Attitudes towards language varieties in Brittany.
This thesis investigates the attitudes of young people in Brittany (aged 8-18) towards
varieties of language (especially Breton) and the link between language and identity. The
sociolinguistic situation in Brittany (past and present) is outlined, and previous research on
language attitudes is reviewed.
In phase 1 of the project, different informants completed a written questionnaire (470
respondents) and a Matched Guise Test (258 listener-judges), the latter involving Breton,
Breton-accented French and Standard-accented French. The questionnaire responses
revealed a strong correlation, verified by chi-square tests, between levels of use of Breton
and perceptions of identity. Although those respondents from the traditionally Bretonspeaking
western part of Brittany (Basse Bretagne) were keen for the language to be
preserved, very few were willing to contribute to this process. The respondents from
traditionally non Breton-speaking eastern Brittany (Haute Bretagne) were less positive in
their views on the future of Breton. The least favourable ratings for the future of Breton
were expressed by 15 to 16 year old males, and this was attributed to differences between
male and female peer group norms.
Breton emerged very favourably from the Matched Guise Test with positive ratings for
both status and solidarity traits (a distinction identified by factor analysis of the data).
Further breakdown and analysis of the results for the two regions revealed major
differences in the evaluation of Breton in Basse and Haute Bretagne, which were
attributed to the perceptions of Breton as either Li or L2 by different informant groups.
These differing perceptions of Breton further complicated the relationship between the
varieties, which may have contributed to the unexpected downgrading of Standardaccented
French in terms of status in several cases. The 13-14 year olds perceivedBreton-accented French as the most statusful of the three varieties, a reaction which was
attributed to the typical use and positive reinforcement of non-standard speech forms by
this age group.
In phase 2, 62 informants from western Brittany participated in interviews (based on the
questionnaire, administered previously to other respondents), and pair-discussions of the
MGT recordings. The overall picture provided by the interviews indicated that although
informants expressed a keen interest in improving their competence in Breton, they did
not support initiatives designed to encourage this such as the compulsory teaching of
Breton in schools. This finding, which supported that of the questionnaire, gave rise to
the distinction between the passive and active expression of attitudes. The interviews also
revealed the complexity of the relationship between language and identity, with the
informants' assertions that Breton identity was more strongly related to origin and
residence than competence in Breton. This apparent contradiction between perceptions of
the role played by language in determining identity, and the reality of the informants'
responses concerning use, appeared to be operating at the subconscious level.
The pair-discussions revealed that age was a central aspect of identity which had not yet
been investigated in the current project, and which provided an explanation for the
different attitudes towards Breton speakers in the MGT: there was an equal division
between those who considered them to be young L2 speakers and those who assumed
them to be old native speakers of Breton. This aspect of identity also played a key role in
the construction of profiles for each guise which gave typical reactions to each guise in
order to highlight patterns running through the discourse data.
The combination of different methods in the current study was designed to elicit different
insights into attitudes and perceptions of identity in the data.