The French National Assembly has approved a Bill that marks an unprecedented step forward for the recognition of Catalan and other minority languages in French territory. Over the last few days, Plataforma per la Llengua has been in communication with the offices of various members of the French National Assembly to tell them how important this vote is for the health of Catalan on both sides of the Pyrenees. This is the first time in the French Fifth Republic that there has been a vote on a Bill in favour of regional languages.
The most decisive implication of the Bill that has now been approved is undoubtedly in education. In effect, under this law, French State schools can teach immersive classes in regional languages. So, from now on, all residents of North Catalonia (the part of southern France where Catalan is spoken) can choose to send their children to immersive or bilingual Catalan-speaking schools, or to have Catalan lessons in school time instead of after school. These rights will have to be guaranteed either at a school in their municipality or a nearby one.
At the moment, only a quarter of North Catalan pupils study Catalan at school (either as a subject or as the teaching language) thanks to the organisation La Bressola and the Arrels school - the only one in the French State system that teaches in Catalan. The legislative changes should make it possible to increase the number of pupils and knowledge of Catalan among the population. This is essential so that some uses of the language in North Catalonia can be recovered. At the moment, there are only 133 immersive schools in France in total, largely in North Catalonia, Brittany, the Northern Basque Country, Occitania, Corsica, Alsace and New Caledonia.
Thanks to the new regulations, the North Catalan public authorities will be able to include Catalan in bilingual formats in institutional signs and communication. There will also be the option to enter in the civil register people's names containing characters that do not exist in French, such as the Catalan interpunct "·".
There will also be a change to French legislation. The heritage and historic value of the languages belonging to French territories, both in mainland France and in the overseas departaments and territories, will be included in the Heritage Code (the legal compilation of regulations concerning heritage). The Code will also set out the duty of the State and the French authorities towards education in regional languages and their dissemination and promotion. This is a big step forward considering that the French State has, until now, been incapable of acknowledging the wealth represented by all its regional languages or providing them with the resources they need to ensure they are passed on and kept alive. In fact, until now it has not been possible for France to ratify the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages because of a supposed incompatibility with the French Constitution, which says that "the language of the Republic is French". UNESCO also regularly warns the French State about the poor health of its regional languages.
Plataforma per la Llengua celebrates the decision of the French parliament and is proud of the work it has done over these last few weeks. The organisation has sent more than 100 letters to MPs who proved crucial in the vote and has made contact and held meetings with the offices of some of these members of the assembly, as well as the chairs of parliamentary groups and members of the study group on regional languages and cultures. The Catalan NGO considers that the approval of these new regulations could help reverse the falling numbers of Catalan-speakers in North Catalonia and other French territories. To change the tendency in this way, however, various legal changes and, above all, changes of ideology and linguistic attitude, are still needed.