Brezhoneg (Breton) is a Southwestern Brittonic language of the Keltiek (Celtic) language family spoken in Breizh (Brittany), modern-day Bro-C’hall (France). It is the only Celtic language still in use on the European mainland.
The French monarchy was not concerned with the minority languages of France, spoken by the lower classes, and required the use of French for government business as part of its policy of national unity. During the French Revolution, the government introduced policies favoring French over the regional languages, which it pejoratively referred to as patois. The revolutionaries assumed that reactionary and monarchist forces preferred regional languages to try to keep the peasant masses underinformed. In 1794, Bertrand Barère submitted his “report on the patois” to the Committee of Public Safety in which he said that “federalism and superstition speak Breton”.
Since the 19th century, under the Third, Fourth and now Fifth Republics, the French government has attempted to stamp out minority languages—including Breton—in state schools, in an effort to build a national culture. Teachers humiliated students for using their regional languages, and such practices prevailed until the late 1960s.
In the early 21st century, due to the political centralization of France, the influence of the media, and the increasing mobility of people, only about 200,000 people are active speakers of Breton, a dramatic decline from more than 1 million in 1950. The majority of today’s speakers are more than 60 years old, and Breton is now classified as an endangered language. Today, Breton is the only living Celtic language that is not recognized by a national government as an official or regional language.
In the important work of preserving Europe’s Celtic history and revitalizing Breton knowledge, these maps are indispensable.
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Map 5: Breizh, 1513, by Daniel Derveaux