Occitan’s fight to stay away from the cliff of extinction

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AT A school near the Pyrenees, snowy hills rising behind, children are learning to read. Their teacher speaks gently, urging them to copy her pronunciation. Her words have some of the feel of Catalan, the same yelled by protestors in their recent fight with the Spanish state. In fact, Valerie Vedere is French and her school is in Pau, a handsome town in the far southwest of the republic. She and her pupils speak Occitan, once the most popular literary language in Europe. Now, that heritage is mostly forgotten, and its survival in doubt.

Like French, Occitan developed from Vulgar Latin, but soon shifted away from its northern neighbour. While Parisians borrowed from Germanic invaders, Occitan speakers kept their ears towards the Mediterranean. The final “a” in many Occitan words speaks to its relationship with Spanish and Italian: Occitan “bona jornada” (have a nice day) is closer to Italian “buona giornata” than to French “bonne journée”. A tendency to drop final vowels, and pronounce the preceding…Continue reading

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