New speakers of Breton: Beyond stereotypes, towards new understanding and new spaces

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Research on languages undergoing revitalisation often makes various claims about new speakers, relating to both their demographics and the linguistic forms they use. Work on Breton in the 1980s and 90s was an early example of this, positing that new speakers form a militant “néo-bretonnant” category, socially and economically privileged in comparison with the increasingly rare traditional speakers of the language, and more inclined towards standardised and purified linguistic forms as a way of conveying certain political allegiances. In characterising modern Breton, scholars have since continued to rely on these stereotypes in many cases, primarily illustrating this with attitudinal data.

In recent years, it has become increasingly important to probe this categorisation more deeply. Evolution in our understanding of new speakers on a cross-linguistic level, ongoing demographic shift, and the increasing ubiquity of new media, particularly in a post-pandemic context, are all factors that highlight the necessity of developing an updated and nuanced approach to the identities, motivations and positions of new speakers of Breton and other minoritised languages that combines both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. In this talk, I present findings from my research on the use of Breton in contemporary media, drawing on both quantitative analysis of a corpus of linguistic data and interviews with users of Breton in professional contexts. I demonstrate that speakers of Breton can defy the stereotypes concerning their backgrounds and ideologies, and that the forms of Breton used in these contexts are multiple, harnessing linguistic variation in complex and innovative ways that fit the hybrid nature of contemporary speech communities. These findings emphasise the importance of employing a more subtle approach to our conceptualisation of minoritised languages and their speakers, one that is less reliant on generalisations and on discrete, immutable categories, but which instead acknowledges speakers’ diverse ways of engaging with their languages and with other members of the linguistic community.
Period07 Jul 2022
Event titleFourth Poznań Conference of Celtic Studies
Event typeConference
LocationPoznań, Poland