The French language has long been held sacred in France, which has led hard feelings among groups within the country whose first tongue is something other than the lingua franca.
France is home to more than 2 million individuals who speak regional languages such as Alsatian, Breton and Corsican, but the French government has refused to change its constitution, which states that “the language of the Republic is French.”
So while France actually signed the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages – adopted in 1992 under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote historical regional and minority languages in Europe – the French government has never ratified it.
As a result, the nation’s regional languages have failed to receive support required by the charter.
In fact, the policies of the Paris government have had the deliberate effect of greatly weakening the prevalence of native languages in France that are not “French.”
The second-class status afford languages other than French has not set well in regions where regional tongues are still prevalent, such as Brittany, the Basque country and Corsica.
Earlier this year, French lawmakers reopened the long-standing debate over the issue of France and its apparent refusal to accept its regional languages, according to the Cornwall Republican blog.
But again ratification of the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages seems unlikely because it contradicts the unwritten notion that the French Republic is singular, indivisible and must have only one language.
“The regions interest the country’s leaders, but only from a cultural point of view, as a place to visit as a tourist,” according to Yann An Aod, a leader of Kelc’h Sevenadurel Gwened, a Breton cultural promotion group.
For An Aod the current debate is somewhat hypocritical. France seeks to promote its language throughout the world, he said, but barely lifts a finger to protect its own cultural diversity at home.
“In France we are told we must have one center of power and only one language, it’s that way of thinking,” he said.
The strong grassroots support for regional languages saw tens of thousands of protesters take to the streets in 2012 calling for Paris to ratify a charter, which most other European countries have been happy to adopt.
Germany, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are among the 25 nations that have ratified that pact. France is among a handful of other nations, including Italy and Russia, which have not gone beyond the largely symbolic act of adding their signature.
The problem for speakers of Breton, Basque, Alsatian and the like is that the same barrier remains in place. France’s top legal advisor, the counsel of state, said in March 2013 that the charter would introduce “a fundamental inconsistency into the constitution.”
(Top: Breton Village, by Odilon Redon, 1890.)