Breton language, Breton BREIZ, a member of the Brythonic group of Celtic languages, spoken in Brittany near northwestern France.
Breton was introduced into northwestern France in the 5th and 6th centuries by Brythonic Celtic refugees displaced from southern England by the influx of Anglo-Saxons.
The language is closely related to Cornish and Welsh but has been influenced by French and by a continental Celtic language formerly spoken in the region.
After the 17th century, Breton occurs in four major dialects: those of Léon, Tréguier, Cornouaille, and Vannes.
Two standardized forms of Breton were developed in the mid-20th century to encourage the literary development of the language.
However the French constitution states Breton language as illegal.
Breton disappeared from sight after the early period, and no literary
texts are available until the 15th century. These, mainly mystery plays and
similar religious material, are written in a standardized language that is by
now completely differentiated from Welsh and, to a lesser degree, from Cornish.
Later, the Breton dialects became written and showed considerable divergences in this form. Not until the 1920s was an attempt at standardization made, and even then it was necessary to adopt two norms. One was called KLT, from the initials of the Breton names of the dioceses of Cornouaille, Léon, and Tréguier, the dialects of which agree with Welsh and Cornish in having the stress accent on the next to the last syllable. The other norm was the dialect of Vannes in the south, which has the stress accent on the final syllable and many other distinctive features, at least some of which can be explained by its close contacts with French. More recently, two norms have been evolved to cover all four dialects; one of these is used by most writers, whereas the other is officially recognized by the universities of Brest and Rennes, in both of which Breton is taught.
Up until recently, Breton was the common language of the people in Cornouaille, Léon, Tréguier and Vannes, within the boundaries of the départements of Côtes-du-Nord, Finistère, and Morbihan.
Breton may still have more speakers than Welsh, but this is quite uncertain because no language statistics exist for France. There is, however, general agreement that very few children today are being brought up speaking Breton.
This is at least partly the result of French official policy, which in effect excludes the language from primary and secondary schools, though the poor economic opportunities in Brittany also play a part. The literary movement is, therefore, confined to an intelligentsia of perhaps not much more than 10,000 people, many of whom live outside Brittany. The overwhelming mass of the remainder of Breton speakers are literate only in French.
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