The Construction of New Community Boundaries in Minority Language Settings: The ‘Neo’ Prefix as a Delegitimizing Technique in Brittany

Author: Michael Hornsby (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland)
Speaker: Michael Hornsby
Topic: Language Revitalization
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL COMELA 2020 General Session


Minority languages are in a particularly vulnerable position at the present time. With a few exceptions, the numbers of their speakers continue to decline rapidly. Breton, one of the languages affected in this way, is said to be in ‘steep and perhaps terminable decline’ (Dalby 2002: 136) and Breton-language activists engage in a whole host of different initiatives aimed at slowing down this decline and of reversing it, in sometimes surprising and very creative ways. With extremely limited support from the state (much less than that afforded other linguistic minorities in neighbouring countries, for example), Breton speakers (however they have acquired their linguistic skills) organise immersion and bilingual schools to teach the language to the next generation, host an extremely wide range of cultural activities and festivals and have even secured a presence in the media, thanks to the technological advances of the 20th and 21st centuries, to name just a few examples. And yet, these efforts are sometimes disparaged and confined through a series of discourses which centre on the ‘deficiency’ of some (younger) bretonnants, who risk not being afforded legitimacy as bone fide speakers. This can be done by seeking to restrict and denigrate their language practices by referring to it as a variety entitled ‘neo-Breton’ (Hornsby 2005) which, nevertheless, is very hard to systematically define. This paper, then, explores the mechanisms which attempt to downplay revitalisation efforts through profiling certain speakers via discourses of ‘failure’ and ‘inauthenticity’ related to their supposed use of ‘neo-Breton’, and tracks the features of this code which are used to deny these speakers the same level of language ownership that the detractors themselves make claim to.


Dalby, Andrew. 2002. Language in danger: How language loss threatens our future. London: The Penguin Press.

Hornsby, Michael. 2005. Neo-Breton and questions of authenticity. Estudios de Sociolingüística 6:1, 191-218.

Keywords: Minority languages, revitalization, new speakers, authenticity, legitimacy