How many French people understand a regional language ? Are they more or less numerous than ten years ago? In which region do we have the most speakers? As astonishing as it may sound, it is difficult to find concrete answers to these questions.
A reminder, first: a spoken language on part of the national territory French has been a regional language for longer. They are distinguished from non-territorial languages, which are not linked, historically, to a particular area of the territory.
At least 5 million speakers
How many French people talk about it? According to the data of the general delegation for the French language and the languages of France (DGLFLF), there are at least 4.9 million speakers of the main languages of France, among the twenty regional languages in mainland France and more than fifty in the overseas territories which are counted.
Still according to the DGLFLF, theoccitan has the most speakers, with 1 million, followed by 800,000 forAlsatian and 700,000 for the Picard. In overseas areas, creoles Reunion, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyanese total more than 1.6 million speakers. Side Breton, the figure is estimated at 200,000 speakers.
Badly studied areas
Problem: these estimates are based on old national studies and more or less extensive local monitoring. They do not take into account certain languages which nevertheless have a large number of speakers, such as Gallo or Flemish. “In general, the tendency is to underestimate”, summarizes Philippe Blanchet, professor of sociolinguistics at the University of Rennes-2 and author of Discrimination: combating glottophobia.
“In general, the tendency is to underestimate”
For this passionate about regional languages, figure of the concept of “glottophobia”, the census of regional languages and of those who speak them suffer from “200 years of a strong ideological choice of unification by linguistic standardization”, which provoked their rejection or their being forgotten. He underlines a difficulty in the census of speakers which is directly linked to it: “We have so much put in people’s heads that it was shameful to speak a regional language that there is rather a tendency to hide it. “
To illustrate the complexity of a general picture, the linguist insists on “the areas of which we know nothing”. In the absence of a regional language office or of studies on the question, the question of regional languages is avoided. “The dominant discourse tends to say that languages are disappearing, but this is not based on any study,” explains Philippe Blanchet, citing the example of Poitou or Berry.
However, the researcher remains cautious about the investigations to be carried out on the question. According to him, it would be better to focus on regional surveys in each region over a large national survey which does not take into account the differences in the situation.
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