Occitan : a short history

Historically, Occitan (also called langue d'Oc, the langage of Oc - Oc meaning Yes) was spoken over a huge area - much larger than the traditional French speaking area.

In the Middle Ages, Occitan was the international language of the Troubadours - rather as English is the international language of today's rock stars.

It was also an administrative and judicial language, at a time when most other countries in Europe still used Latin for written documents.

After Occitania (= the land of the Occitan language, that is to say the Southern provinces where the King's langage, French was not spoken) was annexed to France from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, the Occitan language was progressively minimalised.

In 1539, the Villers Cotterêts' Edict required the use French in official acts. French was imposed as the official language of administration and slowly replaced Occitan in all aspects of a written language.

Having been the first literary language of mediaeval Europe Occitan was now reduced to an oral language. Like "unofficial" languages elsewhere in Europe, the use of Occitan was actively discouraged for centuries in France, in the interests of imposing an official language to help create and then bolster a national identity.

After the French Revolution, the Abbé Grégoire led a project for the "elimination of patois" throughout France (not only Occitan, but also Catalan, Basque, Breton, and several other ancient languages).

To help efface traditional regional identities, the Occitan language not merely discouraged but actively suppressed. School pupils were punished well within living memory for speaking their native language on school premises.

The French administration managed to make the Occitan speakers think of their own language as a patois, i.e. as a corrupted form of French used only by the ignorant and uneducated. This alienating process is known as 'la vergonha' ("the shame").

Many older speakers of Occitan still believe that their native language is no more than a shameful patois. This is one reason why you rarely hear it in public - or anywhere outside of the neighbourhood or family circle.