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What is "Francopovençal" or "Arpitan" ? It is...

lundi 20 octobre 2014, par Dzakye

What is "Francopovençal" or "Arpitan" ?
It is the language spoken all around Mont-Blanc. Those who speak Francoprovençal/Arpitan have traditionally called their language "patois".
Isn’t this language just a dialect of French ?

A ’language’ is often just a successful ’dialect’ which has taken the upper hand over other ’dialects’. [1] Our language was recognized as a language by a linguist called G. I. Ascoli in 1873. He called it "Franco-provençal". Nowadays, linguistic commentators recognize it as one of the three Gallo-Romance languages next to French, and Occitan (Provençal, Poitevin and many other Occitan varieties, all spoken in the South of France).

What is the official name of the language : "Francoprovençal" or "Arpitan" ?
It is "Francoprovençal". It is no longer hyphenated in order to stress that the language is a demarcated linguistic unit ; it is not a "hybrid". It is the linguistic commentators that give it the name “Franco-Provençal”. The regional governments acknowledging this language, like those of Piemont and Rhône-Alpes have done so under the name "francoprovenzale" in Italian, and "francoprovençal" in French. They have simply followed an academic tradition.The speakers of the language invariably use the term ’patois’ in a neutral sense, although the etymology of that term is clearly derogatory : the language of the people speaking with their "animal hands or feet" (’pattes’).

Is "Francoprovençal" the language spoken in Provence, which is situated in the South of France ?
No, it is not. Provence is situated in the far South of France whereas Francoprovençal is spoken in central-eastern France, all around Mont-Blanc. In Provence, Provençal is spoken, which is a dialect belonging to the family of Occitan languages.

Why is the name associated with this language so ambiguous ?
As a linguist, Ascoli gave the language a name that he assumed appropriate at the time ; the term Francoprovençal expresses the fact that this language has some features from both French and Occitan, but it is also clearly distinct from both.

Why wasn’t Ascoli able to come up with a more appropriate name ?
His priority must have been scientific objectivity ; he could not have known the issues that it would cause. It is only in our present age of communication that clear, punching brandnames have become so important.

Owing to the problems posed by the denomination “Francoprovençal”, we would like to have the name "Arpitan" recognized instead of the old name "Francoprovençal"
In a globalised world, it is important and even urgent to communicate clearly. Since the language is not only spoken in France but also mainly in Italy and in Switzerland, the geographical references in the name are not only confusing, as explained above, but more than that, they are not accurate.

What is the etymology of the word "Arpitan" ?
It means the language of the people of the "arpa" or "mountain pasture". The word "arpa" was previously "alpa" and derives from Latin ’alpēs’, like the word "Alps" in English. In short, ’Arpitan’ is the Gallo-Romance language of the Alps.

Doesn’t the word "Arpitan" overly resemble the word "Occitan" ?
No it does not. It has strength like "Occitan". Many supporters of the word "Arpitan" actually want to get inspired by the dynamism deployed for the support of Occitan in the South of France. Unlike Arpitan, Occitan is recognised by the French state ; it can be learned as part of the ’baccalauréat’ (Bac). It can even be taught in bilingual schools.

Are the associations organised by patois speakers ready to adopt the word "Arpitan" instead of "Francoprovençal" ?
No, they are not yet ready to make the change. They do not really see the point in haggling over the name of the language. Their priority is to support their regional ’patois’ ; they mainly worry about practical action on the field to promote the language.

Would there be an advantage to no longer calling the language ’patois’ ?
Absolutely ! It is a matter of dignity. Who can be proud of a language called "the language spoken by the ones speaking with animal hands and feet" ? Northern France and southern France all have ’patois’. We want our dialects to be acknowledged as belonging to a different language group. "Arpitan" is a unique and distinct name allowing the speakers of all the different dialects of the group to claim protection and support.

Wouldn’t such a change of name open the door to a standardisation of this group of dialects ?
Definitely not ! Our dialects can not be endangered by a common calling. They have a large variety of words, idioms, even syntactic forms that should rightly be preserved.

Is ORB and Arpitan the same thing ?
No it isn’t. It will not be denied that the ACA, or "Aliance Culturèla Arpitana", promotes the new term "Arpitan" as well as ORB or Orthographie de Référence B, created by D. Stich. But they are two distinct matters. "Arpitan" is just a new term for all those varieties that are currently collectively termed “Francoprovençal”. As for ORB, it is a common orthography, which wrongly betrays fears of a hidden strandardisation agenda.

Is it possible to prove that ORB does not entail standardisation ?
I doubt that proving it would change anybody’s belief. It should be enough to say that, from the very beginning, the ORB orthography was not created to pursue such goals. Stich wanted Arpitan literature to be understood by all speakers, irrespective of the disparate dialectal differences. ORB gives each dialect the possibility of adopting a common spelling. The goal of ORB is to allow any Arpitan speaker to share his or her text written in a specific dialect with speakers of all other Arpitan dialects.

The extraordinary aspect of ORB is that NO dialect writer wishing to share a text of his region with a speaker of another region is supposed to change his language in the process. NB : This means that ORB does not imply any kind of standardisation whatsoever ! The writer will just change the written appearance of his words but will go on pronouncing them in his customary way. ORB is therefore more flexible than most phonetic-based orthographies, as it allows for a text written in one dialect to be more easily understandable by the speakers of other Arpitan dialects.

How can ORB do this ?
Arpitan is characteristically fragmentary, and the numerous dialects spoken between France, Switzerland and Italy can differ at all linguistic levels ; this is most obvious at the phonetic level. The spoken forms of the SAME words in two dialects can be very dissimilar. Hence, when written down phonetically, these words will not be recognizable as the same words. Would you for example guess that "ch’wô" and "tsowa" are the same words ?

However, if, rather than transcribing their words phonetically, a dialect speaker writes the etymological forms of these words, the ORB forms, then they should be more easily recognizable.

Why are you saying "more easily recognizable" rather than an outright "easily recognizable" ?
If you transcribe a word of your dialect into ORB, only dialects having that same word in a different form will recognize that word. The difference in pronunciation of the words in two different dialects will be bridged by ORB. However, if a dialect does not resort to the same word, whatever the phonetic form, to mean the same thing, but uses an outright different word, then of course ORB can not work as a bridge.
Let me exemplify this. In the Rumilly dialect of Savoy, the word "soè" means "door step". In ORB it will be written either "sôl" or "suèl". In Savièse [2], on the other hand, when Arpitan speakers denote a door step, they use a different word altogether : "windâa", transcribed ’lendârd’ in ORB. In such a case, even a transcription in ORB will not help Saviésans to understand Rumilians or Rumillians to understand Saviésans when they write about a door step in their respective Arpitan dialect. In the case of two dialects using diferent words to mean something, ORB will not be of any help to promote written understanding between Rumilian and Saviésan Arpitan speakers about a ’door step’.

So how can ORB help Rumilian speakers and Saviésan speakers to understand each other better through written texts ?
An ORB transcription will help them whenever they share the same word but in a different form. This is the case for the Saviésan form "mëndjye" (to eat), which in Rumilian is "mdjyi". The transcription in ORB, ’mengiér’ will bridge the gap between the two dialects. In this case, the French form of ORB is very close to "manger" (to eat) in French. It will help the dialect speakers knowing the ORB word forms, but more directly also all dialect speakers knowing and writing French. [3]

The word for horse in Rumilly is "ch’wô" whereas in Savièse it is "tsowa". The ORB transcription "chevâl" gives these two different dialects a common written form to share texts. ORB writing will encourage Savoyards to put back in the vowels they swallow in their dialect. ORB writing will force Saviésans to transcribe their spoken ’ts’ with the ORB form ’ch’, spoken form ’w’ with writtrn ORB form ’v’. Each dialect will associate ORB written forms with their own dialectal oral forms. [4]


[1As opposed to some people’s prejudice, every spoken language has grammatical rules ; grammar is necessary otherwise the language does not ’work’. The grammar of a language exists irrespective of whether or not a description of that grammar has been written.

[2In Valais/Wallis, Switzerland, 200 kilometers away from Rumilly

[3Most if not all Arpitan speakers are bilingual.
In some cases the fact that ORB resembles French helps the understanding of the word. In the Rumilly variety, "pi", meaning ’foot’ can be written phonetically as "pi". However, this word would be misunderstood in Savièse as meaning ’hair’. Indeed, in Savièse, the word for ’foot’ has the phonetic form ’pya’. If both dialects present the word in ORB as ’piêd’, when they write that word to communicate, they will both understand it. Another examples include the Rumilly variant ’daé’, which in Savièse would translate as ’di’ ; in ORB this can be represented as ’dêgt’.
In other cases, Arpitan can not be considered deformed French ; Rumilly ’wê", Savièse ’vwi", ORB ’hué’.
Some pronunciation changes can especially make words unrecognisable and confusing in the case of one syllable words whose only difference lies in their vowel quality. As a matter of fact Saviésan and most bishop of Sion dialects have the same of similar vowel qualities in words like : ni (nest, neither, snow), néi (night), na (nose, no), nêe (nerve). However, in Savoyard-like dialects (in lower Valais below Conthey, Vaud and Savoy), episcopal dialects will tend to misunderstand these words outside context. The development of vowels in these two dialect groups have been different. Consequently the words whose only difference lies in the vowel quality will tend to be misunderstood by the speakers of the two distinct dialect groups.

[4There is no canonical or ‘correct’ way of pronouncing ORB. A speaker of any dialect can pronounce it in the traditional pronunciation of his dialect. Reading ORB ’chevâl’, Rumilian speakers would produce "ch’wô”, while Saviésan speakers would produce "tsowa".
But of course, ORB was devised to transcribe disparate dialectal forms uniformally, and not to provide a basis for oral performance. A Rumilian text written in ORB and spoken by a Saviésan would phonetically sound like Saviésan but would just be considered bad Saviésan.