“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.

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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

 

A Breton village and the healer

As in many rural regions of the US, small towns in less-populated parts of France have difficulty finding doctors to work there. A little over a week ago, news articles started popping up–both in the French- and in the English-language media–about a village in northern Brittany (La Roche-Derrien) that had been experiencing this problem. While the issue was sadly commonplace, the solution that the village leaders had arrived at was decidedly not: La Roche-Derrien was hiring a druid healer to be the new local doctor.

Brittany, as a Celtic land, has had a long history of traditional healing, passed down from generation to generation. Friends in Brittany have told me how every area has at least one local healer. The healers don’t put a shingle out, but the locals know who it is and where to go when they need help with physical or psychic difficulties. I don’t know how many people avail themselves of the healers’ services in modern times, but clearly some do.

I myself have never been to one of these healers, so I cannot speak from personal experience about how they practice. Nor can I say whether there is commonly seen to be a connection between the druidic culture of long ago and modern-day Breton healers. But I’ve always found it admirable that traditional healing practices–and so many other traditional cultural practices–have been maintained in Brittany to this day.

But even I was skeptical of this story: would modern French bureaucracy ever permit a village to bring on a traditional healer as a town doctor? In fact, it would not. Almost immediately, this story was revealed to be a hoax carried out by the village, with the help of a PR agency, to get people’s attention because the village is in need of a town doctor and they can’t find one. They’d even hired an actor to pose as the purported druid healer to bring the story to life. I hope all the buzz that they generated helps them to solve their doctor shortage. But for many rural areas, this growing lack of local doctors is creating an increasing health crisis.

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.

Breton music in Boulder / Sonerezh breton e Boulder

Image
Philippe Le Gallou and Nolwenn Monjarret, the Breton musicians performing in Boulder this week.

While things have been quiet here on the Blogging Brittany front, I’ve been working on a number of projects as well as my regular job. One of those projects has been bringing some friends of mine who are Breton musicians to Colorado to perform and to share a bit of Breton culture through their music. And now they’re here!

Nolwenn Monjarret is a singer of traditional Breton songs and a friend of mine. When I returned to Colorado this past year, I suggested she should come and perform in Colorado. She took me up on the offer, and now she–and guitarist Philippe Le Gallou–are on a mini music tour of the Front Range. I have never organized concerts before. It’s been quite a process, finding venues and getting the word out. It’s exciting to see it all finally come to fruition this week.

Nolwenn’s lovely voice, deep knowledge of traditional Breton song, and engaging presence make her an ideal ambassador for Breton music. Last night, Nolwenn and Philippe performed at a house concert in Lafayette, a few miles east of here. It is my first time seeing Nolwenn and Philippe perform together. Despite the jet lag, they blended so smoothly: I’d heard their album, Son Elena, already, but it was an electric experience seeing them perform live. (For a taste of Son Elena, click here.) And of course, for me, one of the best parts is hearing the Breton language here in Boulder! Nolwenn is singing in Breton, Gallo, French, English, Galician (and probably other languages, as well) this week.

I wish all of you could see them perform here in town this week. For those who are in Boulder/Denver, here’s a list of their remaining performances in the area. Each event is going to be different. Today’s is a concert-lecture, here on the CU Boulder campus, and it will include music from many Celtic nations.

Wednesday, April 11 at 4:30pm, University of Colorado Boulder

A Celtic music concert and lecture, featuring traditional songs performed by Nolwenn and Philippe from a variety of Celtic lands. Nolwenn will also give a short talk about Celtic music, and about her family’s pioneering work to preserve and promote traditional music in Brittany.

Free. Center for British and Irish Studies, 5th floor, Norlin Library.

Thursday, April 12 at 7:00pm, Boulder

An evening of Breton music and dance. Nolwenn and Philippe will perform traditional songs from Brittany in Breton, Gallo, and French. In addition, Nolwenn will be teaching some simple Breton folk dances.

$10 donation at the door. First Congregational Church, 1128 Pine St. Boulder.

Friday, April 13 at 6pm, Denver

An evening of Breton and Celtic music. Nolwenn and Philippe will perform traditional songs from Brittany in Breton, Gallo, and French, and songs from other Celtic lands as well. In addition, Nolwenn will be teaching some simple Breton folk dances.

$15 at the door. The Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington St. Denver. Co-sponsored by Denver Sister Cities International and the Alliance Française of Denver.

http://denversistercities.org/updates/2012-03-21/enjoy-an-evening-with-singer-nolwenn-monjarret-of-brittany-france/

Oh, and here is their facebook page, if you want to keep up with their concert schedule:

https://www.facebook.com/NolwennMonjarretPhilippeLeGallou

Bloavezh mat! / Happy new year!

I know, I know. Here at Blogging Brittany, things have been pretty quiet. Well, silent. For many months. It was never my intent to drop the blog so suddenly and so completely. Life just took over for a while.

Yes, I’m back in the US. And yes, I’ll be posting more here on the blog in the new year. There are stories that I haven’t had a chance to share and background on Breton that I still want to give you all. And, yes, a few more photos. And more about the language–of course!

Best wishes to all of you in the new year. May your languages be spoken, may your culture be appreciated and enjoyed by many, and may we all have a peaceful, healthy, and happy new year!

Madalen/Madeleine

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.