Talwyn Baudu believes digital media can be a key factor in preserving minority language Breton Rising Voices

Photo provided by Talwyn Baudu and used with permission.

This article is part of a series of interviews with our guest hosts from @EuroDigitalLang rotation of the Twitter campaign at Rising Voices.

How to put a minority language online? Talwyn Baudu explores the challenges and promises of sharing Breton, a language actively in decline, with the online world. Breton, one of the six existing Celtic languages, is spoken mainly in Western Brittany, a region located in the far north of France. Breton is listed as an endangered language, with only around 200,000 speakers remaining, the majority of whom are elderly. Working as a production assistant for Brezhoweb/WebTV, the only Breton language television channel, Talwyn believes that increasing digital access to Breton can act as a language preservation tactic as its presence out line decreases, as well as encouraging learning among younger generations.

Rising Voices (RV): Tell us about yourself and your language-related work.

Talwyn Baudu (TB): I was born in Western Brittany, and my mother tongue is Breton, because it is the language I speak with my father. I also speak English at home, as my mum is from Cornwall, UK. Consequently, I grew up in a trilingual environment (Breton, English, French) and learned a few bits of the Cornish language when I visited my family in Cornwall, UK.

Naturally, through my upbringing, I was interested in the role, power and impact of minority languages ​​in society. In this capacity, I moved to Wales and undertook research on the Breton language for my undergraduate dissertation as well as my masters and doctoral thesis.

I have mainly worked on minority linguistic practices and ideologies of young people. First of all, for my master’s, I wanted to better understand the role of students’ experiences in teaching the Breton language and how these experiences later impacted their decision to transmit the Breton language to their children as new parents.

For my doctoral thesis, I compared the impact of the teaching of Breton and Corsican languages ​​on the minority linguistic ideologies and practices of pupils. As such, I sought to understand how the education system in France influences the attitudes and use of the language of students. I also examined how different language acquisition programs and language communities shape the way students interact and appropriate the minority language.

Currently, I now work as a production assistant for a Breton language media WebTVthe only television channel that broadcasts only in Breton.

RV: What is the current state of your language, online and offline?

VG: The Breton language is traditionally and mainly spoken in western Brittany. Additionally, the language is in steep decline, as it has lost around 80% of its speakers in just 70 years. While there are around 200,000 speakers today, there were over a million speakers at the start of the 20th century. In addition, most speakers are elderly, since 79% of speakers (about 158,000 people) are over 60 years old. It is estimated that there are around 10,000 speakers between the ages of 15 and 39, and they only represent 5% of the Breton cohort. However, despite the strong decline of the language, there are some young Bretons, who have mostly learned the language at school or in adult courses, who speak it among themselves.

Online, the Breton language remains quite visible despite its low number of young speakers. This is thanks to the Breton-language webTV, Brezhoweb, videos made by a few people on YouTube and Twitch, Facebook groups, translated Wikipedia pages, and some videos posted in Breton by the French state TV in Brittany, France 3, dictionaries, etc. However, although Facebook has introduced a Breton interface, there is a need for Google platforms to introduce more Breton.

VR: What are your motivations for seeing your language present in digital spaces?

VG: As we all spend a lot of time online, we need to ensure that Breton speakers have access to videos and texts in Breton, as well as ensuring that speakers feel confident writing in the minority language in line without any reaction from the French or Breton language community. Moreover, Breton not being a community language offline, the community and the online space are essential to maintain a relationship with the language (especially after compulsory schooling).

RV: Describe some of the challenges that prevent your language from being fully used online.

VG: The main problem that prevents the use of language online is the lack of use of language offline. Speakers will only share texts and videos in the minority language if they speak it daily offline, and online and offline communities can rarely be separated as distinct spaces. Moreover, as with all minority languages, financial support from the state is essential to maintain online visibility. Finally, another problem is that the online world is now run by large corporations and until the Breton language is included in Google Translate, people will continue to write mostly in the majority languages. Indeed, since tweets or Facebook posts cannot be automatically translated, people will prefer to write in English or French as they will receive more online interaction.

RV: In your opinion, what concrete measures can be taken to encourage young people to start learning their language or to continue using their language?

VG: Young people will begin to learn the language if their parents put them in a Breton language school. However, it is important to ensure that they continue to use it. Indeed, the most important thing is that people create a safe space, be it a classroom or just a group of friends, where young people can speak the language freely. On the other hand, it is also important to ensure that young people are immersed in the language at school, because offering them only a few hours a week will not allow them to have significant knowledge of the language to speak it at comfortable. Finally, languages ​​are attached to experiences, and therefore it is important to provide spaces that are not attached to formal education or authority (teachers, parents, state).

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