Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Battle for regional languages in France

The Oxford Trobadors will be performing  as part of the Oxford Proms on Monday 12th August at the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. You might think this article strays from the focus of this blog. Well of course it is in large part a promotion of my music, that much I confess. I make no apologies for that. I think my music is good, else I wouldn't perform it! But it is also an opportunity to consider the status of minority languages in Europe, and in this case that of Occitan.

The Oxford Trobadors take their inspiration from the music of the language Occitan in which the 12th and 13th century Troubadours composed. It is often described as La Lenga de l'amor' (the language of love). But the language and culture are still alive today in the south of France and parts of Italy and Catalonia, and the group also perform modern, contemporary Occitan songs.  An example is Nadau ta Baptista (Christmas for Baptiste), a gently lilting Pyrenees lullaby composed by the Occitan group Nadau, and here performed by the Oxford Trobadors.

If you visit Toulouse you will hear metro announcement not only in French but also in Occitan. In 1948 there were some 13 million people in the south of France who spoke Occitan as their maternal language. It is difficult to estimate the numbers today, although from surveys it is thought there are between one and two million speakers.  The language and culture were considerably weakened by the actions of the French State; regional languages were considered to be a threat to the unity of France. It was for many decades prohibited for children to speak Occitan in schools; they were punished if they were caught doing so, and as a consequence parents encouraged their children to speak French.





You will not always hear it referred to as Occitan, but by the name of one of the several dialects of Occitan.  Each has its distinctive pronunciations. Its status continues to be threatened by the failure of the French government to afford it recognition.

Last year, thousands of demonstrators took  to the streets of Toulouse protesting in favour of a Law on Regional Languages. The French government refuses to ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. But the situation worsened  with a new School Reform programme adopted by the French National Assembly in March, and which the Institute for Occitan Studies believed threatened the regional languages of France. After demonstrations and vigorous representation, the law has been amended. The new school reform bill, adopted  last month recognises the rights of the regional languages in the school curriculum.  As the President of the Institute, Pierre Bréchet,  says:

"Nous avons conquis une place dans l’enseignement, c’est une réussite, mais cela ne suffira pas pour l’amplification de la transmission si elle n’est pas complétée par une présence dans la vie publique, les medias et tout ce qui favorise la socialisation… toutes places à occuper !"

The battle for recognition goes on, and the Oxford Trobadors are proud to do their bit in introducing audiences across Europe to the language and culture of Occitan.

See also artlicle Oxford Trobadors, Occitan poetry and song

1 comment:

  1. I'm greatly looking forward to the Trobadors concert on 12th August. The Holywell Music Room is Europe's earliest purpose built concert hall and a fitting venue for the Oxford Trobadors concert. Hopefully lots of summer visitors to Oxford will come which will be good for the Occitan cause!

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