Campaign to get legal recognition for France’s regional languages gains pace

Associations representing France’s minority languages present a manifesto entitled ‘Legal status for France’s regional languages’ · The Assembly will debate the issue on 7 May.

There is some hope that the French state will acknowledge France’s considerable linguistic diversity, which has been ignored and even persecuted in the past. A few months ago Catalan was officially recognized in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in Northern Catalonia, sparking a chain reaction in other regions where languages other than French are spoken. An even bigger step could now be taken towards modifying Article 2 of the French constitution, which stipulates that French is the only language of the Republic.

Last Monday a group of nine federations of cultural organizations endorsed the manifesto ‘Legal status for France’s regional langauges’, the main aim of which is to relaunch the debate on the status of minority languages in France, a debate that has been avoided in the past.

The main demands set out in the manifesto are as follows: regional languages must be made co-official with French in the areas in which they are spoken; use of regional languages must be promoted in cultural domains and in both the public and private media; pupils must be able to choose their language of education; and regional languages must be protected by law, supported by an extensive language policy.

The manifesto [pdf] has been signed by a wide range of organizations that aim to protect the cultures and languages of France’s regions and stateless nations (see Signatories). In addition to the manifesto, the same organizations have sent a letter [pdf] to French President Nicolas Sarkozy informing him of the manifesto and the group of organizations that have endorsed it.

This marks a major step ahead of the French Assembly’s debate on “regional languages” scheduled for 7 May. The issue is on the agenda for the first time in history, following a proposal put forward by the vice-president of the parliament, Marc Le Fur.

France has never had a favourable attitude towards linguistic diversity. Although it has signed the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, it has never been ratified and so minority languages have no legal protection.


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