The “Breizh” brand and the “.bzh” have made their mark in our daily newspapers, and at the same time remind us that the history of Brittany is also linguistic. This is the case in the West as in other areas of France, and it is precisely on this heritage that considers a bill examined this Thursday in the National Assembly. But beyond these known acronyms taken from Breton, how many people living in the region speak this language?
How many Bretonnants?
According to the most recent estimates available, 5.5% of the population questioned speaks Breton “fairly well” or “very well”. That is about 207,000 people. These figures come from a 2018 survey, initiated by the Regional Council of Brittany, and carried out with more than 8,000 people living in one of the departments of historic Brittany (Côtes-d’Armor, Finistère, Ille-et-Vilaine, Loire-Atlantique, Morbihan).
Beyond this number of “speakers”, 40% of the population of the five departments (or not far from one in two people, all the same) have “knowledge of the Breton language” (3.5% declare that they understand it. without speaking it, 31% have mastered at least a few words and expressions). At the same time, 3% of the inhabitants of historic Brittany speak Gallo, ie 191,000 people. And a quarter have knowledge of this language, such as a few words or phrases. This estimate is relatively stable compared to the previous one survey carried out in 2007, which tends to show that the downward trend is not inexorable, even if these figures retain limits.
Who speaks Breton?
The finding is clear: the vast majority of Breton and Gallo speakers are retirees. According to the 2018 survey, the average age of people speaking Breton is 70 years old. It is especially the elders who speak it: this average age has taken seven years more than in the previous survey in 2007! Eight out of ten Breton speakers and more than half of Gallo speakers are over 60 years old. What does this imply on a daily basis? As for uses, 60% of Bretoners listen to the radio in Breton, 58% watch television in Breton. Only 10% use this language, often or from time to time, to send an SMS or surf the internet.
On the other side of the age pyramid, however, we can mention the 19,000 students enrolled in the bilingual French-Breton stream in 2020, in just under the 600 establishments that offer it. Finistère and Morbihan have the largest number of pupils concerned, with more than 8,000 in the Finistère tip and nearly 5,000 in the southern Brittany department. An aspect far from trivial: 9 out of ten young people aged 15 to 24, and half of 25-39 year olds have learned the language at school, against 7% or less for the older generations.
Where do we speak Breton the most?
Unsurprisingly, we speak more readily Breton in the west of Brittany, and Gallo in the east. But more precisely, the territories where Breton is spoken the most are those of Central West Brittany, Trégor and Guingamp.
As for gallo, it is particularly present in Center-Bretagne, in the Ploërmel sector and in that of Bain-de-Bretagne (south of Rennes).
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