Degemer mat, bienvenue, refugees welcome

With the clearing out of the Calais migrant camp, the situation of refugees in France is very much in the news this week. Brittany, of course, is one of the places that refugees are being resettled. I came across–via a friend on Facebook–this wonderful trilingual welcome sign.  I downloaded it from the site Les gens heureux que Trégastel et Trébeurden accueillent des réfugiés–the people happy that Trégastel and Trébeurden are welcoming refugees. The site credits the designer as being Claire Robert.

Part of what I like about this sign is its message of welcome. Of course, another part of what I like is the inclusion of “Degemer Mat”, a phrase of welcome in the Breton language. (I’m assuming that the English is included for the sake of the refugees.)

The other thing that makes this special is the inclusion of the traditionally-dressed woman reaching her hand out to a bearded man with a bag, symbolizing a refugee. While Bretons haven’t worn traditional outfits as daily wear for a while, you can often see people dressed in such outfits during parades and folk dancing competitions. And faïence and dish towels sold in gift shops often have images of men and women in traditional attire. So, it’s very symbolic of Brittany and its connection to its traditional culture. It’s also a thoughtful way of connecting Breton culture and the modern (global) world. People sometimes set up a false dichotomy between tradition and modernity, tribalism and globalism. But as this symbol shows, many people understand that the two do not have to be in opposition.

P.S. Apparently, because of the shape, and because of where I placed the image above, it’s hard to see the whole image at the top of the page. So I’m adding another copy of the image here, the better for you to see it:

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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.

“Pep tra a zo mat a zo mat da gaout”

So, one of the things to know about Breton is that it–like all of the languages of France other than Standard French–has historically been suppressed, ignored, and villified by the French government. Which is why I love this clip. Because in it, two members of the Assemblée Nationale speak in the Breton language. During an active Assemblée session. It would be the equivalent of a member of congress speaking a Native American language during a session of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Has that ever happened? Perhaps one of you can enlighten us in the comments section on that.)

For those who don’t speak Breton, in the course of his comment on an environmental topic, Assemblée member Paul Molac (0:22) quotes a traditional saying, “Pep tra a zo mat a zo mat da gaout”, which translates “Everything that is good is good to take.” Then, Marc Le Fur–who appears to be chairing the session–comments (0:53), “Marteze tout an dud n’o deus ket komprenet” (“perhaps everyone didn’t understand”).* He then translates into French himself and gives a little laugh.

Both of the men are Breton, not surprisingly. And Molac, according to Wikipedia, speaks both Breton and Gallo–the two traditional languages of Brittany, now both endangered.

This occurred in 2013, and I believe that it was the first time Breton had been spoken by its members in the Assemblée. Perhaps it was even the first time any minority language had been spoken in the Assemblée. The brief exchange did not go unnoticed by the French press–google the saying, and you’ll come up with a dozen or so French and Breton outlets reporting on this event. This was a wonderfully subversive act of speaking Breton in the Assemblée, smack dab in the halls of government where it had so often been reviled.

* I’m using Rafael Urien’s transcription of the text here, and I’ve seen the same transcription in news articles, so I don’t know who originated it. When I listen to the text, I don’t hear the past tense postposition -et at the end of Le Fur’s utterance, but it would theoretically be there, certainly.