TWO REGIONS OF FRANCE

Brittany and Northern Catalonia
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Here, Transcript visits two regions in France, Brittany and Northern Catalonia, where writers continue to work in their native idiom. We introduce Northern Catalonia's Patrick Gifreu and Jordi Pere Cerdà, and ask four other Catalonian writers in France how the linguistic reality influences their work. Also in this issue, read a short history of modern Breton literature, and work by Angela Duval and Jakez Riou. First, a look at things on the ground...

by Diarmuid Johnson

Brittany: what do we know of it? Writers once came here from Paris to see the wild Atlantic in Finistère. Painters flocked to Pont Aven. Characters from Arthurian legend walked the Forest of Broceliande...

Once a place of romance, Brittany today bears the marks of depression. We drive through the woods in early February. It seems the chainsaw's teeth have inflicted more damage here than the felling of trees for great armadas. Roadsigns point to Loudéac and St Brieuc. Millions of pigs have filled the earth here with so much slurry that great lorries now transport loads of it to infect places as yet unspoiled. For ten years, nitrates in overfertilised farmland have been washing downstream to coasts which are now choked by tides of green seaweed which turns to sludge on the beaches. People used to speak Breton here. Some still do. Many sit in stone cottages watching gameshows on TV.

How does the current linguistic situation in Northern Catalonia compare? Today, in France, most speakers of Catalan are over sixty and live in rural areas. Young people find themselves speaking French more and more in their social and professional lives. As well as being home to a native popuation, Northern Catalonia is of course the place of residence of people from north Africa, of retired French people, and others.

But demography alone scarcely explains the decline of Catalan. Its causes are to be found rather in the prestige accorded to the French language in the constitution, and the exclusion of all other languages from official life. Consequently, French has long been associated with progress, education and prosperity.

For several decades, questions about the survival of regional languages and cultures in France have been current. But France is not the country it once was. Debts in the public health sector are out of control. Cutbacks in education have brought the people from the classroom and the research laboratory out onto the streets. Extreme right wing ideas are current. Panache and high principles in areas of foreign policy mask the sort of corruption which sparked a revolution in 1789.

Against this backdrop of national decline, is it now conceivable that regionality will outlast republicanism in France? France, if in decline, may drag its constituent regions under with it. Some thinkers and writers in Brittany and Catalonia work in the hope that this will not be the case.

Transcript introduces Yann Gerven, Patrick Gifreu and Jordi Pere Cerdà, and we ask further Catalonian writers how the linguistic situation influences their work. In this issue read also a short history of modern Breton literature, and work by Angela Duval and Jakez Riou which reflects the agrarian society of times past.










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