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The languages of Brittany : Breton and Gallo

Having become weaker since the mid-nineteenth century, the languages of Brittany (Breton and Gallo), which are considered by UNESCO to be “seriously endangered”, are gradually re-establishing themselves in Breton society. Communities, associations, the media and many volunteers are working to develop these regional languages - which are still spoken by more than 200,000 people - and to preserve this valuable heritage.


Language, Brittany’s heritage


Breton is a Celtic language of the Brythonic group, which arrived in Brittany with the migration of the Breton people from what is now Great Britain, between the 5th and 7th centuries. A hundred years ago, more than a million people spoke Breton, but five times fewer speak it today : there are 206,000 Breton speakers according to a 2007 survey. There are several dialects, but the differences are slight and are mainly concerned with accent and pronunciation.

Like all living languages, Breton has continued to evolve during its history. Modern Breton was established by grammarians and lexicographers, and many terminological works have gradually given the Breton language the features necessary for communication in contemporary society.

The public body, the Breton Language Office has the mission of promoting the Breton language and developing its application in all areas of language use. 


Gallo is not a patois or a French dialect but an Oïl language.Like French, it is in the Gallo-Romance group of languages. Between 2% and 5% of Brittany’s population speak Gallo.

The ordinance of Villers-Cotterets, issued in 1539 by François I, made French the language of the court and legal proceedings. This centralising trend continued through the centuries, excluding regional languages.

Gallo, a descendant of the Latin of Gaul, has Gallic, Germanic, Scandinavian and Breton influences.

The Bertègn Galèzz association has worked since 1976 to promote the Gallo language.


Two languages looking for recognition


The languages of Brittany were for many years deprived of legal status and prohibited in schools. The transmission of the Breton language within families almost ceased in the 1950s and the family transmission of Gallo was gradually extinguished.

In December 2004, the Brittany Region unanimously adopted a language policy. It sets objectives for the transmission of Brittany’s languages and their presence in everyday life. The Region “formally recognises, alongside the French language, the existence of Breton and Gallo as languages of Brittany.”


Language teaching is resumed


Since the creation of the Diwan language immersion schools in 1977 and the introduction of French-Breton bilingual classes in public and private education, the number of children enrolled in language learning is growing every year. From kindergarten to high school, children can follow a bilingual education in 450 institutions. In 2014, 15,840 students were enrolled in a bilingual or language immersion school.

As for Breton learning among adults, in 2013 nearly 5,000 adults took evening classes, short or long courses or correspondence lessons to learn Breton.


Breton and Gallo in culture and the media


Cultural activity in Breton and Gallo has helped to preserve the vitality of Brittany’s languages and share this linguistic heritage with all audiences.

The media also allow the people of Brittany to hear their languages in everyday life. Several radio stations broadcast in Breton or Gallo. Breton language programs are broadcast on TV and there is also a Breton-only Web TV station, Brezhoweb. A weekly newspaper (Ya !) and several monthly reviews (Bremañ etc.) are published exclusively in Breton, and other newspapers regularly publish features, columns and competitions in Breton or Gallo.


Breton in economic life


In 2012, about 1,300 job posts (full time equivalents) were filled by Breton speakers working in roles that require knowledge of Breton. These jobs were in education (80%), management (9%), the media (4%), culture (3%), local authorities and government (1.5%).