LINGUIST List 2.178

Monday, 29 Apr 1991

Disc: Banned Languages

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "Michael Kac", Approved Names
  2. , Names in France
  3. , Bilingual education
  4. John E. Koontz, Re: Banned Languages: Breton
  5. Greg Stump, Breton/Banned languages
  6. Mari Olsen, Re: Banned Languages

Message 1: Approved Names

Date: Sun, 28 Apr 91 21:43:44 -0500
From: "Michael Kac" <>
Subject: Approved Names
A net subscriber in response to my observation about Breton names in France
notes that the law was (is?) that names had to come from a common list con-
sisting primarily of names of saints, and goes on to hint that perhaps if
there had been a Breton saint the name of said saint would be on the list.
I wonder if anyone out there in Linguistland can answer the following ques-
tion: are there clearly non-French names on the list (e.g., could a German-
speaking Alsatian family name a son Gotthard?) Alternatively, are there
approved French analogues of names that were originally not French (on the
model of Ulfilas, the Hellenicization of the Gothic Wulfila)? And if so,
might there be reason to think that had there been a Breton saint whose
name made the list, it would likely have been recast in a French mold?

This suggest a more general question. Americans take it for granted that
you can name your kid anything you want. (There is even a series of books
called 'Remarkable Names', 'More Remarkable Names' etc. containing documen-
ted entries like Pepsicola Atombomb, as well as unfortunate combinations
of more orthodox parts, like C. Matthews Dick.) But practices differ in this
regard and it would be interesting to know what's out there. Indeed, I could
imagine this escalating into a worldwide dialogue on state control of the
use of language, probably justifying the establishment of another net.

In a related vein, another subscriber commented on the differences in poli-
tical culture between the U.S. and Canada (and Quebec in particular) which
make the Quebec language laws look very odd to us in the States but which
are a natural outgrowth of a quite different set of assumptions about the
relationship between collective and individual rights. That was a very
important observation and I am extremely glad that it was made. As it
happens, I personally think that the effort to establish an official language
in the U.S. by amending the Constitution is likely to founder on this very
shoal: it's too much in conflict with the presumption that individual rights
are paramount. U.S. citizens also cannot be required to carry state-issued
identity papers, which derailed a recent attempt to control illegal immigra-
tion from Latin America by precisely this means.

Michael Kac
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Message 2: Names in France

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 12:08:45 GMT+0100
From: <>
Subject: Names in France
The French administration requires that children's names be chosen from
some `recognized official source'. In practice, this means 1) the Catholic
saints 2) whatever lists foreign consulates provide 3) recognized regional
language lists (I don't know who their `authority' is for this, nor when
this was added). I do know that parents STILL have trouble with Breton, or
Berber/Kabyle (there is a large Algerian population), or Basque names if
they're not on the lists. Like the Kurds in Turkey, these groups don't
have any consulates to support them....

Even for Greek, it took us several weeks to get `Eleni' (and not Helene or
Elena) accepted a few months ago.... For the French administration,
dictionaries have no value, only official documents.

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Message 3: Bilingual education

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 11:38:33 GMT+0100
From: <>
Subject: Bilingual education
It's all very sad. Many bilingual countries (or provinces) don't see
themselves as consisting of bilingual individuals, but of monolingual
individuals of two languages. We have heard about the situation in
Quebec, where French-speakers perceive that to protect themselves,
they must suppress English.

Now some notes from Belgium, where the national languages are French
(the people are called Walloons, but few speak the regional dialect
called Walloon; they speak a local variant of standard French) and
Dutch (where in fact the local Flemish dialects are spoken, but it is
politically correct to speak of Nederlands). Dutch-speakers, by the
way, are a majority. (In France, this is often forgotten; all of
Belgium and all of Quebec contribute to the glory of greater

Belgium is divided into three administrative regions: French-speaking,
Flemish-speaking, and Brussels region. I don't want to go into the
various consequences of this except for schooling, as a comparison
with the Quebec situation. In the French and Flemish regions, schools
use the regional language, and teach the other language as a second
language. This is not too surprising, since in fact the population is
fairly well segregated (except in a few infamous border towns, which
cause infinite political crisis). In the Brussels region, on the
other hand, both French and Flemish schools and universities exist;
each system is run by its `community'. In fact, many schools and
universities were divided (sometime in the 60's?), so we now have
doublets such as the Katholike Universitet Leuven (which is still in
Leuven/Louvain) and l'Universite Catholique de Louvain (on the new
campus of Louvain-la-Neuve); the Vrije Universitet Brussel and the
Universite Libre de Bruxelles. I understand that the university
libraries was divided by taking every other book. (There were
presumably many more French than Dutch books.)

Now the funny thing is that many French-speaking parents send their
children to Flemish-speaking elementary schools. Why is this? Well,
for one thing, they figure that their children will learn French at
home anyway, so this way they will also learn Flemish, and being
bilingual is economically advantageous. Second, the Flemish schools
are apparently better funded for the moment. Why? Not clear, but
partly because the Flemish-region economy is doing better, so they
have more money, and perhaps also because the Flemings put more
emphasis on education (to seduce the French children?). They
presumably plan to send their children to French-speaking high schools
to master the various intricacies (voir absurdities) of French grammar
and orthography.

What these parents would really like, and what cannot exist under the
current system of community-funded schools, is a truly bilingual
school. Apparently the same is true in Quebec. I would guess that
immigrants as perhaps even many English-speakers would be delighted to
have truly bilingual schools. But the whole political system is based
on polarity.

Has any country done better?


PS Historically, the Belgian situation is very similar to the Quebec
situation, except that in Belgium it was the French that were on top
and suppressed the Flemish. All the `best' Flemish families spoke
French at home....

Stavros Macrakis
Open Software Foundation Research Institute

Mail: 2 av de Vignate, 38610 Gieres (Grenoble), France
Net: or or
Phone: +33/ Fax: +33/
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Message 4: Re: Banned Languages: Breton

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 09:14:05 MDT
From: John E. Koontz <>
Subject: Re: Banned Languages: Breton
The history and details of French laws governing naming were covered in the
Humanist list about a year ago, and the correspondence dealing with this is
probably available in the logs for that list. 

The list address is:
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Message 5: Breton/Banned languages

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 10:58:22 EST
From: Greg Stump <>
Subject: Breton/Banned languages
The potato game mentioned by Rick Wojcik is similar to a practice
recalled by several of my Breton-speaking acquaintances in Plougastel
(in the extreme northwestern part of Cornouaille in Brittany).
As children (in the twenties and thirties), they were discouraged from
speaking Breton at school; if they were caught, they had a block of wood
(variously known as "la vache" or "le symbole") hung around their neck,
and the only way they could rid themselves of it was to catch one of
their classmates speaking Breton. (One of them still speaks proudly of
having caught his *teacher* using Breton in an unguarded moment.) In
other parts of Brittany, a wooden shoe was commonly hung around
schoolchildren's necks for the same offense.

For a time during the second world war, the French government outlawed
phone conversations in Breton in certain locations. The fear, of course,
was that Breton separatists would collaborate with the Germans, a fear
fueled by the perception of certain superficial similarities between
Breton and German (velar fricatives, [ ya ] `yes', and so on).
Ironically, my acquaintances recall that during the occupation of
Plougastel, they were again actively discouraged from using Breton--
by the German soldiers, who, fearful of the plots that might be hatched
in a language totally unfamiliar to them, preferred that all civilians
speak French!

Greg Stump <>
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Message 6: Re: Banned Languages

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 11:03:28 EDT
From: Mari Olsen <>
Subject: Re: Banned Languages
The Puerto Rican legislature recently voted to eliminate English as an
official language of the island. What a handy excuse for the
substandard English education the Puerto Rican children have been
receiving in the public schools.

Mari Broman Olsen

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