|Region||Brittany (including Loire-Atlantique)|
|210,000 in Brittany (2018)|
16,000 in Île-de-France
(Number includes students in bilingual education)
France ( Brittany)
|Regulated by||Ofis Publik ar Brezhoneg|
Regional distribution of Breton speakers (2004)
Breton was brought from Great Britain to Armorica (the ancient name for the coastal region that includes the Brittany peninsula) by migrating Britons during the Early Middle Ages, making it an Insular Celtic language. Breton is most closely related to Cornish, another Southwestern Brittonic language. Welsh and the extinct Cumbric, both Western Brittonic languages, are more distantly related.
Having declined from more than 1 million speakers around 1950 to about 200,000 in the first decade of the 21st century, Breton is classified as "severely endangered" by the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger. However, the number of children attending bilingual classes has risen 33% between 2006 and 2012 to 14,709.
History and status
Breton is spoken in Lower Brittany (Breton: Breizh-Izel), roughly to the west of a line linking Plouha (west of Saint-Brieuc) and La Roche-Bernard (east of Vannes). It comes from a Brittonic language community that once extended from Great Britain to Armorica (present-day Brittany) and had even established a toehold in Galicia (in present-day Spain). Old Breton is attested from the 9th century. It was the language of the upper classes until the 12th century, after which it became the language of commoners in Lower Brittany. The nobility, followed by the bourgeoisie, adopted French. The written language of the Duchy of Brittany was Latin, switching to French in the 15th century. There exists a limited tradition of Breton literature. Some philosophical and scientific terms in Modern Breton come from Old Breton. The recognized stages of the Breton language are: Old Breton - c.800 to c.1100, Middle Breton - c.1100 to c.1650, Modern Breton - c.1650 to present.
The French monarchy was not concerned with the minority languages of France, spoken by the lower classes, and required the use of French for government business as part of its policy of national unity. During the French Revolution, the government introduced policies favouring French over the regional languages, which it pejoratively referred to as patois. The revolutionaries assumed that reactionary and monarchist forces preferred regional languages to try to keep the peasant masses underinformed. In 1794, Bertrand Barère submitted his "report on the patois" to the Committee of Public Safety in which he said that "federalism and superstition speak Breton".
Since the 19th century, under the Third, Fourth and now Fifth Republics, the French government has attempted to stamp out minority languages—including Breton—in state schools, in an effort to build a national culture. Teachers humiliated students for using their regional languages, and such practices prevailed until the late 1960s.
In the early 21st century, due to the political centralization of France, the influence of the media, and the increasing mobility of people, only about 200,000 people are active speakers of Breton, a dramatic decline from more than 1 million in 1950. The majority of today's speakers are more than 60 years old, and Breton is now classified as an endangered language.
At the beginning of the 20th century, half of the population of Lower Brittany knew only Breton; the other half were bilingual. By 1950, there were only 100,000 monolingual Bretons, and this rapid decline has continued, with likely no monolingual speakers left today. A statistical survey in 1997 found around 300,000 speakers in Lower Brittany, of whom about 190,000 were aged 60 or older. Few 15- to 19-year-olds spoke Breton. In 1993, parents were finally legally allowed to give their children Breton names.
In 1925, Professor Roparz Hemon founded the Breton-language review Gwalarn. During its 19-year run, Gwalarn tried to raise the language to the level of a great international language. Its publication encouraged the creation of original literature in all genres, and proposed Breton translations of internationally recognized foreign works. In 1946, Al Liamm replaced Gwalarn. Other Breton-language periodicals have been published, which established a fairly large body of literature for a minority language.
In 1977, Diwan schools were founded to teach Breton by immersion. Since their establishment, Diwan schools have provided fully immersive primary school and partially immersive secondary school instruction in Breton for thousands of students across Brittany. This has directly contributed to the growing numbers of school-age speakers of Breton.
The Asterix comic series has been translated into Breton. According to the comic, the Gaulish village where Asterix lives is in the Armorica peninsula, which is now Brittany. Some other popular comics have also been translated into Breton, including The Adventures of Tintin, Spirou, Titeuf, Hägar the Horrible, Peanuts and Yakari.
Some original media are created in Breton. The sitcom, Ken Tuch, is in Breton. Radio Kerne, broadcasting from Finistère, has exclusively Breton programming. Some movies (Lancelot du Lac, Shakespeare in Love, Marion du Faouet, Sezneg) and TV series (Columbo, Perry Mason) have also been translated and broadcast in Breton. Poets, singers, linguists, and writers who have written in Breton, including Yann-Ber Kalloc'h, Roparz Hemon, Anjela Duval, Xavier de Langlais, Pêr-Jakez Helias, Youenn Gwernig, Glenmor, Vefa de Saint-Pierre and Alan Stivell are now known internationally.
Today, Breton is the only living Celtic language that is not recognized by a national government as an official or regional language.
The first Breton dictionary, the Catholicon, was also the first French dictionary. Edited by Jehan Lagadec in 1464, it was a trilingual work containing Breton, French and Latin. Today bilingual dictionaries have been published for Breton and languages including English, Dutch, German, Spanish and Welsh. A new generation[clarification needed] is determined to gain international recognition for Breton. The monolingual dictionary, Geriadur Brezhoneg an Here (1995), defines Breton words in Breton. The first edition contained about 10,000 words, and the second edition of 2001 contains 20,000 words.
In the early 21st century, the Ofis ar Brezhoneg ("Office of the Breton language") began a campaign to encourage daily use of Breton in the region by both businesses and local communes. Efforts include installing bilingual signs and posters for regional events, as well as encouraging the use of the Spilhennig to let speakers identify each other. The office also started an Internationalization and localization policy asking Google, Firefox and SPIP to develop their interfaces in Breton. In 2004, the Breton Wikipedia started, which now counts more than 65,000 articles. In March 2007, the Ofis ar Brezhoneg signed a tripartite agreement with Regional Council of Brittany and Microsoft for the consideration of the Breton language in Microsoft products. In October 2014, Facebook added Breton as one of its 121 languages after three years of talks between the Ofis and Facebook.
Geographic distribution and dialects
Breton is spoken mainly in Lower Brittany, but also in a more dispersed way in Upper Brittany (where it is spoken alongside Gallo and French), and in areas around the world that have Breton emigrants.
The four traditional dialects of Breton correspond to medieval bishoprics rather than to linguistic divisions. They are leoneg (léonard, of the county of Léon), tregerieg (trégorrois, of Trégor), kerneveg (cornouaillais, of Cornouaille), and gwenedeg (vannetais, of Vannes). Guérandais was spoken up to the beginning of the 20th century in the region of Guérande and Batz-sur-Mer. There are no clear boundaries between the dialects because they form a dialect continuum, varying only slightly from one village to the next. Gwenedeg, however, requires a little study to be intelligible with most of the other dialects.
|Region||Population||Number of speakers||Percentage of speakers|
|Basse Bretagne||1.3 m||185,000||14.2%|
|Centre Ouest Bretagne||112,000||20,000||20%|
|Pays de Brest||370,000||40,000||11%|
|Pays de Cornouaille||320,000||35,000||11.5%|
|Pays de Lorient||212,000||15,000||7.3%|
|Pays de Vannes||195,000||11,000||5.5%|
|Pays de Guingamp||76,000||12,000||17%|
|Pays de Morlaix||126,000||15,000||12%|
|Pays de St Brieuc||191,000||5,000||3%|
|Pays de Pontivy||85,000||6,500||8%|
|Haute Bretagne||1.9 m||20,000||2%|
|Pays de Rennes||450,000||7,000||1.5%|
|Pays de Nantes||580,000||4,000||0.8%|
As noted, only French is an official language of France. Supporters of Breton and other minority languages continue to argue for their recognition, and for their place in education, public schools, and public life.
In July 2008, the legislature amended the French Constitution, adding article 75-1: les langues régionales appartiennent au patrimoine de la France (the regional languages belong to the heritage of France).
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which obliges signatory states to recognize minority and regional languages, was signed by France in 1999 but has not been ratified. On 27 October 2015, the Senate rejected a draft constitutional law ratifying the charter.
Regional and departmental authorities use Breton to a very limited extent. Some bilingual signage has also been installed, such as street name signs in Breton towns. One station of the Rennes metro system has signs in both French and Breton.
Under the French law known as Toubon, it is illegal for commercial signage to be in Breton alone. Signs must be bilingual or French only. Since commercial signage usually has limited physical space, most businesses have signs only in French.
Ofis Publik ar Brezhoneg, the Breton language agency, was set up in 1999 by the Brittany region to promote and develop the daily use of Breton. It created the Ya d'ar brezhoneg campaign, to encourage enterprises, organisations and communes to promote the use of Breton, for example by installing bilingual signage or translating their websites into Breton.
In the late 20th century, the French government considered incorporating the independent Breton-language immersion schools (called Diwan) into the state education system. This action was blocked by the French Constitutional Council based on the 1994 amendment to the Constitution that establishes French as the language of the republic. Therefore, no other language may be used as a language of instruction in state schools. The Toubon Law implemented the amendment, asserting that French is the language of public education.
The Diwan schools were founded in Brittany in 1977 to teach Breton by immersion. Since their establishment, Diwan schools have provided fully immersive primary school and partially immersive secondary school instruction in Breton for thousands of students across Brittany. This has directly contributed to the growing numbers of school-age speakers of Breton. The schools have also gained fame from to their high level of results in school exams, including those on French language and literature. Breton-language schools do not receive funding from the national government, though the Brittany Region may fund them.
Another teaching method is a bilingual approach by Div Yezh ("Two Languages") in the State schools, created in 1979. Dihun ("Awakening") was created in 1990 for bilingual education in the Catholic schools.
In 2018, 18,337 pupils (about 2.00% of all pupils in Brittany) attended Diwan, Div Yezh and Dihun schools, and their number has increased yearly. The goal of Jean-Yves Le Drian (president of the Regional Council) of 20,000, and of “their recognition” for “their place in education, public schools, and public life”, by 2010, was not achieved, but he describes being encouraged by their progress.
Growth of the percentage of pupils in bilingual education.
Percentage of pupils in bilingual education per department.
The 10 communes with the highest percentage of pupils in bilingual primary education, listed with their total population.
The 10 communes of historic Brittany with the highest total population, listed with their percentages of pupils in bilingual primary education.
Other forms of education
In addition to bilingual education (including Breton-medium education) the region has introduced the Breton language in primary education, mainly in the department of Finistère. These "initiation" sessions are generally one to three hours per week, and consist of songs and games.
Schools in secondary education (collèges and lycées) offer some courses in Breton. In 2010, nearly 5,000 students in Brittany were reported to be taking this option. Additionally, the University of Rennes 2 has a Breton language department offering courses in the language along with a master's degree in Breton and Celtic Studies.
Vowels in Breton may be short or long. All unstressed vowels are short; stressed vowels can be short or long (vowel lengths are not noted in usual orthographies as they are implicit in the phonology of particular dialects, and not all dialects pronounce stressed vowels as long). An emergence of a schwa sound occurs as a result of vowel neutralization in post-tonic position, among different dialects.
All vowels can also be nasalized, which is noted by appending an 'n' letter after the base vowel, or by adding a combining tilde above the vowel (most commonly and easily done for a and o due to the Portuguese letters), or more commonly by non-ambiguously appending an ⟨ñ⟩ letter after the base vowel (this depends on the orthographic variant).
|Close||i /i/||u /y/||ou /u/|
|Close-mid||e /e/||eu /ø/||o /o/|
|Open-mid||e /ɛ/||eu /œ/||o /ɔ/|
|Open||a /a/||a /ɑ/|
Diphthongs are /ai, ei, ou/.
|Nasal||m /m/||n /n/||gn /ɲ/|
|Plosive||voiced||b /b/||d /d/||g /ɡ/||gw, gou /ɡʷ/|
|voiceless||p /p/||t /t/||k /k/||kw, kou /kʷ/|
|Fricative||voiced||v /v/||(z, d /ð/)||z, zh /z/||j /ʒ/||c'h /ɣ/|
|voiceless||f /f/||s /s/||ch /ʃ/||c'h /x/||h, zh /h/|
|Trill||r /r/||(r /ʁ/)|
|Approximant||central||(r /ɹ/)||y /j/||u /ɥ/||w /w/|
|lateral||l /l/||lh /ʎ/|
- The pronunciation of the letter ⟨r⟩ varies nowadays: [ʁ] is used in the French-influenced standard language and, generally speaking, in the central parts of Lower Brittany (including the south of Trégor, the west of Vannetais and virtually all parts of Cornouaille) whereas [r] is the common realisation in Léon and often in the Haut-Vannetais dialect of central Morbihan (in and around the city of Vannes and the Pays de Pontivy), though in rapid speech mostly a tapped [ɾ] occurs. In the other regions of Trégor [ɾ] or even [ɹ] may be found.
- The voiced dental fricative (/ð/) is a conservative realisation of the lenition (or the "spirant mutation" in cases where the phenomenon originates from the mutation of /t~θ/, respectively) of the consonants /d/ and /t/ which is to be found in certain varieties of Haut-Vannetais. Most of the Breton dialects do not inherit the sound and thus it is mostly not orthographically fixed. The Peurunvan, for instance, uses ⟨z⟩ for both mutations, which are regularly and more prominently pronounced [z] in Léonais, Cornouaillais, Trégorrois and Bas-Vannetais. In traditional literature written in the Vannetais dialect, two different graphemes are employed for representing the dental fricative, depending on the scripture's historical period. There once was a time when ⟨d⟩ was used to transcribe the sound, but today mostly the regular ⟨z⟩ is instead used, and this practice can be traced back to at least the end of the 17th century. The area this phenomenon has been found to be evident in encompasses the towns of Pontivy and Baud and surrounding smaller villages like Cléguérec, Noyal-Pontivy, Pluméliau, St. Allouestre, St. Barthélemy, Pluvigner and also parts of Belle-Île. The only known place where the mutation occurs outside of the Vannes country is the Île de Sein, an island located off Finistère's coast. Some scholars also used [ẓ] as the symbol for the sound to indicate that it was rather an "infra-dental" consonant than a clear interdental, which is the sound the symbol /ð/ is usually describes. Other linguists, however, did not draw that distinction, either because they identified the sound to actually be an interdental fricative (such as Roparz Hemon in his phonetic transcription of the dialect used in Pluméliau or Joseph Loth in his material about the dialect of Sauzon in Belle-Île) or due to the fact that they attached no importance to it and ascertained that their descriptions were not in need of a further clarification of the sound's phonetic realisation as it was a clearly distinguishable phoneme.
Breton languages are marked for gender and number. While Breton gender is fairly typical of gender systems across west Europe (with the exception of Basque, and modern English), Breton number markers demonstrate rarer behaviors.
Breton has two genders: masculine (gourel) and feminine (gwregel), having largely lost its historic neuter (nepreizh) as has also occurred in the other Celtic languages as well as across the Romance languages. Certain suffixes (-ach/-aj, -(a)dur, -er, -lec'h, -our, -ti, -va) are masculine, while others (-enti, -er, -ez, -ezh, -ezon, -i, -eg, -ell, and the singulative -enn) are feminine.  The suffix -eg can be masculine or feminine.
There are certain non-determinant factors that influence gender assignment. Biological sex is applied for animate referents. Metals, time divisions (except for eur "hour", noz "night" and sizhun "week") and mountains tend to be masculine, while rivers, cities and countries tend to be feminine.
However, gender assignment to certain words often varies between dialects.
Although modern Breton has lost its ancestral dual number marker, relics of its use are preserved in various nouns pertaining to body parts, including the words for eyes, ears, cheeks, legs, armpits, arms, hands, knees, thighs, and wings. This is seen in a prefix (formed in daou, di or div) that is etymologically derived from the prefixation of the number two. The dual is no longer productive, and has merely been lexicalized in these cases rather than remaining a part of Breton grammar. The (etymologically) already dual words for eyes (daoulagad) and ears (divskouarn) can be pluralized "again" to form daoulagadoù and diskouarnoù.
Like other Brythonic languages, Breton has a singulative suffix that is used to form singulars out of collective nouns, for which the morphologically less complex form is the plural. Thus, the singulative of the collective logod "mice" is logodenn "mouse". However, Breton goes beyond Welsh in the complications of this system. Collectives can be pluralized to make forms which are different in meaning from the normal collective-- pesk "fish" (singular) is pluralized to pesked, singulativized to peskedenn, referring to a single fish out of a certain group of fish", and this singulative of the plural can then be pluralized again to make peskedennoù, referring to single individual fish out of a school of fish.
On top of this, the formation of plurals is complicated by two different pluralizing functions. The "default" plural formation is contrasted with another formation which is said to "emphasize variety or diversity" -- thus two semantically different plurals can be formed out of park: parkoù "parks" and parkeier "various different parks". Ball reports that the latter pluralizer is used only for inanimate nouns. Certain formations have been lexicalized to have meanings other than that which might be predicted solely from the morphology: dour "water" pluralized forms dourioù which means not "waters" but instead "rivers", while doureier now has come to mean "running waters after a storm". Certain forms have lost the singular from their paradigm: keloù means "news" and *kel is not used, while keleier has become the regular plural, "newses" (different news items).
Meanwhile, certain nouns can form doubly marked plurals with lexicalized meanings -- bugel "child" is pluralized one time into bugale "children" and then pluralized the second time to make bugaleoù "groups of children".
The diminutive suffix -ig also has the somewhat unusual property of triggering double marking of the plural: bugelig means "little child", but the doubly pluralized bugaleigoù means "little children"; bag boat has a singular diminutive bagig and a simple plural bagoù, thus its diminutive plural is the doubly pluralized bagoùigoù.
As seen elsewhere in many Celtic languages, the formation of the plural can be hard to predict, being determined by a mix of semantic, morphological and lexical factors.
Most animate nouns, including trees, take a plural in -ed. However, in some dialects, the use of this affix has become rare. Various masculine nouns including occupations as well as the word Saoz ("Englishman", plural Saozon) take the suffix -ien, with a range of variants including -on, -ion, -an, and -ian.
The rare pluralizing suffixes -er/-ier and -i are used for a few nouns. When they are appended, they also trigger a change in the vowel of the root: -i triggers a vowel harmony effect whereby some or all preceding vowels are changed to i (kenderv "cousin" → kindirvi "cousins"; bran "crow" → brini "crows"; klujur "'partridge" → klujiri "partridges); the changes associated with -er/-ier are less predictable.
Another set of nouns have lexicalized plurals that bear little if any resemblance to their singulars. These include plac'h "girl" → merc'hed, porc'hell "pig" → moc'h, buoc'h "cow" → saout, and ki "dog" → chas.
In compound nouns, the head noun, which usually comes first, is pluralized.
Like in other Celtic languages as well as English, a variety of verbal constructions are available to express grammatical aspect, for example: showing a distinction between progressive and habitual actions:
|Me zo o komz gant ma amezeg||Yth eso'vy ow kewsel orth ow hentrevek||Táim ag labhairt le mo chomharsa||I am talking to my neighbour|
|Me a gomz gant ma amezeg (bep mintin)||My a gews orth ow hentrevek (pub myttin)||Labhraím le mo chomharsa (gach maidin)||I talk to my neighbour (every morning)|
As in other modern Celtic languages, Breton pronouns are fused into preceding prepositions to produce a sort of inflected preposition. Below are some examples in Breton, Cornish, Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx, along with English translations.
|ul levr zo ganin
a book is with-me
|yma lyver genev||mae llyfr gennyf||tá leabhar agam||tha leabhar agam||ta lioar aym||I have a book|
|un died zo ganit
a drink is with-you (sing.)
|yma diwes genes||mae diod gennyt||tá deoch agat||tha deoch agad||ta jough ayd||you have a drink|
|un urzhiataer zo gantañ
a computer is with-him
|yma jynn-amontya ganso||mae cyfrifiadur ganddo||tá ríomhaire aige||tha coimpiutair aige||ta co-earrooder echey||he has a computer|
|ur bugel zo ganti
a child is with-her
|yma flogh gensi||mae plentyn ganddi||tá leanbh aici||tha leanabh aice||ta lhiannoo eck||she has a child|
|ur c'harr zo ganimp (or 'ganeomp')
a car is with-us
|yma karr genen||mae car gennym||tá gluaisteán / carr againn||tha càr againn||ta gleashtan / carr ain||we have a car|
|un ti zo ganeoc'h
a house is with-you (pl.)
|yma chi genowgh||mae tŷ gennych||tá teach agaibh||tha taigh agaibh||ta thie eu||you have a house|
|arc'hant zo ganto (or 'gante')
money is with-them
|yma mona gansa||mae arian ganddynt||tá airgead acu||tha airgead aca||ta argid oc||they have money|
Note that in the examples above the Goidelic languages (Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx) use the preposition meaning at to show possession, whereas the Brittonic languages use with. The Goidelic languages, however, do use the preposition with to express "belong to" (Irish is liom an leabhar, Scottish is leam an leabhar, Manx s'lhiams yn lioar, The book belongs to me).
Initial consonant mutations
Breton has four initial consonant mutations: though modern Breton lost the nasal mutation of Welsh, it also has a "hard" mutation, in which voiced stops become voiceless, and a "mixed" mutation, which is a mixture of hard and soft mutations.
|m [m]||v [v]||v [v]|
|b [b]||p [p̎]||v [v]||v [v]|
|p [p]||b [b̥]||f [v̥]|
|g [ɡ]||k [k͈]||c'h [ɣ]||c'h [ɣ]|
|k [k]||g [ɡ̊]||c'h [x]|
|d [d]||t [t͈]||t [t͈]||z [z]|
|t [t]||d [d̥]||z [h]|
|gw [ɡʷ]||kw [kʷ]||w [w]||w [w]|
Normal word order, like the other Insular Celtic languages, is VSO (Verb Subject Object). It is however perfectly possible to put the Subject or the Object at the beginning of the sentence. This largely depends on the focus of the speaker. The following options are possible (all with a little difference in meaning):
- the first places the verbal infinitive in initial position (as in (1)), followed by the auxiliary ober 'to do'.
- the second places the Auxiliary verb bezañ 'to be' in initial position (as in (2)), followed the Subject, and the construction o(c'h) + infinitive. At the end comes the Object.
- the third places the construction o(c'h) + infinitive in the initial position (as in (3)), followed by the Auxiliary verb bezañ, the Subject, and the Object.
- the fourth option places the Object in initial position (as in (4)), followed by an inflected verb, followed by the Subject.
- the fifth, and originally least common, places the Subject in initial position (as in (5)), followed by an inflected verb, followed by the Object, just like in English (SVO).
|'He/she reads Breton.'|
|'Yann is reading Breton.'|
|'Yann is reading Breton.'|
|'The story is good.'|
|'The story is good.'|
Breton is notable as being far more prone to loaning vocabulary than its relatives further north; by a some estimates, a full 40% of its core vocabulary consists of loans from French.
Words that passed into French and into English
The English words dolmen and menhir have been borrowed from French, which took them from Breton. However, this is uncertain: for instance, menhir is peulvan or maen hir ("long stone"), maen sav ("straight stone") (two words: noun + adjective) in Breton. Dolmen is a misconstructed word (it should be taol-vaen). Some studies state that these words were borrowed from Cornish. Maen hir can be directly translated from Welsh as "long stone" (which is exactly what a menhir or maen hir is). The Cornish surnames Mennear, Minear and Manhire all derive from the Cornish men hyr ("long stone"), as does Tremenheere "settlement by the long stone".
The French word baragouiner ("to jabber in a foreign language") is derived from Breton bara ("bread") and gwin ("wine"). The French word goéland ("large seagull") is derived from Breton gwelan, which shares the same root as English "gull" (Welsh gwylan, Cornish goelann).
The first extant Breton texts, contained in the Leyde manuscript, were written at the end of the 8th century: 50 years prior to the Strasbourg Oaths, considered to be the earliest example of French. Like many medieval orthographies, Old- and Middle Breton orthography was at first not standardised, and the spelling of a particular word varied at authors' discretion. In 1499, however, the Catholicon, was published; as the first dictionary written for both French and Breton, it became a point of reference on how to transcribe the language. The orthography presented in the Catholicon was largely similar to that of French, in particular with respect to the representation of vowels, as well as the use of both the Latinate digraph ⟨qu⟩—a remnant of the sound change /kʷ/ > /k/ in Latin—and Brittonic ⟨cou-⟩ or ⟨cu-⟩ to represent /k/ before front vowels.
As phonetic and phonological differences between the dialects began to magnify, many regions, particularly the Vannes country, began to devise their own orthographies. Many of these orthographies were more closely related to the French model, albeit with some modifications. Examples of these modifications include the replacement of Old Breton ⟨-z⟩ with ⟨-h⟩ to denote word-final /x~h/ (an evolution of Old Breton /θ/ in the Vannes dialect) and use of ⟨-h⟩ to denote the initial mutation of /k/ (today this mutation is written ⟨c'h⟩). and thus needed another transcription.
In the 1830s Jean-François Le Gonidec created a modern phonetic system for the language.
During the early years of the 20th century, a group of writers known as Emglev ar Skrivanerien elaborated and reformed Le Gonidec's system. They made it more suitable as a super-dialectal representation of the dialects of Cornouaille, Leon and Trégor (known as from Kernev, Leon and Treger in Breton). This KLT orthography was established in 1911. At the same time writers of the more divergent Vannetais dialect developed a phonetic system also based on that of Le Gonidec.
Following proposals made during the 1920s, the KLT and Vannetais orthographies were merged in 1941 to create an orthographic system to represent all four dialects. This Peurunvan ("wholly unified") orthography was significant for the inclusion of the zh digraph, which represents a /h/ in Vannetais and corresponds to a /z/ in the KLT dialects.
In 1955 François Falc'hun and the group Emgleo Breiz proposed a new orthography. It was designed to use a set of graphemes closer to the conventions of French. This Orthographe universitaire ("University Orthography", known in Breton as Skolveurieg) was given official recognition by the French authorities as the "official orthography of Breton in French education." It was opposed in the region and today is used only by the magazine Brud Nevez and the publishing house Emgléo Breiz.
In the 1970s, a new standard orthography was devised — the etrerannyezhel or interdialectale. This system is based on the derivation of the words.
Today the majority of writers continue to use the Peurunvan orthography, and it is the version taught in most Breton-language schools.
Breton is written in the Latin script. Peurunvan, the most commonly used orthography, consists of the following letters:
- a, b, ch, c'h, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, y, z
- â, ê, î, ô, û, ù, ü, ñ
Differences between Skolveurieg and Peurunvan
Both orthographies use the above alphabet, although é is used only in Skolveurieg.
Differences between the two systems are particularly noticeable in word endings. In Peurunvan, final obstruents, which are devoiced in absolute final position and voiced in sandhi before voiced sounds, are represented by a grapheme that indicates a voiceless sound. In OU they are written as voiced but represented as voiceless before suffixes: braz (big), brasoc'h (bigger).
In addition, Peurunvan maintains the KLT convention, which distinguishes noun/adjective pairs by nouns written with a final voiced consonant and adjectives with a voiceless one. No distinction is made in pronunciation, e.g. brezhoneg Breton language vs. brezhonek Breton (adj).
Some examples of words in the different orthographies:
|Etrerannyezhel (1975)||Peurunvan (1941)||Skolveurieg (1956)|
Pronunciation of the Breton alphabet
|A a||ä, a, ɑː|
|B b||b, pnote 3|
|Ch ch||ʃ, ʒnote 4|
|C'h c'h||hnote 2, x||hnote 2, ɣ/ɦnote 20, xnote 3||hnote 2, x||h, xnote 3|
|c'hw||xw/f||xw||hw (hɥ)note 6|
|D d||d, tnote 3|
|E e||ɛ, ɛ̞, e, eːnote 5||ɛ, ɛ̞, e, eːnote 5, ənote 23|
|eu||œ, œ̞, ø, øːnote 5|
|F f||f, vnote 4|
|G g||ɡ, knote 3||ɡ, knote 3 (ɟ, c)note 6 note 7|
|gw||ɡwnote 9||ɡw (ɟɥ)note 6|
|H h||hnote 9|
|I i||i, iː, jnote 10|
|J j||ʒ, ʃnote 3|
|K k||k||k (c)note 6; note 7|
|L l||lnote 24, ɬnote 12|
|N n||nnote 24, ŋnote 13|
|ñ||(not pronounced, causes nasalization of a preceding vowel)|
|ñv||v (with a nasalization of a preceding vowel)|
|O o||ɔ, ɔ̞, o, oːnote 5; note 25|
|oa||ɔ̯a/wa, ɔ̯ɑː/wɑː||ɔ̯a/wa, ɔ̯ɑː/wɑː, ɔa, oːa||ɔ̯a/wa, ɔ̯ɑː/wɑː||ɔ̯ɛ/wɛ, ɔ̯eː/weː|
|ou||u, uː, w||u, uː, w (ɥ)note 6; note 14|
|oùnote 15||u||o||ø, ow, aw, aɥ, ɔɥ|
|R r||ʀ/ʁ/r/ɾ/ɹnote 22; note 24, χ/r̥/ɾ̥/ɹ̥note 12|
|S s||s, z|
|sk||sk||sk (sc/ʃc)note 6|
|U u||y, yː, ɥnote 29|
|ur, un, ulnote 30||ɔʀ/ɔn/ɔl||œr/œn/œl||œɾ/œn/œl||yʁ/yn/yl|
|V v||vnote 16|
|W w||wnote 26||w (ɥ)note 6|
|Z z||z, Ø note 17;, s note 21||z, ʒ/ʃ note 27; note 21||z, Ø note 17; note 21||z, Ø note 17, ð note 31|
|zh||znote 17||hnote 17|
- ^ Vocative particle: â Vreizh O Brittany!
- ^ Word-initially.
- ^ Word-finally.
- ^ Unwritten lenition of ch, c'h, f, s and spirantization of p > f [v].
- ^ Unstressed vowels e, eu, o are pronounced [ɛ, œ, ɔ] in Leoneg but [e, ø, o] in the other dialects. The pronunciation [ɛ̞, œ̞, ɔ̞] appears mainly in front of clusters lc'h, rc'h (less often also before c'h), before semivowels [j, w], before other clusters beginning with r, l and before rr. Stressed long e, eu, o are realized as [eː, øː, oː].
- ^ In Gwenedeg velars or labialized velars are palatalized when followed by e and i: k, g, kw/kou, c'hw/c'hou, gw/gou, w/ou, sk to [c, ɟ, cɥ, hɥ, ɟɥ, ɥ, sc/ʃc]. Instead of [c, ɟ] also [tʃ, dʒ] may appear.
- ^ In Gwenedeg word-final g and k is palatalized to [c] after preceding i.
- ^ But before a vowel other than i the digraph ni is written instead of gn, e.g. bleniañ to drive', radical blegn, 1PS preterite blegnis, 3PS preterite blenias.
- ^ But mute in words such as ha(g), he(c'h), ho(c'h), holl, hon/hor/hol. Silent in Gwenedeg and Leoneg.
- ^ I is realized as [j] when it precedes or follows a vowel (or when between vowels), but in words such as lien, liorzh, rakdiazezañ the letter i is pronounced as [iː] (in orthography ï may be used:lïen, lïorzh, rakdïazezañ).
- ^ Group ilh is pronounced [ʎ] when it follows a vowel, following a consonant the group is pronounced [iʎ]. But before a vowel other than i li is written instead of ilh, e.g. heuliañ to follow, radical heuilh, 1PS preterite heuilhis, 3PS preterite heulias. In some regions instead of [ʎ] may appear pronunciation [j].
- ^ Word-finally following a cluster of unvoiced consonants.
- ^ In front of k, g.
- ^ The digraph ou is realized same as the letter w when preceded or followed by a vowel (or when between vowels), but in words such as Doue, douar, gouarn the digraph ou is pronounced [uː].
- ^ The digraph où marks plural ending. Its pronunciation varies throughout Brittany: [u, o, ø, ow, aw, aɥ, ɔɥ] rating geographically from Northwest Leon to Southeast Gwened.
- ^ The letter v is usually pronounced [v], but word-finally (except word-final ñv) is pronounced usually as [w] or in KLT, as [ɥ] in Gwenedeg and as [f] in Goëlo. The pronunciation [v] is retained word-finally in verbs. In words bliv, Gwiskriv, gwiv, liv, piv, riv are v is pronounced [u] in KLT, [ɥ] in Gwenedeg and [f] in Goëlo. Word-finally following r, l, n, z it is pronounced [o].
- ^ But mute in words such as gouez, bloaz, goaz, ruziañ, kleiz, rakdïazezañ, bezañ, Roazhon, dezhañ, kouezhañ, 'z, az, ez, da'z, gwirionez, enep(g)wirionez, moneiz, falsvoneiz, karantez, kengarantez, nevez, nevezc'hanet, nadozioù, abardaez, gwez, bemdez, kriz, bleiz, morvleiz, dezhi . Z is generally mute in Kerneweg, Tregerieg and Gwenedeg, but in Leoneg z(h) is always pronounced.
- ^ Used to distinguish words stêr river, hêr heir, kêr town (written also kaer) from ster sense, her bold, ker dear.
- ^ Used to distinguish trôad circuit/tour from troad foot.
- ^ In northern dialects (mainly in Leoneg), there is a tendency to voice c'h between vowels. Pronunciation [ɣ] appears also in forms of lenition of g, c'h and mixed mutation of g.
- ^ The lenition of d and the spirantization of t is also transcribed as z and is most prominently pronounced [z] although in certain regions also [s] (for t, particularly in Cornouaille) and [ð] (in some Haut-Vannetais varieties, see note 31) occur.
- ^ Pronunciation of r varies in Brittany, nowadays uvular [ʀ] (or [ʁ]) is a standard; in Leoneg r is pronounced [r], in Tregerieg [ɾ] or [ɹ], in Kerneveg [ʀ] and [ʁ] are most common, in Gwenedeg [ʀ], [ʁ], [r], [ɾ] occur.
- ^ In Gwenedeg unstressed e often [ə].
- ^ Lenited varieties of r, l, n may appear word-initially in case of soft mutation.
- ^ In Leoneg [u(ː)] in front of a nasal.
- ^ In Leoneg w in front of e, i [v].
- ^ In Leoneg z(h) in front of i [ʃ] or [ʒ].
- ^ In Leoneg gwr [ɡr].
- ^ Before a vowel.
- ^ Forms of the indefinite article.
- ^ A conservative realisation of the initial mutation of d and t, used in certain parts of the Vannes country.
- Hon Tad,
- c'hwi hag a zo en Neñv,
- ra vo santelaet hoc'h anv.
- Ra zeuio ho Rouantelezh.
- Ra vo graet ho youl war an douar evel en neñv.
- Roit dimp hiziv bara hor bevañs.
- Distaolit dimp hon dleoù
- evel m'hor bo ivez distaolet d'hon dleourion.
- Ha n'hon lezit ket da vont gant an temptadur,
- met hon dieubit eus an Droug.
Words and phrases in Breton
Visitors to Brittany may encounter words and phrases (especially on signs and posters) such as the following:
|deuet mat oc'h||you're welcome|
|da bep lec'h||all directions|
|bagad||pipe band (nearly)|
|fest-noz||lit. "night festival", a fest deiz or "day festival" also exists|
|krampouezh||pancakes (a pancake = ur grampouezhenn)|
|war vor atav||always at sea|
|kouign amann||rich butter and sugar cake|
|sky||ciel||oabl (older oabr)||ebron||wybren||speur/spiar||spéir|
|food||nourriture||boued||boos (older boes)||bwyd||biadh}}||bia|
|house||maison||ti||chi||tŷ||taigh||teach (south tigh)|
|person, man||personne, homme||den, gour||den, gour||dyn, gŵr||duine, fear||duine, fear|
|dog||chien, chienne||ki||ki||ci||cù||gadhar, madra (cú hound)|
|sell||vendre||gwerzhañ||gwertha||gwerthu||reic||díol, reic trade, íoc pay|
|eat||manger||debriñ||dybri||bwyta||ith (biadhaich feed)||ith (cothaigh feed)|
|drink||boisson||evañ||eva||yfed||òl (archaic ibh)||ól (archaic ibh)|
|see||voir||gwelet||gweles||gweld||faic (fut. chì)||feic (south chí)|
|white||blanc, blanche||gwenn||gwynn||gwyn||bàn, geal (fionn 'fair')||fionn, bán, geal|
|green||vert, verte||gwer, glas||gwer, gwyrdh, glas||gwyrdd, glas||uaine, glas||uaine, glas|
|red||rouge||ruz||rudh||coch (also: rhudd)||dearg (hair, etc. ruadh)||dearg (hair, etc. rua)|
|day||jour, journée||deiz||dydh||dydd||latha||lá (also dé in names of weekdays)|
|beer||bière||korev (bier)||korev||cwrw||leann (cuirm)||leann, beoir, coirm ale|
|go||aller||mont||mones (mos)||mynd||dol||téigh (participle, ag dul)|
|come||viens||dont||dones||dod||thig (verbal noun, tighinn)||tar (participle, ag teacht)|
|water||eau||dour||dowr||dŵr||uisge (dobhair)||uisce, dobhar|
|sheep||mouton, brebis||dañvad||davas||dafad||caora 'sheep' (damh 'stag', 'ox';)||damh 'stag', 'ox'; caora 'sheep'|
|better||mieux||gwell, gwelloc'h||gwell||gwell||feàrr||níos fearr|
|say||dire||lavarout||leverel||siarad (also: llefaru)||can (labhair speak)||deir (labhair speak)|
|night||nuit||noz||nos||nôs||a-nochd 'tonight'; oidhche 'night'||anocht 'tonight'; oíche 'night'|
|root||racine||gwrizienn||gwreydhen||gwreiddyn||freumh||fréamh, (south préamh)|
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