An interesting post at Language Log, about the position of minority languages/dialects in France. Traditionally, France before the Revolution was more of a geographical expression than a state in the modern sense, to adapt the famous phrase about pre-Bismarckian Germany. Highly diverse regions, with little in common except allegiance to a distant Parisian king; the revolution changed all that, or more specifically, the 19th century did, with the army’s numbered, nationally-recruited regiments, the uniform school curriculum, the administrative structure of prefects and subprefects all answering to the same ministry in Paris.
So, the very idea of a minority speech is quite a difficult one for a state that is still very, very centralised. Just how difficult this is for some people can be measured by the response of Jean-Claude Monneret, a member of the Academy, no less:
â€¦ [T]outes les langues n’ont pas la mÃªme dignitÃ©. [â€¦] [O]n ne peut mettre sur le mÃªme plan ce qui est une grande langue de culture et un dialecte appauvri. Existe-t-il un Rousseau en occitan, un Tocqueville en basque, un Balzac en ch’ti â€¦, un Stendhal en breton, un Montesquieu en catalan? (“All languages do not have the same worthiness. [â€¦] We can’t put on the same level a great language of culture and an impoverished dialect. Is there a Rousseau in Occitan, a Tocqueville in Basque, a Balzac in Ch’ti â€¦, a Montesquiue in Catalan?”)
And you thought you couldn’t have colonialism in one country. Of course, Montesquieu and Rousseau lived before the Revolution, so didn’t do their army service or go to one of Jules Ferry’s schools by definition. And Rousseau was Swiss; so what kind of French did either of them actually speak, as opposed to writing? I don’t know; but this seems incredibly anti-scholarly, as if we just assumed Shakespeare spoke BBC English.
Cette question des langues rÃ©gionales en Europe est aussi Ã penser dans le cadre d’une gÃ©opolitique bruxelloise d’inspiration germanique. Il y a aujourd’hui en Europe des groupes d’intÃ©rÃªt qui militent pour un reformatage de l’Europe sur un modÃ¨le politique impÃ©rial. La manoeuvre qui consiste Ã encourager la reconnaissance de toutes les langues minoritaires n’est qu’un leurre, une stratÃ©gie oblique qui vise en fait Ã dÃ©construire, Ã dÃ©tricoter les nations europÃ©ennes autres que l’Allemagne, qui toutes incorporent des groupes d’appartenance linguistiquement minoritaires.
Ainsi, subtilement, on ne s’attaque pas frontalement aux Ã‰tats, mais on commence par une reconnaissance linguistique. C’est trÃ¨s Â«dÃ©mocratiqueÂ», Ã§a semble n’engager Ã rien. Mais Ã partir de lÃ , c’est le toboggan.
(“This question of regional languages in Europe should also be considered in the context of a German-inspired geopolitical initiative in Brussels. Today in Europe there are interest groups who agitate for reforming Europe on an imperial political model. The manoeuvre of encouraging the recognition of all minority languages is just a decoy, an oblique strategy that in fact aims to deconstruct, to de-knit European nations other than Germany, who all include groups belonging to linguistic minorities.
Thus, subtly, one doesn’t attack the member states directly, but one begins with linguistic recognition. This is very “democratic”, it doesn’t seem to amount to anything. But after that, it’s a slippery slope.”)
Wow. That’s pretty damn crazy…but the interesting bit to me is the assumption that Germany is linguistically homeogenous and a centralised, unitary state. To believe that, you need to know absolutely nothing whatsoever about German, German history, or the current German state. It is not difficult to find bits of Germany where you might need to ask people to speak hochdeutsch; it’s happened to me. And Germany is the most federal state in Europe after Switzerland; even the Wilhelmine empire was so federal that each Land had its own army, even if this didn’t mean much in practice as only the Prussians had a general staff.
Particularism is still a major force in German (and EU) politics today; the minister-president of Baden-Wurttemberg practically ran his own foreign policy through the European Convention, as I recall. So what planet is this guy on?