JOPOL 6(2022)

Decolonising Minority Languages Through Language Revitalization: The case of Occitan new speakers in France
Aurélie Joubert

Doing language revitalisation by undoing hegemonic language ideologies. This is one of the current and most complex challenges for endangered language planners. Minoritised languages are in a subordinated position because of the power structures imposed onto them, not because of their number of speakers. This fact echoes very clearly colonial and postcolonial settings. Social hierarchies establishing a sense of superiority for the restricted few and inherent subjugation of the less powerful, rural and mostly lower-class peripheries is a modus operandi of the colonialist tradition found in the function of several European nation-states. For linguistic conceptions to evolve and lead to a more equal and tolerant perspective on internal linguistic diversity, some beliefs and practices about languages need be decolonised, that is to say be rid of a sense of superiority of one form over all others. This article deals mainly with the much-discussed concept of internal colonialism and identifies the correlations between colonialist-type domination and the use of the hegemonic language ideology used by the centralist state to control regional minorities. The country under scrutiny, France, has a long centralist tradition and is also well-known for its colonial past and its strict prescriptive approach to language. After examining some of the mechanisms of domination typical of a situation of ‘internal colonialism’ including its ontological usefulness and limits, this article focuses on the possibility of interpreting inter-regional exchanges as a case of internal colonialism in France. Then, it explores the use of the national language as a power-enhancing tool for the ruling elite and, simultaneously, an instrument of marginalisation and forced submission of the regional minorities. Finally, it analyses how national and standard language ideologies are internalised but also sometimes challenged in the classroom context which becomes a vital space for the acquisition of a regional language such as Occitan and for the deconstruction of hegemonic and colonialist-type ideologies. 

Keywords: decolonising, postcolonial pedagogy, revitalisation, standardisation, ideologies, attitudes, minority, language planning, pluricentricity, new speakers