LINGUIST List 2.177

Sunday, 28 Apr 1991

Disc: Banned Languages

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Breton
  2. Michael Gasser, Ethiopia
  3. , Re: Gaelic
  4. "Hi, 'lo", Re: Breton

Message 1: Breton

Date: Fri, 26 Apr 91 09:53:00 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Breton
Michael Katz correctly pointed out that Breton names were once banned in 
Brittany. In fact, Brittany has suffered from a long history of official
government hostility directed at both the culture and the language. I did
some field work on the Tregor dialect near Lannion, where Breton still has
a relatively strong foothold (such as it is). Some of the farmers described
the abuse they had taken in school when caught speaking the language. One of
the favorite games was the "potato". A child became "the potato", and had
to carry around a potato, when caught speaking Breton. The potato was passed
on when another child was caught. The greatest shame was to be left holding 
the potato at the end of the day. These old men still remembered and chuckled
sadly over the injustice of it.

I recently visited Lannion in October and got to see a new Breton school for
children. There were dozens of children playing in the yard and speaking
Breton. Ten years ago, my nationalist friend pointed out with pride, you
could count the number of Breton-speaking children on the fingers of one hand.
And all such children belonged to politically active parents. Many of these
children were from fairly apolitical families who wanted to convey their
cultural heritage. This change in atmosphere is probably due to the political
change that came in with Mitterand.

Nevertheless, I do not think that the biggest detriment to Breton has been
political. There is the hard fact that speaking Breton does very little to
improve economic survival. People have a critical need to know French, and
my nationalist friend was himself facing the fact that he was being required
to learn English as a condition of employment in Alcatel, the international
phone company. So he was in a real situation--his heart was in Breton, his
head in French, and his future in English!
 Rick Wojcik (
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Message 2: Ethiopia

Date: Fri, 26 Apr 91 09:55:50 PDT
From: Michael Gasser <gasserbend.UCSD.EDU>
Subject: Ethiopia
In Ethiopia prior to the 1974 revolution it was essentially
impossible (illegal?) to publish in any Ethiopian language other
than Amharic and Tigrinya. That's some 70 languages which were in
effect prevented from developing any written literature or even an
orthography. Most striking of all was the case of Oromo, a language
spoken by probably more people than the official national language
Amharic, at that time by perhaps 10 million. There also were no
radio broadcasts in these languages, and education through the sixth
grade was conducted entirely in Amharic (except in Eritrea, where I
believe Tigrinya was used). Language policy has changed considerably
since the revolution, though I'm not clear on the details. I understand
there are now both newspapers and radio broadcasts in at least Oromo.

Michael Gasser
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Message 3: Re: Gaelic

Date: Fri, 26 Apr 1991 12:52:00 -0400
From: <SoutherlandUNCAMULT.BITNET>
Subject: Re: Gaelic
Re: Banned Languages Further to the problems of Scots Gaelic: the
sorry story of the enforced demise of the Gaidhealtachd
(Gaelic-speaking area of Scotland) is very fully told in Charles W. J.
Withers. 1984. *Gaelic in Scotland 1698-1981*. The Geographical
History of a Language. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd. The
book briefly treats the period prior to the 17th century and then
recounts in copious detail measures taken by various regimes/churches to
reduce the numbers of Gaelic-speakers in the country to their present
tiny total.
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Message 4: Re: Breton

Date: Sat, 27 Apr 1991 17:31 EST
From: "Hi, 'lo" <>
Subject: Re: Breton
In response to Michael Kac's comment on the forbidding of Breton names in
France, my understanding of the French situation is that names must all come
from a common list, originally composed of saints' names. Perhaps if there
were a Breton saint,....

[End Linguist List, Vol. 2, No. 177]
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