Advertisement

Tearing Down the Tower of Babel: Grégoire and French Multilingualism

  • David A. Bell
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 169)

Abstract

In the winter of 1789–90, a wave of rioting, verging on rebellion, swept over southwestern France. In area after area, peasants attacked the agents and symbols of the seigneurial system that the National Assembly had supposedly ‘abolished’ the previous August, and demanded the return of seigneurial dues they had paid in the past. In some places, particularly in the departments of the Dordogne and the Lot, public order collapsed almost entirely, and representatives of the new, revolutionary government ventured abroad at their peril.1

Keywords

Language Policy French Revolution French Language Regional Language Linguistic Difference 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    For the most recent studies of the disturbances, see Jean Boutier, Campagnes en émoi: Révoltes et Révolution en Bas-Limousin, 1789–1800 (Treignac, 1987), and John Markoff, The Abolition of Feudalism: Peasants, Lords and Legislators in the French Revolution (University Park, Penn., 1996), esp. pp. 203-426.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Réimpression de l’ancien moniteur, 32 vols. (Paris, 1847), vol. III, pp. 336-339. See also Markoff, pp. 542-547. For a bibliographical survey of the debate over the revolts, see Boutier, pp. 282-283.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Réimpression de l’ancien Moniteur, vol. III, pp. 336-337.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    On Grégoire’s linguistic initiatives, see above all Michel de Certeau, Dominique Julia and Jacques Revel, Une politique de la langue: La Révolution française et les patois (Paris, 1975). The questionnaire Grégoire used in the inquiry is reprinted on pp. 12-14, and the report to the Convention (“Rapport sur la nécessité et les moyens d’anéantir les patois et d’universaliser l’usage de la langue française,” 16 prairial an II) on pp. 300-317. In the report, Grégoire repeated the anecdote about décrets de l’Assemblée Nationale and décrets de prise de corps. Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Boutier’s book, the most systematic recent study, barely mentions the language issue at all, and does not consider it an important cause of the revolts (see esp. pp. 263-266). Markoff raises it only in passing, on p. 342.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    For a fuller discussion of these issues, see David A. Bell, “Lingua Populi, Lingua Dei: Language, Religion and the Origins of French Revolutionary Nationalism,” American Historical Review, vol. C (1995), pp. 1403-1437, esp. pp. 1411-1412. In order not to burden the following discussion with excessively extensive footnotes, in some cases I will instead cite the relevant sections of this previous, more in-depth article, which also contains extensive bibliographical references on the general issue of Revolutionary language policy.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., pp. 1410-1411.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bertrand Barère, “Rapport du Comité de Salut Public sur les idiomes,” 8 plûviôse an II, reprinted in De Certeau et al, pp. 291-299, esp. p. 292.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Claire Asselin and Anne McLaughlin, “Patois ou français la langue de la Nouvelle France au dix-septième siècle,” Langage et société, no. 17 (1981), pp. 3-57.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    He summarized this aspect of his research in Yves Castan, “Les languedociens du 18e siècle et l’obstacle de la langue écrite,” 96e Congrès national des Sociétés savantes, Toulouse, 1971: Section d’histoire moderne et contemporaine (Paris, 1976), vol. I, pp. 73-84.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    This is not to suggest that significant dialectical differences did not exist, or that they did not inhibit communication. However, it seems clear to me, on the basis of the studies by Asselin and McLaughlin and Castan, and my own research, that the difficulties involved in communication have been systematically exaggerated, both by French republicans, and also by regionalist militants who have sought for their own reasons to differentiate their language as starkly as possible from French (see for instance Robert Lafont, Lettre ouverte aux Français d’un Occitan [Paris, 1973]). Grégoire is notably the most important eighteenth-century source for Eugen Weber’s chapter on language in Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914 (Stanford, 1976), pp. 67-94.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    On these points see Louis-Jean Chalvet, La sociolinguistique (Paris, 1993); Pierre Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power, Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson, trans. (Oxford, 1991).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Grégoire, in De Certeau et al., p. 302.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    On this subject, see Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen; James R. Lehning, Peasant and French: Cultural Contact in Rural France during the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1995).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Weber, pp. 67-94.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    See Lehning, and Caroline Ford, Creating the Nation in Provincial France: Religion and Political Identity in Brittany (Princeton, 1993).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    De Certeau et al., esp. pp. 155-169.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Sophia A. Rosenfeld, “A Revolution in Language: Words, Gestures and the Politics of Signs in France, 1745-1804,” unpublished PhD dissertation, Harvard University (1995).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Antoine Court de Gébelin, Le Monde primitif analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne (Paris, 1775); De Brosses, Traité de la formation méchanique des langues (Paris, 1765). See also Jeremias-Jakob Oberlin, Essai sur le patois lorrain (Strasbourg, 1775), which actually puts samples of lorrain, bourguignon and Old French side by side for purposes of comparison, and the survey of this literature in De Certeau et al., pp. 82-98.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Grégoire, in De Certeau et al., p. 304.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ibid., p. 302.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Ferdinand Brunot et al., Histoire de la Langue Française, des origines à 1900, 13 vols. (Paris, 1905-53).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Grégoire, in De Certeau et al., pp. 301, 306.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Henri Grégoire, Essai sur la régénération physique, morale et politique des Juifs (Metz, 1789), pp. 160, 161.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Napian, Eloge du patois (Toulouse, 1781, repr. Foix, 1890), p. 8. See also Antoine Gautier-Sauzin, “Réflexions sur le genre d’instruction publique qui conviendrait à nos campagnes méridionaux,” Archives nationales F171309, reprinted in De Certeau et al., pp. 259-263.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    For a recent survey of the extensive literature on this topic, see Keith P. Luria, Territories of Grace: Cultural Change in the Seventeenth-Century Diocese of Grenoble (Berkeley, 1991), pp. 1-14.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    See Bell, “Lingua Populi, Lingua Dei,” pp. 1425-1431. They did not, however, do the same for northern French dialects.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    See A. Brun, Recherches historiques sur l’introduction du français dans les provinces du midi (Paris, 1923), and L’introduction de la langue française en Béarn et Roussillon (Paris, 1923).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    “… la causa damnada/ de nosta lenga mesprezada […] Cadun la leixa e desempara./ Tot lo mond l’apera barbara.” Pey de Garros, Poesias (Toulouse, 1887), p. 299.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    La douctrino crestiano meso en rimos (Toulouse, 1641), pp. 5-6. A copy of this rare publication can be found in the Bibliothèque Municipal de Toulouse, Réserve Dxviii 371.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    The responses to Grégoire are dispersed among three locations: Augustin Gazier (éd.), Lettres à Grégoire sur les patois de France, 1790–1794 (Paris, 1880); Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Manuscrits, Nouvelles Acquisitions Françaises 2798; Bibliothèque de la Société de Port-Royal, Mss. Rév. 222-223. See the discussion in Bell, “Lingua Populi, Lingua Dei,” pp. 1425-1429.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    See ibid., p. 1430.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    For a more detailed discussion of this material, see ibid., pp. 1432-1434. Cf. V. E. Durkacz, The Decline of the Celtic Languages: A Study of Linguistic and Cultural Conflict in Scotland, Wales and Ireland from the Reformation to the Twentieth Century (Edinburgh, 1983); Geoffrey Parker, “Success and Failure During the First Century of the Reformation,” Past and Present, no. 136 (1992), pp. 43-82; Brunot, vol. V. In Protestant states, exceptions occurred mostly in regions where the language barriers were simply too high to easily eliminate, making the translation of scripture a necessity (for instance Wales, where the survival of the principality as a distinct political entity probably made the decision to translate an easier one).Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    See Brunot, vol. IX, part I, pp. 155-162; Dentzel, Rapport et projet de décret faits au nom de la commission de traduction, par le citoyen Dentzel, de Landau (Paris, 1792); also Brigitte Schlieben-Lange, “La politique des traductions,” Lengas, no. 17 (1985), pp. 97-126. The records of the official translation projects are located in Archives Nationales, AA 32.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    See Bell, “Lingua Populi, Lingua Dei,” pp. 1419-1425.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    See especially Antoine-Pascal-Hyacinthe Sermet, Discours prounounçat dabant la legiou de Sant-Ginest, Pel R. P. Sermet, Exproubincial des Carmes Descaussés, Predicairé ourdinari del Rey, & co. (Toulouse, 1790). A copy of this rare text can be found in Bibliothèque Municipal de Toulouse, Réserve Dxix 134, no. 4. It was reprinted in three other cities with minor dialectical alterations. For a detailed publishing history, and a list of Sermet’s other publications, see Henri Boyer, Georges Fournier, et al., Le texte occitan de la période révolutionnaire: Inventaire, approches, lectures (Montpellier, 1989).Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    See Bell, “Lingua Populi, Lingua Dei,” p. 1424.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ibid., pp. 1424-1425.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Barère, in De Certeau et al., pp. 292-293. For his discussion of the Basques as a “new people” in danger of falling victim to priestly “fanaticism,” see p. 294.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    See Bernard Plongeron, L’abbé Grégoire (1750-1831), ou l’Arche de la Fraternité (Paris, 1989); Ruth F. Necheles, The Abbé Grégoire, 1787-1831: The Odyssey of an Egalitarian (Westport, Connecticut, 1971).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    See Grégoire, Essai sur la régénération …, pp. 188-189.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Ibid., p. 161.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Cited in De Certeau et al., p. 13.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    See Michel Peronnet, “Réflexions sur ‘une série de questions relatives aux patois et aux moeurs des gens de la campagne,’ proposée par l’abbé Grégoire le 13 août 1790,” Lengas, no. 17 (1985), pp. 79-96.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    De Certeau et al., p. 30.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    See Brunot, vol. IX, part I, pp. 374-378, 396-397.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    The “father of modern Breton” was the Jesuit Julien Maunoir. See Yannick Pelletier, ed., Histoire générale de la Bretagne et des Bretons, 2 vols. (Paris, 1990), vol. II, p. 508. Obviously, Breton, Basque, Flemish and German were not seen as forms of French.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Réimpression de l’ancien Moniteur, 22 December 1792, pp. 802-803.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    On this circle, see David A. Bell, “Nation-Building and Cultural Particularism in Eighteenth-Century France: The Case of Alsace,” Eighteenth Century Studies, vol. 21, no. 4 (1988), pp. 472-490.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    See Bibliothèque de la Société de Port-Royal, Correspondance Grégoire, Bas-Rhin, esp. lett. 7; cf. Brunot, vol. IX, pt. 1, p. 377.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    See Ch. Pfister, Lettres de Grégoire à Jérémie-Jacques Oberlin (Nancy, n.d.). Oberlin participated in Grégoire’s inquiry on language, as well. See Gazier, Lettres à Grégoire, pp. 229-231; Jeremias-Jakob Oberlin, Observations concernant le patois et les moeurs des gens de la campagne (Strasbourg, 1791); letters by Oberlin to Grégoire in Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Manuscrits, Nouvelles Acquisitions Françaises 2798, ff. 95-96. See also Alyssa Sepinwall, “Regenerating France, Regenerating the World: The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution, 1750-1831,” unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1998, pp. 35-68.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    See esp. Camille Leenhardt, La vie de Jean-Frédéric Oberlin, 1740–1826 (Paris, 1911); Edmond Parisot, Un éducateur moderne au XVIlle siècle: Jean-Frédéric Oberlin (1740–1826) (Paris, 1907); John W. Kurtz, John Frederic Oberlin (Boulder, Colorado, 1976). On both the Oberlins, I am also endebted here to David Troyansky’s unpublished paper “Provincial Knowledge and Mutli-Culturalism: The Brothers Oberlin and the Politics of Language in Late Eighteenth-and Early Nineteenth-Century Alsace,” and to the work of Alyssa Sepinwall.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    See Kurtz, pp. 56-57.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Henri Grégoire, Promenade dans les Vosges, ed. Arthur Benoît (Epinal, 1895), pp. 31-33; Kurtz, pp. 230-231, 276-277.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    See René Taveneaux, Le jansénisme en Lorraine, 1640-1789 (Paris, 1960), and Dale Van Kley’s contribution to this conference/volume.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Cited in Catherine Maire, Les convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard: Miracles, convulsions et prophéties à Paris au XVIIIesiècle (Paris, 1985), p. 37.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    Brunot, vol. V, pp. 25-28.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Pierre-Vincent Chalvet, Des qualités et des devoirs d’un Instituteur publique (Paris, 1793); Prieur de la Côte d’Or, Adresse de la Convention Nationale au Peuple Français. 16 Prairial II (Paris, An II), in Bibliothèque de Port Royal, Fonds Révolution, 223, no. 13; Brunot, part IX, vol. I, pp. 13, 135.Google Scholar
  59. 59.
    On the way in which the experience of the Revolution led to changing perceptions of France’s provinces, see the important article by Mona Ozouf, “La Révolution française et la perception de l’espace national: fédérations, fédéralisme et stéréotypes régionaux,” in L’école de la France: Essais sur la Révolution, l’utopie et l’enseignement (Paris, 1984), pp. 27-54.Google Scholar
  60. 60.
    On this point, see Patrice Higonnet, “The Politics of Linguistic Terrorism and Grammatical Hegemony During the French Revolution,” Social History, vol. V, no. 1 (1980), pp. 41-69.Google Scholar
  61. 61.
    See Dentzel, Rapport.Google Scholar
  62. 62.
    See Bell, “Lingua Populi, Lingua Dei,” pp. 1414-1415.Google Scholar
  63. 63.
    See Dentzel; Henri Grégoire et al., Egualianza, libertà. Proclama. I commisari délia Convenzione nationale ai cittadini del dipartimento délie Alpi-Maritimi (Nice, 1793); Grégoire, in De Certeau et al., p. 310; Grégoire, Rapporto sulla nécessità e sui mezzi d’abolire i Dialetti rozzi, e di rendere l’uso délia Lingua Francese, universale (Paris, 1794) [Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris), Le38810].Google Scholar
  64. 64.
    Mona Ozouf, Festivals and the French Revolution, trans. Alan Sheridan (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), p. 279. On the attempt to create a new, uniform revolutionary culture, see Lynn Hunt, Politics, Culture and Class in the French Revolution (Berkeley, 1984), especially pp. 52-86.Google Scholar
  65. 65.
    Sarah Maza, Private Lives and Public Affairs: The Causes Célèbres of Pre-Revolutionary France (Berkeley, 1993), p. 85; cf. Marie-Hélène Huet, Rehearsing the Revolution: The Staging of Marat’s Death, 1793–1797, trans. Robert Hurley (Berkeley, 1992), pp. 49-58.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Carla Hesse, “La preuve par la lettre: Pratiques juridiques au tribunal révolutionnaire de Paris (1793-1794),” Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales, no. 3 (1996), pp. 629-642.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Huet, p. 49.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Grégoire, in De Certeau et al., pp. 302-303.Google Scholar
  69. 69.
    Chabot to Grégoire, 4 September 1790, in Gazier, p. 73; Fonvielhe to Grégoire, undated, in Bibliothèque Nationale, Cabinet des Manuscrits, Nouvelles Acquisitions Françaises 2798, fol. 44v.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Weber, Peasants into Frenchmen, pp. 85, 312-213.Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    Ibid., pp. 336-337; Lehning, Peasant and French, pp. 144-145.Google Scholar
  72. 72.
    Lehning, p. 144.Google Scholar
  73. 73.
    Although they are too accepting of the regionalists’ claims, see R. D. Grillo, Dominant Languages: Language and Hierarchy in Britain and France (Cambridge, 1989), and Geneviève Verities and Josiane Boutet, eds., France, pays multilangue, 2 vols. (Paris, 1987).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • David A. Bell

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations