Is Breton a language or a patois? Is this a Celtic language? What were the influences of Gallic or French on Breton? Do people understand each other in Breton from one end of Brittany to the other? Is Breton spoken throughout Brittany? Who still speaks Breton today?
Lionel Buannic answers these and other questions and clichés about Breton language in a video. The video has been transcribed in this article and translated into English, but you can find the video with English subtitles at the end of this page.
The Breton language in brief
Breton is a Celtic language in the same family as Welsh and Cornish. It is spoken throughout historic Brittany by over 225,000 people in 2023, and 9% of the Breton population understands Breton. Nearly 20,000 children learn Breton at school, as do over 3,000 adults every year thanks to evening classes and long-term training.
Breton is a living language: around a hundred new books are published every year in Breton, several hundred videos in Breton are broadcast on the Internet or on television, there is a television channel on the Internet 100% in Breton (Brezhoweb) as well as several radio stations in the Breton language. Cultural life is also active, with Breton-language theater companies, music groups, festive events and entertainment in Breton.
The Breton language – Clichés about Brittany
(Discover this article in French Le breton, langue ou patois ?)
Most people don’t know what Breton is. Here’s a video from the « Breton Clichés » series that tackles this question. The Breton language is filled with SO many clichés, you are spoiled for choice!
Breton, a language or a patois?
The first cliché to get rid of is that Breton is a patois. This is wrong. It is a language with grammar, sounds, vocabulary, and it even has its own dialects. Breton is a Celtic language from the same family as Welsh an Cornish. Our ancestors from Great Britain who settled in Armorica, between the 5th and 5th centuries had their own language.
However, the question remains whether these languages have been mixed or not with Gallic, which might still have been spoken there.
Intercomprehension between Breton, Welsh and Cornish
Another cliché to get rid of is the idea these languages were understood by everyone (Breton, Welsh and Cornish), which was the case until the Middle-Ages, but then, each language evolved independently.
Breton is spoken all over Brittany,
This is a cliché that is partly true and partly false. This was mostly true until the 9th century. Breton was spoken almost everywhere in Brittany, along with Roman, especially towards the West. Then at the end of the Middle-Ages, a border was created between Saint-Brieuc and Vannes.
That said, nothing remains the same and today, Rennes is the first city in terms of children attending bilingual Breton-French schools.
Is Breton a dead language?
Is Breton still spoken in France? Amongst other cliché that won’t die is that Breton is almost never spoken. This is wrong. 1 in 5 people in Trégor speak Breton, as well as 15% of the inhabitants of Finistère. And generally speaking, 1 person out of 5 in Lower Brittany understands Breton.
Is Breton the same as French?
It’s true that a large part of the vocabulary has Celtic origins, but as in all languages, there are many different influences. Take a look at these Breton language examples : Table, « taol » in Breton, is similar to the Latin word « tabula », monkez, « marmouz » in Breton, is similar to the old French word « marmot ».
In contrast, the Breton word « marc’h », « horse », has given the English word « mare », and the Breton word « bizioù », « fingers », has given the French word for jewelry « bijou ».
Breton is a written language or not?
It’s worth nothing that Breton has been written for a very long time. Thousands of words have been found in manuscripts dating back to the 9th century.
The first French dictionary was also a Breton dictionary, the Catholicon. It was a multilingual dictionary of French, Latin and Breton, published in 1499.
Who are the young Breton speakers?
And the last cliché : young Breton speakers don’t wear traditional headdresses and clogs anymore. You’ll find these at rock music festivals, local supermarkets, or everywhere in the world!