Regional languages of France [INFOGRAPHIC]

Regional languages of France: What are they?

The regional languages of France, like the regional languages of any country, tell a story. Central to local culture, these tongues teach us about migration, conquest, cultural assimilation, and language prohibition.

But how you define “regional languages of France” depends on geographical perspective.

A regional language is one that has historically been spoken by nationals of a given country but that does not enjoy the same use as the official language(s) of that nation. By this definition, Alsatian and Breton are regional languages of France. Arabic and Vietnamese, both of which are spoken in France, are not.

regional languages of franceOur infographic highlights several regional languages of France: Breton, Alsatian, Provençal, Corsican, Catalan, and Basque. The table illustrates the close connection between geography and language. (Click image to enlarge.)

If by “France” we mean only the country nestled between Germany and Spain, then the regional languages of France number more than 30. However, if we take France to include any territory in the world governed by the French, then the number of regional languages is higher. For example, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, and French Guiana—all of which fly the French tricolore—are home to languages not spoken in metropolitan France.

Our infographic focuses on the regional languages of France proper. Of course, it’s difficult to fit information about all the regional languages of France on one map, so we’ve chosen to highlight a few of the most well known.

Regional languages of France: History and geography

The link between language and geography is clear. Throughout history, languages have been transmitted from one group to another through proximity and immigration as well as through trade, conquest, intermarriage, and government edict.

When Britons from Wales settled in northwestern France after the fall of the Roman Empire, they gave rise to Breton, a sister language of Welsh. We can see the relationship between Breton and Welsh in words such as glav, Breton for “rain”—it’s almost identical to the Welsh word glaw.

Other regional languages have similar stories. Corsican, for example, is closely related to Italian. Consider the word “century” in Corsican (seculu) and Italian (secolo). This linguistic relationship makes sense when you consider that the island of Corsica, today a collectivity of France, was for centuries part of the Italian-speaking Republic of Genoa.

Enlarge the infographic to see the close relationship that the regional languages of France have with languages from neighboring countries.

Regional languages of France: The future

Many regional languages of France, though not gone, are losing ground. Take Alsatian. Its speakers (some 600,000) outnumber those of any other regional language yet represent only 1% of France’s population.

Educational policy can affect language use. Corsican, while mandatory for primary-school students, is optional for secondary-school students.

Catalan, which most people associate with Spain, is also spoken in France. However, only a minority of people in France’s Catalan-speaking area actually speak Catalan, the result of language shift.

Breton is spoken by approximately 200,000 people; its use is on the wane. Still, some 15,000 children were schooled in Breton in 2013, a sign that speakers of Breton want very much to keep it alive.

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Read a related post on Google’s Endangered Languages Project.

regional languages of France

Matthew Kushinka is the founder and principal of RedLine Language Services LLC. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the company helps commercial clients create, revise, and translate their written content. Send your questions or comments to or connect with Matthew on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.