France is notorious for its single-language policy, which ranks French as the only official, national language in the country—despite the country being home to more than 20 different regional languages, like Occitan, Alsatian, and Basque. While these languages have historically been quite robust, France’s policies regarding language use and education have largely ignored— and at times, even banned—their use, ultimately leading to a decline in speaker populations. A recently adopted policy, entitled the May 21 2021 Law Intended to Protect and Promote Regional Languages (also called the Molac Law, after the politician who pushed most strongly for its passage), could potentially slow that decline a bit. Still, the law has been the subject of controversy in recent months, as it turns out that it might not do enough to protect these regional languages. The law—part of a larger global trend in which many nations are making efforts to protect and revitalize their Indigenous languages that have historically been neglected—has been deemed particularly questionable due to an ambiguous clause that many interpret as banning immersive schooling in these languages. According to a report from Global Voices, many in the French Basque Country protested the law’s perceived banning of immersive language education in regional languages.
It ultimately turned out to be a slight misunderstanding—following the eruption of similar protests throughout the country, the government clarified that the law would only ban immersion classes in state-funded public schools. Private institutions, on the other hand, are allowed to continue offering immersion classes in regional languages.
Additionally, the Molac Law has been criticized for its vagueness—while the law is named for its efforts to protect and promote the regional languages of France, the course of action the state has planned for doing so is not so clear. The law gives regional languages the status of “national treasures” and also urges local government authorities “to contribute to the tuition costs of private schools that offer bilingual education.”
Whether this is enough for regional languages to survive in the long term remains to be seen. Since France began tightening up its language policies in the 1800s, regional languages have continuously declined as a result of neglect and even systemic abuse (students throughout the country’s state schools used to face stringent punishment for speaking in any regional language other than French). Global Voices notes that it’s not even clear whether or not French students in Occitan- or Basque-speaking regions will be able to study in their own languages come the beginning of the 2021–22 school year on Sept. 2. Andrew Warner