The words are so optimistic: the speakers live in a compact area and the language activism strong. You could almost mistake it for a modern essay on the state of the Breton language. Except for the slightly archaic tone. And that half of the speakers are monolingual. And the statement that there are over a million Breton speakers.
Reading this is at once inspiring and heart breaking. This text comes from Celtia journal, and was published in 1901. In just over a century, the Breton language has essentially lost 83% of its speakers–there are now around 200,000.
Language revitalization isn’t for the faint at heart. And still, so many wonderful things are going on in Brittany nowadays that are making Breton stronger.
Brittany has the advantage of the largest and most compact Celtic language area, with its 1,300,000 Breton speakers, only half of whom speak French at all. The Breton language movement has, however, only comparatively recently taken up a prominent place in the national life and aspirations of the hardy Bretons. The process of Gallicisation — a ruinous policy for France as well as Brittany — has been going far and fast of recent years. The policy of centralisation bids fair to sap those springs of vitality which might save France from that "painless death" so lugu- briously prophesied for her. But there are signs that Brittany will have her own say in the matter. The vigour of the new language movement, the constant stream of new verna- cular literature, the spirited fight for recognition of Breton in the schools, and the steadily- increasing number of distinguished adherents of the Breton cause — all these elements make us believe that the future of Breton language and nationality is safe.
I don’t think I’ve encountered Celtia before, but thanks to a Facebook posting by Diwan Bretagne, I discovered both this paragraph and the journal. It seems to be a rich resource to those of us who work with and love the Celtic languages. To quote Celtia‘s mission statement:
Our own special task, and that to which this Journal will be steadily devoted, is that of fostering the mutual sympathy between the various Celtic nationalities.
The full text of Celtia journal is available online here.