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Review of  Linguistic Policies and the Survival of Regional Languages in France and Britain

Reviewer: Dave Sayers
Book Title: Linguistic Policies and the Survival of Regional Languages in France and Britain
Book Author: Anne Judge
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 19.598

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AUTHOR: Judge, Anne
TITLE: Linguistic Policies and the Survival of Regional Languages in France and
SERIES: Palgrave Studies in Minority Languages and Communities
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
YEAR: 2007

Dave Sayers, Department of Sociology, University of Essex, UK

This monograph comprises eight chapters, divided into three parts: 1) the
national languages in France and Britain; 2) the regional languages (RLs) of
metropolitan France; 3) the RLs of Britain. With sufficient detail for
undergraduates but accessible to the wider public, the book provides concise yet
extensive detail of the legislative protections afforded RLs in both countries,
and the measures enacted to protect them.

Chapter 1 begins with the rise of French as a national language - including the
ever fascinating tale of Francis I, whose decision in 1535 to use French instead
of Latin for official purposes was motivated as much by his poor knowledge of
Latin as any ideological preference for French. Another key date mentioned is
1674, when the French Academy was granted legal authority by Louis XIV to
fortify a standard form of French. That the Revolutionaries first abolished but
then reinstated the Academy in 1816 goes some way to demonstrating how ingrained
the need for a standard language had become, transcending political ideologies.

The book moves on to how a French language ideology, which once targeted Latin
and the RLs, has become reconfigured in the context of ballooning immigration in
the twentieth century, favoring French lessons for all incomers under the
familiar and ostensibly benevolent banner of 'integration'. There is also
mention of the rising tide of anti-Anglicization, with various institutional
measures arising to purify French. Finally, there is a note on how a bout of
socialist government in the late twentieth century produced a number of laws
affording protection to RLs, either explicitly in their name or implicitly by
promoting plurilingualism (a strategy designed mostly to forestall the
bulldozing effect of English); and that this culture of acceptance of RLs has
been supported, to a greater or lesser extent, by subsequent non-socialist

Throughout this brief history lesson, there are careful reminders of how each
legal victory for French was a blow to the RLs: first by elevating French to the
official language of the elites and removing prestige from the RLs; and second,
by making French the sole language of universal education in the
post-revolutionary nation state.

Chapter 2 outlines how English rose to power in England, bypassing Latin. The
rise of French and English are therefore posited as ''complete opposites'' (p.36).
Judge explains the astonishingly small impact of Celtic languages on English as
a result of the very low levels of contact between the invading Saxons and the
native Celts. Celtic people were either absorbed into the population, or pushed
west and north, along with their languages.

In addition to their different etymological heritages, a second contrast between
the rise of French and English is foregrounded: ''whereas French was the object
of centralised legislation and institutionalisation from the time of the
emergence of France as a state, English developed into the official national
language in a gradual and piecemeal fashion'' (p.46). Not least in these lucky
breaks for English were a number of historical events that introduced the choice
of allegiance between France and England, and consequently English and French.
Also of note was the increasing individualism in religion, lessening the role of
the priest and popularizing prayer in the vernacular - culminating in official
English bibles following the Reformation in 1534 (p.49).

Next comes a rundown of language legislation and other explicit acts of language
policy in British history, beginning in 1366 with the Statutes of Kilkenny in
Ireland, and various changes in the language of the Church and of education
across the British Isles, all buttressing the power and authority of English,
culminating in the Education Act of 1872, specifying the sole use of English as
the one language of the British nation, at the expense of all RLs. Chapter 2
ends with a history of the codification of standard English, beginning with
Chaucer in the late fourteenth century and given immeasurable and lasting
support in 1496 with Caxton's first English printing press (p.52). Judge notes
that linguistic proscription took hold first among the educated few in the
eighteenth century (p.54) and gradually among the population at large, with
standardized education debasing both RLs and regional dialects. The chapter ends
by mentioning the UK's ratification in 2001 of the European Charter for Regional
or Minority Languages, safeguarding some level of protection for certain RLs.
This foreshadows the rest of the book.

Part 2 (comprising Chapters 3-5) begins with a brief introduction listing the
surviving RLs of France, which ''include: Alsation, Basque, Breton, Catalan,
Corsican, (Western) Flemish, Franco-Provençal, langues d'oïl, and Occitan''
(p.63). Figures for speaker populations are taken from the Enquête Famille (the
Family Survey), with a brief rundown of how well the languages are being
transmitted between generations.

Chapter 3 looks at ''RLs official elsewhere: Basque, Catalan, Flemish and
Alsation''. This is a slightly clumsy grouping (perhaps unavoidable) given the
ambiguous 'official' standing of Alsation, which Judge is quick to concede,
including it as a ''special case'' (p.69). In keeping with their ''special case''
status, Alsation and Mosellan are given a section together at the end of Chapter
3, discussing the ambiguous and contested histories of the language and their
varied status as either varieties of German or sovereign RLs. Chapter 4 examines
''RLs not official elsewhere: Breton, Corsican, Franco-Provençal, Occitan and the
Langues d'oil''.

Chapters 3 and 4 give each language its own section, describing their histories,
their persecution below the national language, their varying levels of
standardization over the centuries, and modern political movements to agree and
codify standard varieties for education, administration and other mainstream
domains - usually involving the abstraction of a totally new variety of the
language from the various pre-existing dialects. Judge is careful to note how
this rise to officialdom has not always been an easy ride or an irreversible
victory - for example the demotion of the erstwhile officialized Catalan under
Franco, who deemed it unpatriotic (p.80). Nor has it been very successful
overall: in each case she notes dramatic and continuing declines in speaker
numbers, although she claims some successes, for example Breton which ''has risen
from the ashes thanks to the use of Breton in education'' (p.118) - albeit still
declining in usage.

Chapter 5 begins with a mention of ''regions'' in contrast to nations; discussing
the ''alarming drop'' in the numbers of RL speakers, and ''what could and should be
done'' to reverse this. The universal decline in the use of RLs in France is
outlined, along with the gradual development of RLs in the private and public
sectors - and implementation of French RLs in schools, increasing throughout the
twentieth century. This represents an ''encouraging increase'' (p.136). Use of RLs
in the media has been ''less spectacular'' than in education (p.136). France has,
Judge repeatedly mentions, signed but not ratified the European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages, having decided that it violates Article 1 of the
constitution - that France is ''une et indivisible'' (p.141). Chapter 5 concludes
that the RLs have gained status, and that: ''The RLs certainly get as much help
as if the Charter had been ratified'' (p.145).

Chapter 6 discusses the RLs of England and Wales: Welsh and Cornish (Manx being
excluded since Mann is not wholly part of the United Kingdom). The chapter
follows the same format, discussing the histories of each language, their
literary and religious uses, how they fared officially, and their decline in the
face of massive in-migration from England, and the increasing use of English in
official and educational settings. This ultimately caused the death of Cornish,
whereas Welsh survived given its larger speaker base and less complete
infiltration of English incomers.

Judge notes the ''fairly spectacular'' success of the Welsh education program,
referring to numerical increases in the number of Welsh speakers recorded in the
1991 and 2001 censuses. This followed a huge ramping up of Welsh-medium
education towards the end of the twentieth century. Nowadays almost 40,000
students are in Welsh immersion schools, catering to native and non-native
speakers alike: ''in some parts of Wales, over 95 per cent of pupils [...] come
from non-Welsh-speaking homes'' (p.169). In other Welsh schools, ''all children
are exposed to some Welsh'' (p.170). The Welsh revival ''acts a model for other
RLs [...] and is the envy of most'' (p.168). The only ''problem'' is that Welsh is
not compulsory in school, which Judge sees as a necessary next step (p.167).

Cornish is afforded less optimism, yet she claims ''there has never been a total
absence of literary and intellectual interest in Cornish'' (p.177-8). The revival
of Cornish is described: the political movements among enthusiasts, and academic
efforts to reconstruct the language from scant written materials. She also notes
the increasing popularity of Cornish adult education and use in family life, as
well as its token use in some other official contexts (mainly signage).

Chapter 7 discusses the RLs of Scotland: Scottish Gaelic and Scots. Scottish
Gaelic apparently has 58,000 speakers, or 1 percent of the population. Its
history is described: its linguistic relation to, and divergence from, Irish.
Present day efforts to ''fight back'' center around educational use, as well as
the media and other symbolic uses like signage.

As for Scots, things are less clear since the language is poorly defined, with
no census information recorded. Scots originally developed as a Germanic
language with influence from English, Flemish, Northumbrian English, and ''French
in particular'' (p.202). Scots, once codified as a standard separate from
Chancery English and used in the Scottish court and church, began being
infiltrated by English in the sixteenth century, eventually becoming seen as a
mere ''dialect''. The ''fightback'' is mostly about official recognition. There is
some use in education, but a distinct ''lack of motivation on the part of the
learners'' (p.206). The answer, Judge suggests, is more education and
standardization. ''In order to fight back, Scots has to prove itself not to be a
purely working-class language'' (p.205).

Chapter 8 investigates the RLs of Northern Ireland: Irish and Ulster Scots.
Irish Gaelic (or just 'Irish') is associated with Catholic Nationalism whereas
Ulster Scots ties in with Protestant Unionism. Judge stresses that this is not
so much a religious issue, but more about ''cultures and allegiances'' (p.210).
For both languages she charts their historical development, but the gradual
encroachment of English and massive declines in use. Irish contrasts to Ulster
Scots in that Irish has a long literary history and a demonstrable existing
speaker base (albeit relatively small). Judge describes how recent revival
efforts have been conducted under the guidance of the Good Friday Agreement,
ensuring a level of parity for both languages.

The book's conclusion briefly states that the UK is further ahead than France in
protecting its RLs, mostly due to the relative lack of popular or constitutional
resistance, and spurred on by devolution of British government.

The first chapter, detailing a brief history of the various RLs' rise to
officialdom, appears largely historically accurate, and expansive given the
constraints of space. Nevertheless, one aspect given too little attention is how
RL movements have gone from local and intra-national affairs focusing on
individual minorities to international and global human rights issues located
within a far more generic discourse about 'minorities'. While occasional
mentions are made of an expanding European identity and the variable effects of
this on minority identity, the international legal aspect - and how this plugs
into the wider debate about nation-states in a global age - is lacking somewhat.

There are also some stylistic problems. Endnotes are used a little excessively,
shunting a lot of very useful information to the back. Also, large parts of the
book - especially those dealing with France - are practically empty of
bibliographical references. This makes life hard if you had wanted to explore
the literature on your own. It also throws up its own questions in places, for
example a discussion of the Language Freedom Movement, apparently set up by
''academics in Aberystwyth and Bangor'' (p.170) to oppose mandatory use of Welsh
in education, makes no mention that this organization (or perhaps its namesake)
has had a presence in Ireland regarding similar issues with Irish.
Bibliographical references here and elsewhere would have been very helpful.

Apart from what the book might be missing, there are graver problems with what
the book contains. There are three main problem areas: firstly, a somewhat
overbearing optimism about how many people speak each RL and how 'alive' they
are; secondly, a frequent assertion that more people should speak RLs, with
little justification as to why; and thirdly, that standardization of RLs, and
their propagation through schooling, is their main if not only hope for
survival, again without any real justification of this stance. I will take each
of these points in turn.

The first problem is exemplified well by the treatment of Cornish (but equally
well represented in the others). To begin with, the title of the book is
something of a misnomer since Cornish has not 'survived'. By even the most
optimistic accounts it died some time around the late eighteenth century. While
the book begins by distinguishing between ''revitalising'' and ''reviving'' a
language (p.1), Cornish has been neither revitalized nor revived, but manually
reconstructed by combining scant original Cornish literary texts with
grammatical and lexical information from other Brythonic languages (mainly
Breton) to make something entirely new. Judge fails to make this distinction,
and indeed seems a little too keen to suggest that Cornish did not really die,
claiming for example that ''its survival from the late eighteenth century onwards
was due to what have been termed ''semi-speakers'', and specialists who collected
what remained of the spoken language [...] ensuring that Cornish remained a
living part of Cornish culture'' (p.178). Various references are made to written
Cornish, ''the written tradition never having died out completely'' (p.179); and
she seems wholly uncritical of reports she cites on how many people have
knowledge of Cornish - which are at the very least open to wide interpretation.
Occasionally it feels as if some rhetorical sleight of hand is happening.

The second problem regards the book's partisan support for the revival of the
RLs. Detailed information is provided about how many people speak which RLs
(generally they are in decline); the history of each revival; who pioneered
which movement; which piece of legislation was proposed in which year and so on.
However, this is not matched by any sort of detailed information about how
popular the revival efforts are - that is, whether they actually represent the
will of most people in each RL group, or just fringe activity by eccentrics
making enough noise to mobilize politicians. (The only possible exception is the
referendum for the Government of Wales Act mentioned on p.166, but this bill
dealt with far more than just language.)

Even when the unusually bombastic claim is made that ''nearly the whole
[Corsican] population is involved'' with the language revival (p.105), Judge only
mentions a 5000-strong demonstration in favor of the European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages (roughly 2% of the Corsican population). No
evidence is offered for additional claims of the ''broad support of the general
public, pressure groups and political parties'' (ibid.). By contrast, mentions of
things like out-migration, disinterest in learning RLs, and (in Wales) ''the
glamour of an English-speaking cinema'' (p.164) seems to suggest that people
might want to abandon their RLs - a possibility that is consistently shied away
from. If that is the case then the book falls well short of justifying why that
popular will should be ignored or even opposed in revitalizing the language.

Where there is any real discussion of disinterest in RLs, this is approached as
a ''problem'' to be countered, not a fact to be accepted. For Scottish Gaelic
education, ''one of the main problems remains the fact that demand is necessarily
small'' (p.196). Likewise for Scots, ''lack of motivation on the part of learners''
is a ''problem'' (p.206). ''The problem'', in Northern Ireland, ''is that 89.64
percent of the population do not wish to see Irish programmes'' on TV (p.223).
Judge claims this sort of disinterest should be countered with increased
provisions, and effectively marketing the language to those who are really not
interested: ''The next step should be making Cornish attractive to the whole
population'' (p.186); ''the advantages of bilingualism [in RL and national
language] have to be 'sold' to society as a whole'' (p.234).

There is, moreover, a resounding theme that the language revival movements are
there to resist something, to ''fight back''; but a deep confusion between, on the
one hand, fighting discrimination (like lifting a ban on the delivery of letters
addressed in Breton, p.126), and on the other hand, fighting disinterest (where
people simply choose not to use the RL). The former is about protecting people,
with a clear human rights mandate and a firm foundation in democracy; the latter
is about protecting languages, with no such humanitarian imperative or
democratic basis. Perhaps there is an argument that these people have been duped
into hating their RLs and need to be made conscious of their situation; but no
such case is attempted.

Nor does the book explain why ostensibly dead or near-dead languages like
Cornish and Ulster Scots deserve (re)construction, and why monoglots should be
induced into RLs as a second language simply because of where they live. Would
this make these people happier? Healthier? More employable? Or is it just all
for the sake of saving these beautiful languages? Perhaps there is an argument
to be made for all these things, but again the book relies on the importance of
RLs as a tacit assumption.

There is not even recourse to the justifications given in the various pieces of
legislation behind language revivals - which themselves are well worth
questioning. My point is not that being in favor of RLs is right or wrong; but
simply that no case is made either way. Both assertions - the importance of the
RLs and the importance of people speaking RLs - are taken as a given. It should
fall to such academic investigations to question and scrutinize the rationale
behind such revival schemes and produce an argument that is as objective as
possible. This the book manifestly fails to do. In fact, it often seems to
privilege languages over people.

Over and above the assumed importance of RLs, there is an equally partisan
dismissal of opposition to their revival. Judge decries efforts by parents,
academics and others against the mandatory use of RLs: for example, reactions
against forced education in Welsh for those who happen to come from
Welsh-speaking families (p.170). This resistance to forced schooling in Welsh,
and a range of other oppositions to RLs, are simply labeled ''Jacobin''. Although
opposition to the rise of Welsh is given a brief voice on page 175 (albeit by
proxy, citing other commentators), this is a tiny sideshow to the main argument.
To claim the importance of languages (even without substantive backing) is one
thing; but to claim that this should override personal freedom is to make a
dangerous attack on the very human rights that such language policies were
ostensibly designed to protect. The bitter irony of this role reversal - from
the imposition of English in the 16th century to the imposition of Welsh in the
20th and 21st - seems to escape scrutiny.

This zealous pro-RL stance takes a quite frightening twist on page 174 with the
mention of ''language militants'' in Wales who burned down English-owned holiday
homes, which ''no doubt helped increase the visibility of Welsh''. The reader has
to wait until page 186 to be reminded that such arson, ''while understandable at
a certain level, is neither acceptable nor will it achieve the desired effect''.
Hopefully everyone will read page 186.

The third problem regards a very frequent assertion that RLs ''benefit from''
official recognition and especially inclusion in education; so that they will be
taken seriously, respected, and supposedly used. There is, however, a major
disconnect here. Why, in light of all the increases in RL use in education, do
speaker numbers continue to fall? Even in Welsh, the one case where speaker
numbers have supposedly risen, the correlation is not at all straightforward. As
Britain (2007:3-4) notes, ''in comparing the number of 15 year olds who claimed
to be able to speak Welsh in 1991, with [...] 25 year olds a decade later [...],
[H. Jones, 2005:5] found that the number had dropped by a third. He proposes a
number of reasons for this decline, including inaccurate completion of
questionnaires by parents on behalf of the 15 year olds, and loss of confidence
in the language. These comparisons [...] show the extent to which educational
provision in Welsh is triggering (or not) long term [...] maintenance of the
language.'' Such counter-claims about the effectiveness of officially sanctioned
language revival efforts are simply not touched.

In general, Judge does not pose perhaps the most important underlying question:
are these linguistic policies actually working and bringing the languages truly
back to life, or are they making them the sole preserve of enthusiasts? Likewise
there is nothing to support the confident claim that: ''Once a language appears
on radio, and even more so on television, it is seen as being legitimate''
(p.222). What kind of radio and television? Who sees it as legitimate? What do
we mean by legitimate? Does legitimacy mean increased usage? These are the sorts
of questions that an academic exploration of these processes should pose. Judge
seems to champion the provisions of existing legislation, but with hardly any
scrutiny of its effects.

The reliance on education and officialization at times seems even to oppose
actual language usage: ''In order to fight back, Scots has to prove itself not to
be a purely working-class language'' (p.205). Is this to suggest that the only
people who currently speak Scots should be sidelined, and it should be
transplanted into education in order to increase its prestige? Would this
alienate people more than it encourages them? At the end of the book, the
conclusion leaves us with the following somewhat contradictory statement (p. 233):

''Another problem is to ensure intergenerational transmission as the outcome of
educational policies. Without this the languages will ossify and ultimately die
as a natural means of communication. Transmission seems unlikely to happen at a
satisfactory rate, since research shows that RLs learned in the primary school
sector are often abandoned in later years. And yet, in the short term,
everything depends on education in the RLs [...].''

This candid mention that education may in fact harm RLs is confusingly
juxtaposed with a ringing endorsement of education as the main vehicle of
revitalization - an endorsement that echoes throughout the rest of the book.

The author has obvious expertise on the subject; however, ultimately the book
leaves this reader somewhat frustrated by a missed opportunity to really get
inside these policies and ask some difficult questions. In fairness, these same
criticisms could be leveled at a great many texts in this field, where a common
theme can be found in support of minority languages and their use in education,
with no consistent link to either the will of the people or the effectiveness of
such efforts.

Britain, D. (2007). Introduction to _Language in The British Isles_ edited by D.
Britain. Cambridge: CUP.

Jones, H. (2005). A longitudinal study: Welsh in the census. Cardiff: Bwrdd yr
Iaith Gymraeg.

Dave Sayers is an ESRC doctoral researcher at the University of Essex, UK. His
research is on social dialectology and language policy, looking at declining
linguistic diversity and attempts to save it, with a focus on the UK.

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