Where there is a strong cultural identity, the related language dies hard. And the Celtic culture seems “indomitable” (see Asterix books). Despite having been pushed to the edge of Western Europe centuries ago and banned as minority languages, Celtic languages are still alive and, when given the slightest opportunity, kick back with a vengeance.
Despite the French Revolution’s attempt at eradicating all regional languages in the name of “equality”, Breton is one of the few that have survived to this day. In 1950, about 1 million could still speak Breton, including 100,000 monolinguals. Since then, the numbers have dwindled and Breton is now classified as “severely endangered” by UNESCO, but this has only triggered a sense of urgency and prompted efforts to preserve the language: some universities offer the possibility of doing a degree in Breton and more parents have placed their children in bilingual schools in recent years. As for the culture, the strong, determined and proud Celtic spirit shows no sign of relinquishing, as the many events, celebrations and Fest Noz testify.
In Scotland, although the School Establishment Act of 1616 banished Gaelic, the 2001 census revealed that 60,000 people could still speak it. Then the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, which made Gaelic an official language of the country, granting it “equal respect” with English, sparked a keen revival: in 2008, BBC Alba was launched; there has been a surge in demand for Gaelic speakers, translators and teachers; the creation of learning materials for students of the language is a developing market; and the new requirement for making provision for Gaelic has created new jobs. The focus is now on bringing Gaelic up to date with today’s lexical needs.
In the 1990’s, a couple of acts provided that Welsh and English be treated equally in the public sector in Wales, and last year the Welsh Language Measure 2011 gave the Welsh language official status. It is estimated that just over 20% of the Welsh population can speak the language today. Time will tell what this new official status brings to Wales, but the strength of the Celtic genes should not be underestimated.