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23.5.03

Posting like crazy this morning. Languagehat points out this article:

Rebirth Of Dialects Mirrors New Regionalism

France spent much of the 20th century trying to eliminate the minority languages that were spoken by half its population 100 years ago. But now, France is experiencing a renaissance of interest in its regions and their languages, foods and customs. Not just Breton, but also Alsatian, Basque, Catalan, Corsican, Flemish and Provençal.

... Many observers attribute this change, paradoxically enough, to the European Union, which has all but eliminated national borders in its ever-expanding drive to create a single political entity. While the EU is a homogenizing force, putting Heineken in every café and the euro in every wallet, its universal identity seems to have taken the pressure off countries to impose their culture and language on all their people.Here in Brittany, there is a sense of a culture coming alive after decades in the dark. In the towns along the craggy Breton coast, many buildings fly the Gwenn ha Du, a Breton nationalist flag. The stores sell Breizh-Cola -- a Breton-language copy of Coca-Cola.

... Under the shadow of the EU, highly centralized nations such as France and Germany have begun to cede real power to regions such as Brittany, in much the same way that decentralized powers such as the United Kingdom have given legislative independence to their regions. In March, the two houses of the French Parliament passed a constitutional amendment that describes the French state as "decentralized" -- a seismic shift in France, where Parisian authority has always been taken for granted.The French seem to have discovered what other European nations have come to realize: that regional independence can actually strengthen national identity, and effectively defuse potential separatist tensions.


The first parallel that came to my mind is the revival of Native American languages in the US (which I've blogged about before, but I'm too lazy to find the link). There hasn't been a decentralization in this country in the way that the article describes for Britain, Germany, and France, but Native tribes have been gaining more power than they held previously. The idea of the EU leading to increased regional identity also parallels predictions made by many postmodern theorists, who claim that the coming era will see a shift in power away from the nation-state -- both upward to international and global institutions as well as downward to local organizations and groups.

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