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Thursday’s posts look at sociolinguistics or child language acquisition: accents, stereotypes and how children learn to speak.

Yesterday I had my one day off of the week.

We got the first bus into Bayonne, and it was definitely worth the hour and 45 minutes of feeling like I was about to throw up.

We got there for the end of the race which goes from Biarritz to Bayonne, and had the privilege of watching the making of the omelette. They make a massive omelette (6 foot diameter) and everyone who runs the race gets to eat some. Otherwise, you have to catch a plastic fish from a paddling-pool to get some. It didn’t look too appetising, so I would assume it has more token value than anything else.

From this point on, everyone proceeded to get very drunk, in a very Basquaise way. Traditional music, wine and beer, not a care in the world, looking like this:

Everyone – except us – wore red and white

… and yet still managing to be classy in a way Brits would never manage.

I’ve started this post in a seemingly irrelevant manner because the point of Les Fêtes de Bayonne, and of the red and white, is to celebrate Bayonne, and the Basque region – which wants to be independent from both France and Spain.

They have their own language, Basque – a language isolate, meaning it doesn’t seem to be related to any other surviving languages. For this reason a lot of linguists study Basque. Little is known of its origins, but it’s thought to be the only remaining pre-Indo-European language.

Stepping back from my day off in Bayonne, Basque is not promoted by the French government.

The Scottish government, on the other hand, seem to be fighting a losing battle to revive Gaelic in Scotland.

If neither Basque nor Scotland go independent in the near future, I can’t see either language being revived, for a series of reasons:

1. Festivities

Les Fêtes de Bayonne were fantastic. Everyone was in the spirit of the day; happy, helpful, patriotic, drunk. This scale of things could not happen in Scotland. The areas where Gaelic is still spoken are generally very isolated and sparsely populated. A festival of the scale in Bayonne would not be feasible.

2. Government

The Scottish government may be fighting a losing battle, but the French government is not. L’Académie française is a government body who try to preserve the French language in all its glory. This means stopping people from using words they ban – mostly English loanwords – but also stopping people from using slang, dialects, and other languages. Basque has little chance.

3. Revival or Introduction?

A few readers may remember that Gaelic was never spoken in some areas of Scotland. Celtic and Pictish died out on the introduction of Irish (Gaelic) from the West and English from the South. Now the government is putting up signs like these:

Gaelic was never spoken in Edinburgh. Don’t try and “revive” a language in a place it was never spoken. They’re doing this for tourists, not for locals.

4. Communication

Neither Gaelic nor Basque have died out, but they’re pretty close, and there’s a reason for that. As much as I’m saddened by the idea of a language dying, languages are for communication. When a language is no longer good for what it was made for, why should it survive?

I think that it’s beautiful that the Scottish government are doing all they can to revive – or sustain – Gaelic, but once the number of people who speak a language is too small, once another language is prevalent in the area, and once people who don’t speak this other language will find it hard to find jobs or survive in the world beyond their village, the language will not survive long.

Perhaps the numbers of people who speak Basque (714,136 compared to 58,652 Gaelic-speakers in Scotland) would allow them to sustain the language, but with the government doing all they can to subdue them, they don’t stand much of a chance.

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