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.

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:

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.