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Breton Orthographies and Dialects - Vol. 2

The Twentieth-Century Orthography War in Brittany


Iwan Wmffre

This work is for comparative linguists and celticists who are keen to study Breton but may be too daunted to undertake such a venture by the wide variety of orthographical conventions which exist in Breton.
The chronological development of the Breton orthographical debates during the twentieth century is charted along with an attempt to discern the ideological, political and personal motivations which lay behind those debates. Based on a substantial corpus of hitherto unpublished original documents and personal interviews, the research throws new light on the nature of the political, ideological and linguistic divisions of the Breton movement of that period (not least the events that occurred during the 1939-45 war).
The historical and societal background of the language is succinctly delineated and points of orthographical contention are discussed, each in turn, so that their correlation to the spoken varieties of Breton can be judged by the reader.
The work should dispel once and for all the notion – boosted by the existing orthographical instability and variety – that Breton is too dialectally fragmented to be studied profitably without an inordinate amount of effort.


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2.1 Analysing the particular spelling conventions of Breton In this section of the second volume of the work, rather than focus on the general debate that has settled along partisan lines between two opposing sides (see pp.339ff) I look at particular orthographical features each in turn, isolated from considerations of orthographic affiliation. No established orthographic set of conventions is perfect, or even consistent, and each grapheme or sound should be treated as separately from others as is practically feasible. The two principal approaches which guide the preferences of individuals concerned with Breton orthographic conventions are: (1) the ‘traditional’ approach which emphasises continuity with the written tradition that established itself in the KLT area in the nineteenth century, and (2) the ‘supradialectal’ or ‘polyphonemic’ approach which emphasises the possibility of representing all local varieties of Breton. These represent two logical poles which hardly anyone involved in suggesting changes to the orthography have followed unquestioningly. In adopting conventions which attempted to represent all dialectal variation, J. Le Roux, the most consistent fol- lower of the second approach, almost managed to resuscitate a form of Middle Breton. Most individuals have been unwilling to ignore over three centuries of development since the mid-seventeenth century, a period that corresponds to the greatest number of extant written records of the language. My own bias perhaps needs to be stated clearly to the reader, because of my concern in representing existing variation within the language through the orthography – whether colloquial, dialectal or idiolectal – I tend to favour...

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