Let’s delve further into our “Multilingual countries” column. In the last episode we talked about the various bilingual regions of Italy. Today we’ll take a look at our cousins beyond the Alps, in France.

Before embarking on our linguistic excursion, I must make a premise: the only official language of France is French.

However, in 2008 the country’s Parliament conducted a constitutional review, according to which so-called “regional or minority languages” are recognised. These languages are not regarded as official languages, although they are fairly widespread in the country. Nevertheless, the government grants them the status of minority languages recognised at the administrative level.

In a report written in 1999, the French linguist Bernard Cerquiglini identified 75 minority languages that could be ratified, of which 24 are spoken within the European borders of the State.

We will clearly only discuss some of the minority languages present in the report, more specifically: OccitanLangues d’oilCorsican and Breton.


Occitan contains a variety of dialects spoken mainly in Southern France, but also, for example, in Catalonia where Aranese (a variant of Occitan) is the official language.

It was originally called Lenga d’oc, from the Occitan word “oc” which means “yes”, or Provençal. However, in the 20th century the term “Occitan” or “Occitan language” was confirmed, while the term “Provençal” began to define only the spoken Occitan language used in Provence.

The six main Occitan dialects are GasconLanguedocienLimousin, AuvergnatProvençal and Vivaro-Alpine.

For more information, click here.


The term “langues d’oïl” often refers to the linguistic family, within the Gallo-Romance languages, derived from ancient (or medieval) French, to which the French language belongs.

The languages originally spoken in Northern France were identified as langues d’oïl to distinguish them from the Lenga d’oc of Southern France. To date, “langues d’oïl” refers to all the dialects derived from medieval French, mainly present in the north of the country.

For more information, click here.


How many of you have noticed while on holiday on the beautiful island of Corsica that the road signs are bilingual (French and Corsican), and how many Italians have noticed the similarities in the islanders’ spoken language with the Italian dialects?

Corsican is a minority language of France whose origins are identified in spoken Tuscan, Sardinian and Genoese.

There are three varieties of Corsican in Corsica: Northern Corsican, Southern Corsican and the dialect of the so-called transition area.  


Mainly spoken in Brittany, this language’s origins are in the UK. There are also many bilingual road signs in this region in the north-west of France. French law prohibits the use of only Breton, which must always be accompanied by French. Nonetheless, the Breton language agency Ofis Publik ar Brezhoneg founded in 1999 to promote the daily use of Breton has set up a campaign to encourage businesses, organisations and municipalities to use the language for their communications.


In a world increasingly geared towards globalisation, with increasingly similar customs in different countries, linguistic peculiarities should be protected and safeguarded. These varieties are a linguistic heritage that must be preserved, using these dialects and minority languages alongside the official language of the country.

The world is beautiful because it is so diverse, and this is not merely a cliché.

Stefano Gaffuri

English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider