A flag representing the Occitan language at a protest in Toulouse. Photo published on Twitter by @elpasolibre.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets all over France this weekend to defend the country’s minority languages. These have been spoken in different regions of France for centuries, but are slowly dying off. With the first round of the French presidential election just three weeks away, speakers of endangered tongues are trying to get candidates to take their concerns seriously.
Protesters called on presidential candidates, if elected, to enact the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
. France has already signed - but not ratified - the charter. Demonstrators also asked the state to officially recognise regional languages, of which there are more than two dozen. This would involve modifying France’s constitution
, which stipulates that “the language of the Republic is French.”
Protesters argue that the state discriminates against regional languages by not allowing their use in any official documents. In contrast with many of its European neighbours, France has a highly centralised administration, with standard French as its sole working language. This dates back to the French revolution and the emergence of Jacobinism
, a doctrine that shaped the nation’s policies around political, cultural and linguistic unity.
Three presidential candidates - François Hollande (Socialist party), François Bayrou (a centrist), and Eva Joly (Green party) - have already come out in favour of recognising regional languages. The latter two even took part in one of the protests in Toulouse on Saturday. Only one candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (far left), has taken a clear position against these languages being recognised, saying that he was “proud to be a Jacobin, and to speak only French and Spanish, the language of my grandparents.”