Language revitalization as community building in Occitania: Language, economics and the politics of transmission

Part of the work at Lacito lies at the crossroad between linguistic anthropology and linguistics, and focuses in particular on understanding what linguistic and cultural diversity might mean to humans in the 21st century. Language endangerment and language revitalisation are in a sense part of the problematisation of diversity, and although revitalisation movements can be said to have their roots in 19th c. Romantic nationalist movements, an ever increasing number of people worldwide are showing interest in various types of actions that are part of what linguists and anthropologists call revitalisation.

The project described in this blog post, called “Language revitalisation as community building in Occitania” is part of a wider attempt to understand what diversity means to various types of people in the Southern French region of Occitania, what aspects it takes, and what concrete actions it generates. This project, hosted at Lacito, is funded by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, as part of a wider attempt to understand language revitalisation across six European contexts (see herefor the overall project, and herefor the Occitan project page). The Occitan project is led by Sara Brennan and James Costa, who both have long-term experience in ethnographic research in minority language settings in Ireland, Scotland and Occitania (see herefor some of Sara’s publications, and herefor James’s).
The Occitan case is, we believe, of particular interest for the study of language revitalisation processes for at least two reasons: first, it is one of the earliest such movements to have developed in Europe. The Felibrige, one of Europe’s first organised language promotion movements, was founded in the 1850s by Frederic Mistral and a group of six other poets (or so the myth goes). The historical scope, the amount of documentation available, the number of studies published on the language (for an overview and analysis in English, see James Costa’s book here) make it a unique case for historical depth and for an understanding of contemporary issues in revitalisation dynamics.
Second, the Occitan movement is geographically at the centre of Europe, and has developed links with similar movements in Catalonia, the Basque Country, Corsica, Wales, Scotland and other regions across Europe. As such, it is an interesting case to study to understand how various trends developed across Europe are taken up and adapted in the particular context of Occitan, a context of wide dialectal and political diversity. A central concern to this project lies in the economic aspect of the development of Occitan revitalisation. Sara Brennan’s work has focused so far on dynamics of commodification (or merchandisation) of minority languages, in particular in Ireland (see herefor instance), and she will study more particularly how this is taken up in the Occitan context, one marked historically by tensions around how capitalism should be considered, adapted, or resisted.
Source: Wikipedia, Licence CC
Most importantly perhaps to our study is the issue of naming. While the Occitan-speaking region spans the entire South of France, from Aquitaine to Provence and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, as well as regions of Spain and Italy, recent developments in the organisation of the French territory have led to the merger of two Occitan regions, Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon into one region called Occitania. This was the result of an internet vote opened to all residents of the region, one that led to conflicts over who should be able to use the name Occitania (no polity had been using that name since the Middle Ages, when it was used by the French royal administration to designate its newly conquered territories in the South after the Albigensian Crusade in the 13th c.). What this project is particularly interested in is how this change of name, and the use of a name that displays a connection with the Occitan language, might affect revitalisation efforts — on a representational level as well as on the level of regional politics and of language advocacy movements. We also ask whether this link will be exploited in tourism and business at large, and, should this happen, whether it will go beyond symbolic usage and translate into linguistic practice.
Sara Brennan has already been conducting several weeks of fieldwork in the Occitania region, and the project is set to last for another year. We have just opened a blog to keep the public up to date with our progress at the following address: and we hope to post regular updates, in particular about fieldwork encounters and the various uses of Occitan that we encountered.

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