Language activists take on the SNCF

kemperle stickers

Yesterday, the political action collective Ai’ta festooned the Kemperle (Quimperlé) train station with stickers protesting the inferior treatment of the Breton language in the signage around the station. (The image above of one of these stickers comes from Ai’ta’s own article about this action, in Breton and in French, including photos and a video.)
This act of protest was carried out in Ai’ta’s signature style—a very targeted serving of guerilla politics and language activism, performed in colorful and entertaining attire.
A little background on why Ai’ta chose to take this action in Kemperle:
The SNCF is the national train system of France, and while signage is primarily in French, there is typically some signage in other languages (such as English) in smaller print to help tourists visiting France.
In Brittany, where Breton has historically been spoken, the language’s presence (or lack thereof) in signage is a big issue. It’s essentially a local decision, city by city, and this is a big topic in and of itself, which I’ll have to save for another post. But because the train stations are part of a national train system, getting Breton signage included has been a struggle.
There has been signage in Breton, but it was partial and in a smaller font size, and thus treated in the same way that English and other foreign languages are treated. This is of course an insult to Breton, since it is the traditional language in a place such as Kemperle.
Great progress was made last fall, politically, when the regional government of Brittany reached an agreement with the national government of France to move toward an equal footing for French and Breton on infrastructure signage in the region. This was a very big deal.
You’d think that train signage would be a part of that move toward true bilingualism, right? Apparently not. A new high-speed train line, known as the Bretagne Grande Vitesse (Brittany High Speed—like France’s nationwide TGV, Train à Grande Vitesse) is being developed for the Brittany region. In anticipation of this new line, which will speed up transport between the major cities of Brittany, the SNCF is creating new signage for stations along the route, starting with Kemperle. The new signage in Kemperle, despite this agreement to move toward true parity for Breton and French in infrastructure signage, is just like the old signage—with French dominating in size and content, and Breton in smaller letters and only including some of the content. This is why Ai’ta chose to protest the signage now, in Kemperle. Maybe if the protest gets enough attention and media coverage, the SNCF will rethink their signage strategy and fulfill the government’s goal of moving towards bilingual parity in signage around Brittany.