Linguistic diversity is an important aspect of a nation’s cultural heritage. However, it is often threatened by the dominance of a single official language, as is the case in France, where the Constitution recognizes only one official language: French. Despite this, the French government has not been as repressive towards regional languages as previously thought.
Fifty years ago, regional languages such as Alsatian, Corsican, Breton, Basque, and Provençal were widely spoken. Meanwhile, Creole, Kanak, and Polynesian languages are still used as everyday oral languages in the DOM-TOM. Although the French state has been accused of repressing these languages, scholars have revealed that it has been more tolerant than previously believed, especially for educational reasons.
During the 19th century, pedagogues like Michel Bréal, Antonin Perbosc, and politicians like Jean Jaurès recommended multilingualism. This was a time when associations for the promotion of regional dialects were on the rise, such as the Félibrige founded by Frédéric Mistral in 1854 to promote the languages of the pays d’oc, which includes Occitan, Provençal, Gascon, Catalan, and more. Even the Vichy government, infamous for its repression, authorized teachers to organize courses in “dialectal language” in 1941 through the Carcopino decree. The law Deixonne of 1951 also partly allowed the teaching of “local dialects” in high schools.
It is important to recognize regional resistance to the dominance of French in order to preserve linguistic diversity. Despite the government’s attempts to promote French, regional languages and dialects continue to thrive in their respective regions, and their preservation is vital to maintaining the cultural richness of France.