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.

Ar Redadeg

This week, a nine-day race known as Ar Redadeg is being run across Brittany. In truth, it’s not so much a race as a physical and geographic celebration and fundraiser for Breton language: as the runners make their way around different parts of Brittany, they hand off their batons in relay, symbolizing the passing on of the Breton language from one generation to the next. This is only the fifth time Ar Redadeg has been run.* It’s modeled after the Basque language community’s Korrika race, which is a fundraiser for Basque language programs.

This video makes me tear up. It was created to get the word out about this year’s Ar Redadeg. I love how it gives a sense of the emotional importance of the Breton language for the community, as well as the diversity of its members. It’s a lively 2 1/2 minutes–a heartfelt statement about the event, incorporating everyday folk and local celebrities, including one of the actors from Suite Armoricaine. I also love its multilingualism: it’s a mix of French and Breton, with a little French Sign Language thrown in for good measure.

As I post this midday in California, it’s night time in Brittany, and the race has passed Kemper and Rosporden and is winding its way east for the home stretch. Here’s a map of this year’s route, from the Ar Redadeg site:

hentad_redadeg_2016.jpg

Ar Redadeg covers 1700 kilometers—a bit over 1000 miles. That’s 200 kilometers longer than the last two races, so enthusiasm for the race must be growing. Ar Redadeg ends tomorrow in Lokoal-Mendon, a little town in the Morbihan region, and there will be music and other celebrations to mark the end of this year’s run. Here’s a poster for the weekend of events.

RedadegEventLokoal-Mendon.pngEver since I heard about Ar Redadeg, I’ve wished I could participate. I just haven’t managed to be in Brittany when it’s taking place. So, I’d like to make it a goal for 2018 to run (or walk) in the next race!

Individuals, organizations, companies—and even cities—contribute money by buying kilometers of the race: it’s 100 euros per kilometer for individuals, and 200 euros per organization. And since the race is about community as well as fundraising, donating is not required for you to be able to run in the race or participate in other ways—everyone is welcome.

Fifty percent of the proceeds go to supporting the Diwan Breton immersion schools that have been established all over Brittany in the past few decades. The story of the Diwan schools is an amazing one—but that’s for another blog post. It’s enough to know for now that these schools get by on shoestring budgets and thanks to the sweat-equity of the parents and language activists. So funding received from Ar Redadeg is crucial for Diwan.

The other fifty percent of the funds raised goes to support innovative Breton language projects. This year’s projects include a film tetralogy in Breton called E Toul Ar Bleiz (In the Wolf’s Den), and an AirBnB-type of lodgings rental organization called Bod Ha Boued (Food and Shelter), for people who want to stay with Breton-speaking hosts. Sign me up for that app!

In addition to the money, the race gives the people of Brittany a festive week of activities and celebrations. Brittany is a relatively small place, both geographically and socially, so wherever you join or watch the race, you’re likely to run into people you know. Especially if you’re active in the Breton language revitalization community.

In the lead up to the race, the organizers always create ways to get the broader community excited and involved—songs, photos, and videos. Two years ago, the organizers had people send in photos of themselves holding Ar Redadeg signs that they could download from the site, in the language of their choice. Here’s me, holding my sign up, as I stand in front of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The sign says, “I speak Breton, and you?”

MadeleineArRedadegSign2014

* This is a corrected version of the blog post: my earlier version incorrectly stated that this was the 4th time the race had been run, and also misstated the cost to buy a kilometer of the race. Apologies for the errors, and thank you to the person who pointed them out to me. I always strive to get the information correct!

Five years ago today / Pemp bleiz zo

Madeleine and classmates - Malarde

Five years ago today, I completed my six-month Breton language immersion program at Stumdi, in Plañvour, Brittany. Although I’d had some Breton under my belt when the program began, I felt I had very limited skill in the language–especially when I tried to speak it or understand it in conversation. My desire to be able to really speak the language had been one of the major motivators for me to pack up and move to Brittany to participate in the immersion program. And so, at the end of the six months, it was quite satisfying to know that–not only did I have a solid basic knowledge of the grammar and vocabulary–I could now hold my own in a conversation in Breton!

Skill in the Breton language was not the only thing that I gained. After six months of studying together, five days a week, 8 hours a day, with my 9 classmates, and the 10 students in our sister class next door, and the teachers who guided us through the process, I felt that I had gained a new community of friends. When I had shown up for the first day of classes, I’m pretty sure my classmates did not know what to make of me: why would an American adult pull up roots and move to a small town in Brittany, France, just to learn their local language? By the end of our six months together, they seemed to have decided I was okay, and I found myself spending my free time with a number of them. And since moving back, I’ve kept in touch with many of them to one degree or another– via mail, phone, and facebook. I’ve gone back for visits and seen some of them, which has been great, but I never have enough time on my trips to see everyone I’d like to. But to paraphrase Bogart in Casablanca, we’ll always have Plañvour.

After those six months of sweat and struggle–and laughs–we did create a bond of experience, and I feel very lucky to have gotten to know my classmates and my teachers. (The picture above is of me and a few of my classmates, dressed up for Malarde, known in the U.S. as Mardi Gras. I’m not sure who took the photo for me on my camera. The photo below is of me and some classmates and teachers, taken by Michel Thierry at the end of our graduation day hike along the Intel/Etel river.) I’m glad that at least some of us have been to be able to keep in touch. And even visit occasionally, even if it never seems to be often enough or long enough. It was an incredible time for me, and I’ll always have fond memories. Thank you, and happy anniversary, to my classmates and teachers! Bloavezh mat deoc’h, an holl stummerien hag an holl stummadurien!

Stumdi graduation day hike

 

Breton then and now

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.

Published / Embannet

I sat down to update my CV tonight.  As I was working on it, I griped to J (via Skype) about that book notice that I’d written maybe four years ago–it had been accepted but had never gotten published. I wondered aloud if maybe I should just delete any reference to it, given that it seemed absurd to use the phrase “in press” year after year next to its entry on my CV. Maybe in the transition from one journal editor to another it had gotten misplaced? For a year or two, I’d dutifully checked the journal every month or so to see if my book notice was there. And it really was just a book notice, and why keep it in there, when it was never going to get published at this rate. After a while, I’d pretty much forgotten about it, except on those rare occasions when I read over my CV. And by now, four years later, the book that it was about (Europe and the politics of language: Citizens, migrants and outsiders, by Máiréad Nic Craith) was no longer new, so did it really matter?!

As J was reminding me that–while these academic publishers are not the speediest in the world–they do eventually get around to publishing things, I opened up Firefox and looked for the journal. When I got to the eLanguage homepage, I typed my name into the search box, just to prove to her that it still wasn’t there.

Except it was there. In print. Or as close as things get to actual print nowadays–online and available for all to see. And it looks like it’s actually been there for 11 1/2 months. Must have slacked on my checking for it in the last year or so. And if they wrote me last year to let me know it had been published, they undoubtedly would have used my grad school email address, which no longer exists. So that’s why I hadn’t heard from them when they’d published it. Wisely, whoever put the book notice online must have done some sort of search for me, because they inserted a link from my byline to my linkedin page.

So, I’m academically published! That feels good. Haven’t actually sat down to read it through yet, but I will read the whole thing through tomorrow, just for old time’s sake. If you’d like to take a gander at it, just click on this link to it in eLanguage. A bonus–unlike the Ya! article that I posted about the other day, this one is in English, so a little more reader-friendly for some folks.

My big interview spread in Ya! and a radio program tomorrow

The front page of Ya!

Okay, I’m a little later than I said I would be, but here–finally–is the edition of Ya! newspaper that features an interview with me. I searched online for it, but apparently it’s only available in print. Siwazh. So then I had to go to town and find a copy for myself. I picked up all the copies that they had at Coop Breizh–three! And now I’ve photographed it so you can see it.

The picture on the left is of the front page. Below the fold, on the left, is a pretty good picture of me and a phrase exclaiming, “A meeting with Madeleine Adkins.” I include this both because I like the picture and because I want to show how prominently my interview was featured in the newspaper.

If you want to see this photo in greater detail, just click on it and it should display a bigger image. This is true of all photos that I post, by the way.

The second photo (below) shows the back page of the newspaper, which to my surprise was devoted entirely to the interview with me. The interview had begun in person, during my week-long internship at the Lise Diwan (the Breton language immersion high school) in February. The photos that go with the article were taken at the school. We didn’t have enough time to finish the interview, so the man who interviewed me emailed me the questions (and what he’d already written) and had me write out the answers. I spent a few hours answering the questions, and then spent two hours going over the answers with one of my teachers to correct my errors and make the phrasing more precise. Trugarez vras, Brieg!

The results are on the right. This was a lot of fun to do. I got to talk about why I’m here, and also answer a number of random questions that they like to ask the people that they feature in these interviews. I wish they hadn’t edited a few phrases and changed a few words, as I feel that the changes made some of my responses less clear. But I am not in charge, and so this is the result.

I enjoyed my little moment of fame. At the Breton language gathering a few days later, someone actually recognized me from the article. And my classmates teased me on the day that we took a fieldtrip to the Etel when one of the teachers took out a copy to show people.

Speaking of fame–I may be on the radio tomorrow (i.e. Saturday) morning. Our class took a trip to Karaez, and one of the activities was a sort of treasure hunt around town. A woman from Radio Bro Gwened interviewed some of the participants and followed some of us around as we searched for various sites around the town. I don’t know if the program will include clips of me speaking or reading the questions aloud, but it will definitely include my classmates. And I don’t know the time–just that it’s supposed to be on tomorrow. Here’s the link to the station, if you want to try and listen:

http://radio.bro.gwened.free.fr/fr/index.htm

That’s all for now. Off to dinner with my classmates, and then tomorrow I’m going to participate in a Breton language political event in the capital of Brittany. If you’re in Roazhon/Rennes tomorrow, come join me! And I’ll write about that once I’m back.

I was on TV / En tele e oan

I was on TV this week. Pretty exciting. I’ve only been on TV twice before in my life. And it’s certainly the first time I’ve spoken Breton in any type of public forum.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one day a TV crew showed up at school to interview us. We had no warning, and just a little time to practice what we wanted to say. This was back in early November, so we didn’t speak as well as we do now and needed to use a particularly advanced verb form, so the practice was necessary.

The interviewer, Anna Quéré, asked us what our wishes were for the new year. The program, called Red an Amzer, is one of the very few Breton language programs on TV, and Anna is one of the hosts. She’s even more dynamic in person than she is on the screen.

I’m imagining that most of you reading this are not regular viewers of France 3, and you’ve probably never seen Red an Amzer before. Well, you’re in luck if you want to see me on TV, because it turns out that they offer the videos online for a few weeks.

Here’s the link:

http://jt.france3.fr/regions/popup.php?id=e44g_redanamzer

You can watch it online or download it. (Downloading the whole 25-minute program takes a bit of time, so I don’t recommend doing that unless you really want to keep it.) Our segment is near the beginning, right after the hosts’ opening chit-chat. My moment of glory is about 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the show. I have to say, they didn’t film my good side and I do look a bit nervous, but heck, I’m just happy to have made the cut. (Some classmates’ comments apparently ended up on the cutting room floor, because only 5 of us are in the segment, mixed in with some other folks.) If you make your way through the whole program, there are other interesting segments, including an interview with a Chinese author who lives in France, and a profile of people who have chosen to become traditional bakers.

What was my wish for 2011? In case your Breton is rusty, here’s what I say: that I would like to be able to introduce the Breton language to people in the U.S. (En 2011, e karfen degas brezhoneg d’an dud er Stadoù-Unanet.) So, between the blog and my TV moment, it looks like the year is off to a good start.

Bloavezh mat ! (Happy new year!)