grounds to ratify this charter, although in 2001, the Ministry of Education decided that education in Occitan, Corsican, Breton, Basque, and so on could at least in principle be allowed anyhow. (A semi-official list of French regional languages can be found here.) And on May 22, 2008, the Assemblée Nationale (the lower house of the French parliament) proposed adding to the constitution this single phrase: “Les langues régionales appartiennent au patrimoine de la France” (“The regional languages are part of the patrimony of France”) .

On June 12, the Académie Française responded with a declaration strongly denouncing this move, warning that its effects “portent atteinte à l’identité nationale” (“endanger the national identity”):

Les conséquences du texte voté par l’Assemblée sont graves. Elles mettent en cause, notamment, l’accès égal de tous à l’Administration et à la Justice. L’Académie française, qui a reçu le mandat de veiller à la langue française dans son usage et son rayonnement, … demande le retrait de ce texte …

The consequences of the text passed by the assembly are serious. In particular, they bring into question equal access of all to administrative action and justice. The French Academy, which has the mandate to oversee the French language in its usage and its influence, … asks that this change be withdrawn.

On June 18, the Sénat (the upper house of parliament) duly withdrew the proposed amendment.

This has caused a certain amount of discussion.

One interesting eddy in this stream stirred the pages of Le Devoir, a French-language newspaper published in Montréal. On June 26, Ivon Balès, a partisan of the French minority language Occitan, contributed a stinging open letter to the members of the Académie, under the headline “Language régionales“. A few characteristic sentences:

Que penseriez-vous si le gouvernement du Canada décidait de proclamer l’anglais comme seule langue officielle de l’État et d’interdire le français dans l’usage public? (“What would you think if the government of Canada decided to proclaim English as the only official language of the state, and to forbid the public use of French?”) […] Si vous êtes contre la suprématie de l’anglais sur le français, pourquoi prônez-vous la suprématie du français sur le catalan, l’occitan, le breton et les autres langues de France? (“If you are against the supremacy of English over French, why do you promote the supremacy of French over Catalan, Occitan, Breton and the other languages of France?”) Êtes-vous des «linguicides»? (“Are you ‘linguicides’?”) Vous êtes probablement contre l’imposition du chinois au Tibet, comme tous les Français, mais vous soutenez l’imposition du français en Occitanie, en Bretagne, dans le nord de la Catalogne… (“You are probably against the imposition of Chinese in Tibet, like all French people, but you support the imposition of French in Occitania, in Brittany, in the north of Catalonia… “) On appelle ça hypocrisie, cynisme ou, peut-être, schizophrénie? (“We call that hypocrisy, cynicism, or, perhaps, schizophrenia?”) Vous, Messieurs et Mesdames les Académiciens, représentez l’époque obscure de l’absolutisme, avant la Déclaration des droits de l’homme … (“You, ladies and gentlement of the Academy, represent the dark ages of absolutism, before the Declaration of the Rights of Man …”)

Jean-Claude Monneret responded on July 2, under the headline “La pertinence des académiciens“. He starts by claiming that all is well with minority languages in France, anyhow:

En fait, il n’y a jamais eu de politique d’éradication. […] Le français pour l’espace public et les langues régionales pour l’espace privé. (“In fact, there has never been a policy of eradication. […] French for the public space and regional languages for the private space.”)

Not that the regional languages are really worth all that much:

… [T]outes les langues n’ont pas la même dignité. […] [O]n ne peut mettre sur le même plan ce qui est une grande langue de culture et un dialecte appauvri. Existe-t-il un Rousseau en occitan, un Tocqueville en basque, un Balzac en ch’ti …, un Stendhal en breton, un Montesquieu en catalan? (“All languages do not have the same worthiness. […] We can’t put on the same level a great language of culture and an impoverished dialect. Is there a Rousseau in Occitan, a Tocqueville in Basque, a Balzac in Ch’ti …, a Montesquieu in Catalan?”)

And the whole language-rights movement is a German plot, anyhow:

Cette question des langues régionales en Europe est aussi à penser dans le cadre d’une géopolitique bruxelloise d’inspiration germanique. Il y a aujourd’hui en Europe des groupes d’intérêt qui militent pour un reformatage de l’Europe sur un modèle politique impérial. La manoeuvre qui consiste à encourager la reconnaissance de toutes les langues minoritaires n’est qu’un leurre, une stratégie oblique qui vise en fait à déconstruire, à détricoter les nations européennes autres que l’Allemagne, qui toutes incorporent des groupes d’appartenance linguistiquement minoritaires.

Ainsi, subtilement, on ne s’attaque pas frontalement aux États, mais on commence par une reconnaissance linguistique. C’est très «démocratique», ça semble n’engager à rien. Mais à partir de là, c’est le toboggan.

(“This question of regional languages in Europe should also be considered in the context of a German-inspired geopolitical initiative in Brussels. Today in Europe there are interest groups who agitate for reforming Europe on an imperial political model. The manoeuvre of encouraging the recognition of all minority languages is just a decoy, an oblique strategy that in fact aims to deconstruct, to de-knit European nations other than Germany, who all include groups belonging to linguistic minorities.

Thus, subtly, one doesn’t attack the member states directly, but one begins with linguistic recognition. This is very “democratic”, it doesn’t seem to amount to anything. But after that, it’s a slippery slope.”)

On July 7, there followed a letter from Manuel Meune, Professeur au département de littératures et de langues modernes de l’Université de Montréal, under the headline “Éradication des langues régionales en France – L’Histoire dit autre chose…” (“Eradication of regional languages in France – History says otherwise”):

L’affirmation de M. Jean-Claude Monneret (Le Devoir, 2 juillet 2008) selon laquelle il n’y a jamais eu de «politique d’éradication» des langues régionales en France relève d’une mauvaise foi étonnante. Il faut rappeler que l’idéologie de la Révolution française, qui est à la source de nombreuses perceptions contemporaines en France, reposait en partie, précisément, sur cette politique.

(“M. Jean-Claude Monneret’s claim that there has never been a ‘policy of eradication’ of regional languages in France displays an astonishing level of dishonesty. We should remember that the ideology of the French Revolution, which is at the basis of many contemporary ideas in France, rested in part, exactly, on this policy.”)

En 1794, l’abbé Grégoire, dans son Rapport sur la nécessité et les moyens d’anéantir les patois et d’universaliser l’usage de la langue française, déplorait que le français, qui «a conquis l’estime de l’Europe» et qui est usité «même dans le Canada», reste «encore ignoré d’une très grande partie des Français». En prenant modèle sur l’unilinguisme des États-Unis, où «tout le monde sait lire, écrire et parler la langue nationale», il souhaitait «uniformer [sic] le langage d’une grande nation» et anéantir les «patois», qualifiés de «derniers vestiges de la féodalité détruite».

(“In 1794, the Abbé Grégoire, in his Report on the necessity and the methods of destroying the patois and universalizing the usage of French, bemoaned the fact that French, which ‘has won the esteem of Europe’ and which is used ‘even in Canada’, remains ‘still unknown to a large proportion of the French’. In taking as a model the unilingualism of the United States, where ‘everyone knows how to read, write and speak the national language’, he wished to ‘uniform [sic] the language of a great nation’ and annihilate the ‘patois’, described as ‘the last vestiges of destroyed feudalism'”.)

One especially interesting vestige of the revolutionary ideology has been the French laws about names. According to the Loi du 11 germinal an XI

“… les noms en usage dans les différents calendriers, et ceux des personnages connus dans l’histoire ancienne pourront seuls être reçus, comme prénoms, sur les registres de l’état civil destinés à constater la naissance des enfants; et il est interdit aux officiers publics d’en admettre aucun autre dans leurs actes.”

” … the names in use in the various calendars (of saints?), and those of personnages known in ancient history, are the only ones that can be accepted, as first names, on birth certificates; and it is forbidden for public officials to allow any other names in their acts.”

This law remained in effect until a ministerial instruction of April 12, 1966 (whose text I haven’t been able to find on line) is said to have added the possibility of “des prénoms tirés de la mythologie, prénoms régionnaux, prénoms composés, tolérant même dans certains cas les diminutifs et les variations” (“names taken from mythology, regional names, compound names, even in certain cases diminutives and variations”). It’s not clear to me how specific this instruction was.

A court decision of June 10, 1981, established that “les parents peuvent notamment choisir comme prénoms, sous la réserve générale que dans l’intérêt de l’enfant ils ne soient jugés ridicules, les noms en usage dans les différents calendriers et, alors qu’il n’existe aucune liste officielle des prénoms autorisés, il n’y a pas lieu d’exiger que le calendrier invoqué émane d’une autorité officielle.” (“Parents can in particular choose as first names, under the general restriction that in the interests of the child they not be judged ridiculous, names in use on various calendars, and since there is no official list of authorized names, there is no basis for requiring that the invoked calendar comes from an official authority.”)

Finally, in 1993, article 57 of the French Civil Code, opened the door to any first name — with a lengthy caveat, which starts like this:

Lorsque ces prénoms ou l’un d’eux, seul ou associé aux autres prénoms ou au nom, lui paraissent contraires à l’intérêt de l’enfant ou au droit des tiers à voir protéger leur patronyme, l’officier de l’état civil en avise sans délai le procureur de la République. Celui-ci peut saisir le juge aux affaires familiales.

(“When these first names or one of them, alone or in association with other first names or the family name, seem to him contrary to the interests of the child or to the right of third parties to see their patronym protected, the [relevant official] shall inform the prosecutor without delay. He can involve the judge of the family court.”)

This process figured in a well-known case of the late 1990s, “L’Affaire Kawrantin“. Some Breton-speaking French citizens living in the French colony of New Caledonia attempted to name their child Kawrantin, the Breton spelling of Saint Corentin. The civil registry contacted the prosecutor, who brought in the family court judge. The family showed the judge the book Prénoms en Bretagne, where the name is documented, and the judge accepted their argument. However, the prosecutor appealed the ruling, on the grounds that it was inappropriate to give a child a name “aux consonnances barbares” (“with a barbaric sound”). A higher court ruled in favor of the parents, in May of 2000.

[For more on the tangled political associations of linguistic nationalism in Europe, see “Linguistic nationalism and the political spectrum“, 4/3/2007.]

[Hat tip: Jean-Sébastien Girard]



41 Comments

  1. Laurent C said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 6:08 am

    For what it’s worth, we generally consider French has been the official language in France since the ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, by François I in 1539 (although this is arguable).

    More than 250 years passed between this decision and the French Revolution – when local languages eradication actually began.

    Therefore – this is related to other posts about the question of English as the official language in the US – one could see languages eradication and one official language as two distinct matters.

    Concerning Jean-Claude Monneret’s answer, I don’t see that it answer’s the points quoted from Ivon Balès’ open letter.

  2. Mark Etherton said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 7:20 am

    In ‘Peasants into Frenchmen’ Eugen Weber points out that in 1863, even according to official figures, about a quarter of the population did not speak French, and that almost half the schoolchildren aged between 7 and 13 either spoke no French or could not write it. Furthermore in officially French-speaking Departements like the Dordogne a third of children did not speak French. It is therefore improbable, to put it mildly, that the current universality of French in France was achieved in a hundred years without some coercion.

  3. john riemann soong said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 7:36 am

    “We can’t put on the same level a great language of culture and an impoverished dialect”

    The language-dialect thing again, eh?

    Are there any linguists in the Academy? Why don’t they get that French is as much part of the same Romance continuum as Catalan is?

  4. john riemann soong said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 8:47 am

    “Therefore – this is related to other posts about the question of English as the official language in the US – one could see languages eradication and one official language as two distinct matters.”

    The setting of an official language often gives governments the authority to pursue language replacement programmes.

  5. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 9:47 am

    M Monneret is, in a way, on to something with his talk of “un modèle politique impérial.”.

    The idea he espouses is the familiar 19th-century nation-state, based on the toxic notion that “race”, for which language is regarded as a surrogate, is the only legitimate basis of statehood.

    In fairness to French cultural imperialism, in its most generous and humane manifestations, it has at least been based on the notion of a common culture (and language) and not genetics. You can be a black Frenchman, though this will entail downgrading any affiliation you might have with any African culture or language, however valuable or beautiful.

    The “imperial” notion of legitimate statehood is based on common allegience to something other than a “race”, like the Austro-Hugarian monarchy, eventually killed off by the proponents (especially, ironically, America) of the race-as-only-legitimate-basis-for-statehood school.

  6. Sunny said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 10:14 am

    I have been having conversations on this topic for quite some time, as this is a question I’m attempting to tackle for my thesis. From what I have already read, the official position often feels like one of disinterest (you can teach your little language if you want, as long as it doesn’t bother us). I do doubt that Monneret’s screed sums up the opinions of everyone in the Academy (at least, I hope not).

  7. JJM said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 11:10 am

    “Que penseriez-vous si le gouvernement du Canada décidait de proclamer l’anglais comme seule langue officielle de l’État et d’interdire le français dans l’usage public?”

    I understand what M. Balès is trying to say but his Canadian analogy is somewhat faulty and could create the wrong impression.

    The status of the French language in Canada is decidely not analogous to that of Occitan in France. French has always been an official language at the national (i.e., Federal) level and this status has continued to be enhanced since Confederation in 1867.

    No Canadian Federal government could – or would even dare – change this status in a way that would reduce the entitlement of Canadians to use French.

    How French has or has not been accommodated at the provincial and municipal levels is quite another story. But then, English has also had a rough ride at the provincial level too (in Québec).

  8. Mark Gould said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 11:18 am

    I am intrigued by Laurent C’s first comment. As far as I can ascertain from the online versions of the various French constitutions provided by the Conseil Constitutionnel (http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.fr/textes/constitu.htm), the assertion of French as the official language only appeared in the Fifth Republic constitution of 1958 (in Article II, rather than Article I, in fact). All the previous constitutions were silent on the matter. Without doing any further study, I wonder if there was a link to the Algerian problems that triggered the change in constitution.

    There is a useful pair of articles on the laws governing personal names written by Roderick Munday in the journal Legal Studies over 20 years ago:

    The girl they named Manhattan: the law of forenames in France and England and The French law of surnames: a study in rights of property, personality and privacy.

  9. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 11:26 am

    There’s a somewhat different situation immediately to the South, in Spain, where a group of writers and intellectuals recently unveiled a manifesto “for a common language,” in other words Castilian or what we might call “Spanish” itself. In various autonomous regions Castilian is co-official with Basque, Catalan, Gallego, etc… But what does being co-official mean? The issue comes up mostly in education, where Castilian-speaking parents in Valencia, say, might want their children to be educated in that language rather than in Valenciá.

  10. Joaquim said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 11:29 am

    For what it’s worth:
    In Spain “regional” languages are official (to some extent: the Constitution forces that all Spaniards must know Spanish, only). But some accademics and “intellectuals,” Mario Vargas Llosa among them, feel Spanish should be explicitly supported against the imposition that official recognition of “regional” languages implies.
    So they say for instance (this is a tiny fragment, I recommend reading their manifiesto here).

    Todas las lenguas oficiales en el Estado son igualmente españolas y merecedoras de protección institucional como patrimonio compartido, pero sólo una de ellas es común a todos, oficial en todo el territorio nacional y por tanto sólo una de ellas -el castellano- goza del deber constitucional de ser conocida y de la presunción consecuente de que todos la conocen..
    Ie: All languages official in Spain are equally Spanish and deserving institutional protection as shared property, but just one of them is common to all, official in the entire national territory and therefore just one of them -Spanish- enjoys the constitutional duty of being known and the consequent presumption that everybody knows it.

    And later:
    En las comunidades bilingües es un deseo encomiable aspirar a que todos los ciudadanos lleguen a conocer bien la lengua cooficial, junto a la obligación de conocer la común del país (…). Pero tal aspiración puede ser solamente estimulada, no impuesta. Es lógico suponer que siempre habrá muchos ciudadanos que prefieran desarrollar su vida cotidiana y profesional en castellano, conociendo sólo de la lengua autonómica lo suficiente para convivir cortésmente con los demás y disfrutar en lo posible de las manifestaciones culturales en ella.
    Ie: In bilingual regions it is commendable to wish that all citizens reach a good knowledge of the coofficial language, in addition to the obbligation of knowing the one common in the country (…). But such an aspiration can be stimulated only, not forced. It is logical to assume that there will always be many citizens who prefer to carry their everyday and proffessional life profesional in Spanish, knowing just enough of the reginal language to corteously coexist with the rest and enjoy as much as possible of the cultural life in the region.

    For them, officiality of regional languages is a political imposition. Officiality of the “common” language is good, and even not enough. In a sense, I agree with Laurent C that officiality alone is not the problem. There are many kinds of official languages.

  11. Joaquim said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 11:32 am

    I forgot to say that the opposition party (conservative) explicitly supports the manifiesto.

  12. Nathan Myers said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

    Probably we should translate the word “castellano” in the manifesto as “Castilian” rather than “Spanish”. All the other languages in question also count as “Spanish”.

    (I am really enjoying this posting and subsequent thread.)

  13. Jason Orendorff said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

    It is therefore improbable, to put it mildly, that the current universality of French in France was achieved in a hundred years without some coercion.

    Is that really true? It seems inevitable to me that minority populations would end up speaking the language of the majority after a few generations. Here in the U.S. it happens in just one generation—every generation. The children of immigrants are bilingual, even in communities where the non-English-speaking minority is large. Maybe linguistic and ethnic minorities are more stalwart about preserving their identity elsewhere in the world?

    Or maybe by “coercive” you meant to include stuff like mandatory public school attendance. It seemed to me like you had something more sinister in mind.

  14. Nancy said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

    Imagine… an official government statement of this sort:
    “In bilingual regions like Los Angeles it is commendable to wish that all citizens reach a good knowledge of the coofficial language, Spanish, in addition to the obligation of knowing the one common in the country, English (…). But such an aspiration can be stimulated only, not forced. It is logical to assume that there will always be many citizens who prefer to carry out their everyday and professional life in English, knowing just enough of Spanish to courteously coexist with the rest and enjoy as much as possible of the cultural life in the region.”

    The statements shared from Spain seem to me to be amazingly tolerant and accepting – compare them to the whole “why must I press 1 for English” crowd and those American xenophobes who see any non-English utterance as some kind of a threat.

  15. Ivan said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

    Jason Orendorff:
    Is that really true? It seems inevitable to me that minority populations would end up speaking the language of the majority after a few generations. Here in the U.S. it happens in just one generation—every generation.

    Several generations ago, speakers of Occitan, Breton, etc. were majorities in large areas of France. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if French was the native language of less than 50% of French citizens some 150 years ago, even if we generously count all the langues d’oïl dialects as “French”.

    Or maybe by “coercive” you meant to include stuff like mandatory public school attendance. It seemed to me like you had something more sinister in mind.

    Well, for example, public schools were administering quite severe penalties, including corporal punishment and encouragement of bullying, against pupils who dared to speak their native language on school premises. You could probably still find living people who were subject to these practices as kids. Wikipedia has some interesting and well-sourced information on this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vergonha#School_humiliations

  16. dr pepper said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

    As i understand it, Germany does have its own linguistic minorities. At least i remember reading about communities that were traditionally marginalized because their dialects weren’t considered german enough.

  17. john riemann soong said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 4:54 pm

    [quote]Here in the U.S. it happens in just one generation—every generation. The children of immigrants are bilingual, even in communities where the non-English-speaking minority is large. Maybe linguistic and ethnic minorities are more stalwart about preserving their identity elsewhere in the world?[/quote]

    Yes but there was coercion in American language policy too — two things that immediately come to mind is the treatment of Native American languages in Alaska and the treatment of the usage of French (and the prohibition thereof) by certain workers in Maine during the early 20th century.

  18. A.S. said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

    Dr Pepper, Germany does indeed have linguistic minorities, and currently, two minority languages have official status alongside German.

    The German constitution does not specify a national language, but the “Act on Administrative Procedure” of the Federal Republic of Germany as well as the corresponding state laws state that citizens must conduct their interactions with state and federal institutions in German (or provide translations into German at their own expense). There are three exceptions: in Schleswig-Holstein, Frisian is recognized in addition, and Brandenburg and Saxonia recognize Sorbian.

  19. Joanne said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

    its also important to remember that in France the populations who didn’t speak French weren’t immigrant populations. They had been speaking their own languages for centuries. You aren’t talking about a group of immigrants moving into an area with a different language. Entire regions of France barely spoke French. The map I have of the distribution of those not speaking French in France in 1863 shows significant areas where “all or almost all” of the population was not francophone. It seems unlikely that these regions would have adopted French without outside pressure.

    It seems important to mention when schools began being used to eliminate the use of languages other than French. This started under the Third Republic. Forcing children to speak French was part of a larger effort to instill a sense of French unity and seen as necessary (among other things) to the survival of the Republic. Schooling was made mandatory in 1881 and physical punishment was definitely one of the means of keeping children from speaking anything but French.

    While I suppose Monneret could argue punishing children in school falls under “public space”, such policies generally work to create a sense of shame for the forbidden language, thus impacting the “private space”. I don’t know of any current policies to eradicate other languages native to France (and I know for a fact that Breton is offered in some universities in Bretagne) so perhaps he can argue that nobody is trying to eliminate them now, but you can’t truthfully state that there’s never been a policy of eradicating their use.

  20. James Wimberley said,

    July 9, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

    1. The European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages was not “proposed” but adopted as a formal multilateral treaty (convention) by the Council of Europe – over French objections, but they finally didn’t veto it. Adoption doesn’t mean much, but it does show a consensus (here European) for a particular line of normative thinking. Countries are only legally bound by a treaty if they ratify, which France has not done. List from here. The Council, for which I used to work, is based in Strsbourg, where Alsatian – a Rhineland dialect that sounds a bit like Yiddish, which was formed in that region – still fights a slowly losing battle against francophone chauvinism and globalisation.

    2. The old French restrictions on names collapsed not so much because of Breton nationalists wanting to call their children Gorboduc but because the official list, on curiously Catholic lines, excluded ordinary names like Florence and Rose. There are now lots of Yanns and Yannicks as well. 2005 league table here, including several that can’t have been in the old list like Nolan, Mael and Louane.

  21. Etienne said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 12:23 am

    My impression is that in post-revolutionary France the prestige of French was such that the spread of French would have taken place whatever official attitudes towards minority languages might have been: it should be remembered that what is today French-speaking Switzerland and Belgium were originally Walloon- and Franco-Provencal-speaking at the time of the French revolution, and yet despite being outside French borders (except for a brief period of time during the Napoleonic era) underwent language shift to French as thoroughly as (most of) France itself: this is especially remarkable in the case of Switzerland, since Genevan Franco-Provencal had hitherto been in use as a language of written prose, unlike most regional languages/dialects of France (for most of France what took place initially was a shift from Latin to French as the dominant written language). An interesting topic for diachronic sociolinguistics: why didn’t a (Swiss German-like) diglossic relationship between Franco-Provencal and French develop in French-speaking Switzerland, or indeed Walloon and French in French-speaking Belgium?

  22. Stephen Jones said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 1:02 am

    The language which is called ‘castellano’ in Spanish, is called Spanish in English. If you want to distinguish it as a geographical variant call it Peninsular Spanish. Calling it Castilian is the result of muddled thinking, and a ridiculous affectation.

    Valencian and Mallorquin are dialects of Catalan, of Western and Eastern Catalan respectively. There is a political group in Valencia known as ‘blaveros’, who like to pretend they are different languages. At one time many Catalan linguists proposed changing the name of the official language of Catalonia to Valencian so they couldn’t be accused of linguistic supremacy, but the idea was abandoned because it was reckoned the blaveros would simply come up with another name.

    When the American translator of Tristan le Blanc gave a talk in Valencia and mentioned it as a seminal work in Catalan the blaveros threw rotten tomatoes at him. This is despite the fact the has regularly presented the linguistic separatists with 16th century texts and not one of them has ever been able to say which come from Catalonia and which from Valencia.

    And the ‘impoverished dialect’ that Monneret rules over is particularly appropriate for describing ‘petits cons’, such as himself. He sounds like a redneck State Senator claiming that French is a minor dialect because it doesn’t have a Robert Frost or Shakespeare.

    The Imperial idea is interesting. Funnily enough the only possible breakups of a nation state into two regions of the Empire are in the UK with the proposed Scottish referendum, and both Scotland and England speak the same language (though some would insist Glaswegian is a separate language family!), and in Belgium where one of the divisive languages is French!

  23. Nathan Myers said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 3:21 am

    @Stephen: When the topic is various languages of Spain, calling just one of them “Spanish” leads to confusion. Calling it “Castilian” in that context is no more an affectation than them calling it “castellano”. It’s just being precisely as clear as the original source text. Latin Americans refer to their language not as “castellano”, but as “español”, which translates exactly to “Spanish”, and they use the word in exactly the way we use ours, because they and we typically have no need to make distinctions. I have never encountered the expression “Peninsular Spanish”. In any case all the languages under discussion are Peninsularly Spanish, so that would clarify nothing.

  24. Stephen Jones said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 5:11 am

    Sorry Nathan but quite wrong. You are confusing a language with a political entity.

    Catalan or Galician are not Spanish Languages (in fact Galician is generally considered by most linguists to be a dialect of Portugeese). Bas

  25. Joaquim said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 5:18 am

    @ Nathan (and Stephen)
    The English adjective “Spanish” can be applied to other languages spoken in Spain (although not everybody would agree, since they are spoken elsewhere too). But I understand that the name of the language called “castellano” in Spain, in English, is the noun “Spanish”. The sentence “Spanish is the mother tongue of Rafael Nadal” is false, isn’t it?

    @ Nancy
    May I transpose the other part too?
    “Just one of [the languages coofficial in Los Angeles] -English- enjoys the constitutional duty of being known and the consequent presumption that everybody knows it.”
    Is that seen as tolerant in the US? Note that this part is true in Spain: the Constitution forces everybody to know Spanish.
    The process has been thus: one language was at some point established as official, banishing others from some uses; with the advent of democracy, this officiality was not retired, but minority languages gained some official status as well, which however can not be at the same level. (Situation is much worse in France).
    Imagine the same at US level. First you declare English as official. Then some large and organized minorities (Latinos? Chinese?) struggle and obtain some official recognition for their languages. What happens to truly tiny and weak minorities, speakers of native languages?
    Not that laws are their only problem…

  26. Stephen Jones said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 5:29 am

    que isn’t even Indo-European. Catalan is spoken in Sardinia and France. It is correct to say that Spanish, Catalan, Galician and Basque are all languages indigenous to the area that now forms part of the Kingdom of Spain but to call them Spanish languages as a result is absurd.

    When people object to the use of Spanish as a translation for ‘castellano’, they are making a political statement. The political statement can be from either side of the spectrum. It can be from Spanish Nationalists claiming that the Catalan-speaking countries, or the Basque country and Navarra, or Galicia, are integral parts of Spain, or it can be from moderate regionalists who claim that although they speak Catalan, Basque, or Galician these languages still form part of the cultural patrimony of Spain, but either way the truth is that translating ‘Castellano’ with the normal translation of ‘Spanish’ is correct.

    Start applying your idea to other countries and you will soon see how ridiculous it is. For a start we would have to rename ‘French’, then ‘Malay’, ‘Italian’, ‘Romanian’, and a host of others.

    And then let’s apply the ideas from the other end. We would have to say that Borges writes in Spanish but Cela in Castillian; even more amusingly that some of Vargas Llosa’s own novels are in Castillian and some in Spanish depending on where they were written; or even parts of the same novel (gets fun if literary scholars find he rewrote half a sentence).

    apologies for the split post. Firefox keyboard shortcuts and Carlsberg beer have compatibility problems.

  27. Stephen Jones said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 5:33 am

    The sentence “Spanish is the mother tongue of Rafael Nadal” is false, isn’t it?

    Haven’t heard him speak. The ‘mother tongue’ of Catalan residents with Spanish born parents is split between 50% Spanish and 50% Catalan. As surnames come from the father they don’t tell us much more either.

  28. Joaquim said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 5:47 am

    Rafael Nadal comes from a Catalan-speaking family in Mallorca. (One often hears his uncle-trainer speaking to him in Catalan.)

  29. Stephen Jones said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 6:47 am

    Moltes gràcies.

    I don’t live in Spain anymore, don’t watch TV, and don’t like any other sport than cricket.

    The question of ‘mother tongue’ can be interesting. I’ve had friends of mixed British-Spanish/Catalan parentage whose mother tongue has been English, Spanish or Catalan. All of them would speak two of the three; it was the one that they didn’t that was interesting.

  30. Joaquim said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 7:05 am

    I fear this is becoming off-topic and should be discussed elsewhere, but:
    I have mixed couples of friends (French-Spanish/Catalan, Italian-Spanish/Catalan) with kids, and my impression confirms that they speak two of the three languages. The most interesting case, however: a couple Italian-Catalan living in Brussels, kids speak Catalan, Italian and French (the order doesn’t mean much here).

  31. Mark Liberman said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 7:12 am

    James Wimberley: The European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages was not “proposed” but adopted as a formal multilateral treaty (convention) by the Council of Europe – over French objections, but they finally didn’t veto it. Adoption doesn’t mean much, but it does show a consensus (here European) for a particular line of normative thinking. Countries are only legally bound by a treaty if they ratify, which France has not done.

    Thanks for the correction — I’ve revised the post to reflect your explanation.

    Mark Gould: As far as I can ascertain […] the assertion of French as the official language only appeared in the Fifth Republic constitution of 1958 […]. All the previous constitutions were silent on the matter. Without doing any further study, I wonder if there was a link to the Algerian problems that triggered the change in constitution.

    This is fascinating. From the Wikipedia article on the May 1958 crisis:

    De Gaulle blamed the institutions of the Fourth Republic for France’s political weakness — a Gaullist reading still popular today. As he commissioned the new constitution and was responsible for its overall framework, de Gaulle is sometimes described as the author of the constitution, although it was effectively drafted during the summer of 1958 by the Gaullist Michel Debré.

  32. Steve said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 8:28 am

    @Stephen Jones: I think you’re confusing linguistic identity with national identity. Blaverism is about an independent Valencia. Although I would venture to guess that most blaverists feel Valencian to be an independent language, there are other people who feel the same way about the language but are in full support of Valencia as an integral part of Spain or as a part of some union with the Països Catalans (under a different name.)

  33. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 3:10 pm

    Absurd as you might find this usage, the Spanish constitution itself uses the terms “castellano” and “las otras lenguas espan~olas” to refer to other peninsular languages. So that usage has been around 30 years at the least. The word “castellano” (Castilian) is usually used when contrasting this language with other languages also spoken in Spain, or “the other Spanish languages” as the constitution has it. (Euskara, Catalan, Gallego, Bable…) It would be a little like calling Occitan a French language, or saying that there are two kinds of “French,” langue d’oc and langue d’oeil.

    The word “Spanish” (espanol) is used when there is no need to make a contrast, or when the contrast is between Spanish and another non-peninsular language.

  34. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

    Here is the relevant text:

    1. El castellano es la lengua oficial del Estado español. Todos los españoles tienen el deber de conocerla y el derecho de usarla.
    2. Las otras lenguas españolas serán también oficiales en sus respectivas Comunidades Autónomas y de acuerdo con sus Estatutos.
    3. La riqueza de las diferentes variantes lingüísticas de España es una herencia cultural que será objeto de respeto y protección especial.

    [Castilian is the official language of the Spanish state. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it. / The other Spanish languages shall also be official in their respective Autonomous Communities and in accordance with their statutes. / The richness of the different linguistic variants of Spain is a cultural inheritance that will be the object of respect and special protection.]

  35. Edward Carney said,

    July 10, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

    A film from 1977 called “Padre Padrone” was based on a book of that title by Gavino Ledda. I recall a scene in which Gavino, who has been called up for military service, is harassed and punished by the sergeant during training for speaking his native Sardu. They scream at him, “No dialect!” (at least as translated in the subtitles). His time in the army, ironically, acquaints him with the wider world and, ultimately, he attends university where he specializes in both Italian and Sardu.

    It seems that no nation-state is immune from symptoms of unilingualism. (I wish I had a more opprobrious coinage for this bias.)

  36. Joaquim said,

    July 11, 2008 @ 5:01 am

    It seems that the French constitution will eventually give some official status to “regional” languages indeed:

    L’Assemblée nationale a aussi rétabli la reconnaissance des langues régionales dans la Constitution, après sa suppression par le Sénat.
    Cette reconnaissance, qui prévoit que “les langues régionales appartiennent au patrimoine de la France”, apparaît désormais à l’article 75, et non plus dès l’article 1er de la Constitution, comme l’avait décidé en première lecture à l’Assemblée.
    link.

    (The Assemblée nationale has restored the recognition of regional languages in the Constitution, after its removal by the Sénat, but now in article 75 instead of article 1).

  37. John Cowan said,

    July 11, 2008 @ 6:42 pm

    It is not the case that Spanish is called “español” in all the American countries that make it official. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_given_to_the_Spanish_language , from which we also learn that (ironically) “español” is not a native Spanish word, but a borrowing from Occitan!

  38. Catanea said,

    July 13, 2008 @ 6:54 am

    “Existe-t-il un Rousseau en occitan, un Tocqueville en basque, un Balzac en ch’ti …, un Stendhal en breton, un Montesquieu en catalan?”
    M. Monneret poses the question, but is presumably unqualified (because not literate in these languages) to answer it.
    I wonder if he’s heard of Espriu?
    Can a writer’s, a philosopher’s, a poet’s, work only be judged worthy if it has been translated into French?

    I see there ARE actually a few places called “Montesqui[e]u in France – well, in Aquitània, Rosselló… I thought it was a Catalan place-name – I drive through it quite often.

  39. Transubstantiation said,

    July 15, 2008 @ 10:50 am

    Fascinating! What is thought-provoking about this discussion is the establishment’s view that Occitan and the other minority languages of France are so ‘minority’ that French is by far more important. Imperialistic. And very sad.

    http://transubstantiation.wordpress.com/

  40. Gwynfrid said,

    July 16, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

    To dispel any ambiguity: Mr Monneret is not an Académie Française member. So far as I could understand with the help of Google, he is not known for anything except this letter that got published in Le Devoir.

    About the constitutional status of French language, 2 dates are relevant :
    – In 1539, King François I decreed that French was to be the only accepted language for all legal documents and procedures.
    – French was made the official language of the Republic in 1992, through an amendment to the Constitution.

  41. James Kabala said,

    October 21, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    Just a note: The different (not various, since there are only two) calendars referred to in the naming law are 1) The calendar of saints, as noted, but 2) The calendar of plants, animals, and farming tools with which the Jacobins tried to replace the Church calendar.

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