The oldest surviving document in Breton dates to the end of the 8th century

To any visitor the most obvious difference between Brittany and the rest of France is the Breton language. This is not always high-profile in everyday life but everywhere are examples in place names and the often confusing spelling of towns that can have two spellings depending on which language is applied. The sections of eastern Brittany have another language, Gallo, and the border between these two old languages runs roughly north-south between Saint Briec and Saint Nazare. Breton , Ar Brezhoneg, is a British or Brythonic tongue and allied to Cumbrian, Welsh and Cornish and certain words still show the connection despite seventeen hundred years of evolution. Its origins are to be found in our Breton history notes.

The Breton peoples are rightly proud of their inheritance and will be quick to inform you that the oldest surviving document in Breton dates to the end of the 8th century – more than one hundred years before any document can be found in French or Galleg as they know it.

Breizh is the local name for Brittany, a far cry from the French name Bretagne. The Channel is called Mor-Breizh – the Brittany Sea. The recent history of the language is clouded by its oppression. The French government being seemingly unable to accept that any language other than French should be used within the borders of modern-day France. This would explain somewhat why Breton is not more widely used in the region. But the twentieth century saw a growing revival of the native way of speech and today there is a rebirth of its popularity.

Slowly old and new poems are being made available to the public at large and the ancient tales and legends are being translated for the enjoyment and wonder of all. Slowly but surely the language is widening its foothold and learning Breton can give a closer view into the soul that is Brittany.

©John Davey

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