LINGUIST List 2.186

Thursday, 2 May 1991

Disc: Banned Languages

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. , Re: Banned Languages: Breton
  2. "NORVAL SMITH, RE: Banned Languages
  3. , Banned languages/unbanned varieties
  4. Itziar Laka, banned languages: Basque
  5. bert peeters, Language education in Belgium and related matters
  6. "N.O. Monaghan", Re: Banned Languages

Message 1: Re: Banned Languages: Breton

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 12:33:00 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: Banned Languages: Breton
As far as I know, there is no longer any restriction on the use of Breton 
names, just as many of the other petty harrassment laws have disappeared.
(E.g. it is now legal to display the Breton nationalist flag.) I know 
one person named "Yannig" who doesn't live in Brittany and doesn't
speak Breton. His grandfather was Breton.

Regarding WWII, there was an unfortunate history of collaboration between
elements of the nationalist movement and the Nazis. In fact, the nationalist
movement was largely right-wing until the 60's. I met one collaborator--a
member of the SS at age 17--who managed not to get executed because he was so
young. (He spent some time in jail. Then he fought in Indochina and wrote
a book on tank tactics in Breton--presumably to help in some future revolt.)
I have heard it claimed that the language movement nearly died out in the
50's because of its former right-wing ties.

Greg mentioned the student who caught his teacher using Breton. Here is 
something of a reverse anecdote. In 1971, Prof. Wolfgang Dressler and I 
studied Breton in Buhulien. The local priest was fiercely nationalist, and
he would only speak to us in Breton or English--never French, which was 
actually his native language. The townspeople would titter behind his back,
because his Breton was so artificial, but he never uttered a word of French.
Dressler and I interviewed one of the orphans in the priest's orphanage, and
he admitted that the priest would use French with him when no adults were
around. ;-)
 -Rick Wojcik (
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Message 2: RE: Banned Languages

Date: Mon, 29 Apr 91 19:32 MET
Subject: RE: Banned Languages
To "Hi, 'lo":
There are dozens of Breton saints....! In fact I have in my possession a newspap
 er cutting from 1971 which goes as follows:

RENNES, Monday (Reuter)
The boys Abraboran, Gwendal and Brann, and the girls Maiwenn, Diwesa and
Sklerin will now exist in France. Their parents the Manrots could not get
their Celtic names registered. The law forbidding Breton names has now been

Norval Smith
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Message 3: Banned languages/unbanned varieties

Date: Tue, 30 Apr 1991 13:35:13 GMT
Subject: Banned languages/unbanned varieties
I'm hesitant to add to the volume of correspondence, especially with another
example which is not clearly one of official banning in the total sense. 
However educational banning of Australian Aboriginal languages became very
widespread from the 1920's to about the 1960's in most government and mission
schools. Many Aboriginal people who went to school in this era vividly recall
that children were prohibited from speaking their language not only in class
but also often anywhere around the school, and were sent to stand in the corner
or physically punished with beatings etc. for doing so. The parallels with
the Native American language situation are often so close that accounts are
almost duplicated from the two continents. In Australia the period coincides
with government policy directions which are usually labelled *assimilationism*
but I'd like to get behind that to probe the reasons why suppression of minoritylanguages seems to have been so universal in that period.

On an early enquiry about teaching about non-standard varieties, a North
Australian creole based on English (usually known these days as Kriol) is
used as a teaching medium alongside standard English in at least two schools
in the Northern Territory. In one of these the Kriol is treated as the first
language and used as the initial literacy medium in a bilingual program with
English; in another it is used just as a oral medium in teaching without a
literacy program. In the former (the bilingual program) I believe there is
some instruction in the differences between the languages (which in regard
to the acrolectal form of Kriol anyway seem like dialect differences within
English). A researcher (Mari Rhydwen) is beginning some work on Kriol-English
and suchlike questions for the federal education department. In Western
Australia, in schools with Aboriginal populations, *language awareness* programshave been proposed which would teach such things as the linguistic
and sociolinguistic differences between standard English and pidgin/creole.
I'm not sure if any such programs have been implemented yet.

Patrick McConvell, Anthropology, Northern Territory University
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Message 4: banned languages: Basque

Date: Tue, 30 Apr 91 12:30:13 EDT
From: Itziar Laka <>
Subject: banned languages: Basque
I have been following the discussion on banned languages for the last days,
and I would like to bring another example: Basque. Very much like in the case
of Breton, Basque has been a banned language during the last decades of the
XIXth century up to the end of the Franco dictatorship, with a rather brief
intermission during the second Republic, right before the civil war. There
is ample documentation on the various types of games and punishments that
schoolchildren were subjected to in order to prevent them from speaking in
Basque: the ring (similar to the Potato game described for Breton), the hat,
and so on, were children who were caught speaking the language were given 
a particular object, and they could only get rid of it by finding some other
child who was speaking Basque. Whoever had the object at the end of the day
would be spanked (most often), ridiculed, or punished in some other way.
School teachers were specially trained to prevent kids from speaking their
native language ad to force them to use Spanish. Very often the only exposure 
to Spanish was offered at school, and nevertheless all instruction preceeded
as if Spanish were the common language. This technique was extremely succesful:
in approximately fity years of application, it suceeded in bringing the linguis-
tic border north several miles in Navarre, where school teachers were most
Adults have also been banned in the case of Basque: there is abundant documen-
tation on Basque speakers having been denied justice because they could not 
speak Spanish; and after Franco's victory during the civil war, banning was
so extreme that adults got arrested in the streets just for speaking Basque
(the Basque Country had officially been declared 'Traitor area' by the regime).
For example, my grandmother was arrested and spent a might in jail for speaking
in Basque to a peasant woman who knew only Basque. This arrest was extremely
efficient: my grandmother was reluctant since then to speak to her sons and
grandchildren in Basque, and did so only because we insisted. Books written in
Basque were also banned (many families burned their libraries to prevent arrest)
and Basque schooling was of course out of the question. Even during the sixties,
schools that used Basque (not exclusively) as a teaching language were illegal,
and a clandestine school movement was created to resist the fast reduction of
fluent speakers. There are many more aspects of the banning of Basque, also
in the area of the Basque Country in the French state, that I will not go into.
But from this case at least, one conclusion can be drawn: Banning is an extre-
mely efficient way of weakening and eventually wiping out a linguistic 
community. It is fast, exhaustive and quiet, unless the subjects engage in
active opposition, which is not that common.
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Message 5: Language education in Belgium and related matters

Date: Wed, 1 May 91 10:12:31 +1000
From: bert peeters <>
Subject: Language education in Belgium and related matters
Stavros Macrakis writes that "in the French and Flemish regions [of Belgium]
schools use the regional language, and teach the other language as a second
language". This is not entirely true. As far as I can see, most primary
schools (at least the Flemish ones) offer the other language as a compulsory
second language from year 5 onward. In secondary schools, pupils are allowed
to choose their second language from either French (a decreasing majority) or
English (an increasing minority) - I'm talking about the Flemish situation now.
Many secondary school students seem to be unaware of the vital importance of
French and have to catch up with evening courses once their secondary studies
are completed. As an ex-evening school teacher in Belgium, I can tell that
evening classes are more fun to teach than day classes - because students have
come to realize that French is important and they no longer are obliged, but
willing to study the language. Possibly, my views are a little biased, it may
have been the case that I was asked to teach in schools where interest in
French was at an all time low.
Some spelling matters: the Flemish university of "Leuven" (the Flemish do not
like to see the place referred to as Louvain!) is called "Katholieke
Universiteit Leuven" (K.U.L.); the Walloon university was created out of
nothing (as far as infrastructure is concerned) in Louvain-la-Neuve and is
called Universite Catholique de Louvain(-la-Neuve). Similarly, the Flemish
university in Brussels is the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (V.U.B.) and its
counterpart is known as U.L.B. (K.U.L.'s counterpart being U.C.L.).
Stavros Macrakis writes furthermore that "the university libraries were divided
by taking every other book". This is one of the saddest stories I have ever
heard - and it is true, at least for K.U.L./U.C.L. As a general rule, books
with odd call numbers remained in Leuven, whereas books with even call numbers
were allocated to the new U.C.L. library. But there were overriding factors:
books donated to the formerly unified library for instance usually went to 
the university preferred by the people in charge of the estate of the donator.
And so on. As a result, students and staff who wanted to do serious research
had to start travelling quite extensively between both campuses, a not 
inexpensive exercise but definitely cheaper than having to borrow all the books
by interlibrary loan. I understand the situation has improved significantly,
thanks to exchanges of doubles and to microfilming.
In the case of V.U.B./U.L.B. the situation was even sadder: V.U.B. didn't get
any of the books of the former university and had to start its collection from
scratch (I rely here on second-hand information). However, U.L.B. and V.U.B.
are not all that far away from each other, so the situation was not too bad.
One can actually walk from one campus to the other - it would take about 20 
to 30 minutes to get there.
One last observation: the so-called "memoires de licence" (in Dutch "licen-
tiaatsverhandelingen"; a little bit more ambitious than an honours thesis but
less so than a master's) as a rule were allocated to the French speaking
university library. I so happened to stumble on my Latin teacher's thesis,
written in Dutch at the end of the 40s, in the library of the Universite
Catholique de Louvain. 
Bert Peeters <>
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Message 6: Re: Banned Languages

Date: Tue, 30 Apr 91 19:41:16 BST
From: "N.O. Monaghan" <>
Subject: Re: Banned Languages
> 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.

If I remember correctly, there are actual language requirements for being
elected to certain local political offices. Was there not a case some
years ago of a major(?) who was elected more than once for a particular
locality but was continually refused admittance for refusing to
speak or show a knowledge of one in particular of the two languages, French
or Netherlands? Apparently his district lay inside one of the language
areas although most of the inhabitants of that area spoke the other
language. Can somebody more knowledgable correct my errors and supply
further details?


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