Monday, October 24, 2011

Elle est ma cousine!

I remember one of the first things I asked partner was " so since you're from Bretagne, do you speak Breton?" His response, naturally, was no.  He told me that people don't really speak Breton anymore.  There are older people who know it or knew it.  Such was the case with his grandmother.  She knew and could speak Breton until she had a stroke back in the late nineties.  Unfortunately neither of her children had studied the language, like I said earlier, this is a cyclical thing where people care about it and then don't, or her grandchildren.  This is how languages die out.

However; there will always be some vestiges of Breton culture.  People speak a few snippets of the language, and most people know basic phrases like degemer mat for welcome, or that the Breton word for Breton is actually Breizh.  These are things that people see on signs, not normally something that's shared among family members though.  The actual nuts and bolts of the language are only maintained through songs or in the names of dances, or the occasional song.

This song here, for example, was popular a while back in France.  The band, Matmatah, was formed in Brest, the westernmost city in Bretagne.  The song itself is Lambe an dro is actually in French, but it has that very Celtic rock edge to it.  You can find the lyrics here.  If anything, this song actually reminds me a lot of that song "500 Miles" by the Proclaimers or to a lesser extent "Jump Around" by House of Pain.  It doesn't have all that much to do with actual Celtic culture, but it's more than happy to borrow from it. 

Breton in Brittany is more of a cultural thing now than an actual language.  You will see the black and white flag and coat of arms all over the place.  Also there's a certain symbol called the triskelion in English, know as la triskell in Brittany.  It's the regional symbol, and you will see it everywhere they can stick it up.  Originally, it was a sacred symbol, but now, you'll see it on everything from a taxi service to pizza places.  

Another interesting thing that I remember seeing long before partner and I moved was a character called Bécassine.  It's a stereotypical creation of the old fashioned Breton woman.  Her name is also used in French as slang for a fool.  She was created as a caricature of Bretons in general, showing her as old fashioned.  She still wears a lace coif and clogs, and usually is not drawn with a mouth.  She's kind of a classic plouc.  It's an old joke, but a lot of people say, "Bécassine; c'est ma cousine."  It's actually a song written by Chantal Goya.  

The language still exists and there are always attempts to maintain the level of the language, but like any language, it will only stay alive so long as people speak it.  I can't say I've ever heard it spoken, but it's amazing to think about how this language has lasted all these years.  Of course, like any language, it's changed with the times.  For example, most signs are in Breton and French in the Rennes subway system.  That's the sign of a language that can stand the test of time honestly.  It has to be able to stay current with the times.  


  1. Hi Tamayn, I see you have redecorated your blog.

    Interesting stuff, I am a cajun and heard the melange of tongues that is the french in Louisiana, so I find this stuff interesting.

    I was wondering if you study guys partnered to a french person have a real advantage, with a live-in professor!


  2. Yeah, I just looked around the blog, and found that it was just too complicated. I ultimately decided I'd rather have something that was less slick, but more compatible.

    Partnering with someone who speaks a different language is really a double edged sword. Before we left the US, we almost never spoke French. I only took halfway though 103 at Ohio State before I graduated, and I really couldn't say I spoke French at all when I finished. As I said before, I'd already done about 8 years of German, so I didn't need it to complete the language requirement at all. But whenever I'd try and speak French with Partner, he'd just respond in English. Unfortunately, he did the same when we moved to France. So since I spent the majority of my time with him, I spoke mostly English.

    I really didn't start learning French until Partner and I moved to Ploërmel. He was gone the entire day, and mother in law spoke some English, but she was in the same boat I was in back in the US. So I had to learn to speak French or remain mute until Partner got home.

    I do have to admit, television was a godsend for learning French as well. It helped me a lot with comprehension, and getting used to the speed at which people talked. Also, since a lot of shows think nothing about putting someone on TV who speaks with a Patois or will suddenly throw in a Gallo word, I had to start figuring things out by context.

    No matter how long I live here, speaking French will always be a learning experience. Much like with English, French keeps moving right along. We're all struggling to catch up with our own tongues!

  3. OMG! I remember Bécassine very well!!!!! LOL!

    If I can express myself so fluently in English, I owe it to television. Watching mostly sit-coms which use a more familiar language, really helped me to learn the "spirit" of the language without having to translate all the time in French.

    If I were to move, let say to Germany, I would make every effort to hang out with people who doesn't speak neither English nor French. It's the best way to learn not only the language but also the culture!

    Lâche pas! Et surtout, amuses-toi! ;)

  4. As far as I can tell, I can speak pretty good French, at least I've been told that by non-family members. I guess if I didn't worry so easily it might simplify the situation.

    Thanks for listening!