Òai? Ouais!

The many tongues of Occitania
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  October 2, 2008

Men from Mars(eille): Lo Còr de la Plana invade Boston. By Jeffrey Gantz.
It was Dante who distinguished the three literary languages known to his Italy by their word for “yes”: “For some say ‘oc,’ others ‘si,’ and still others ‘oil.’ ” Those who said “si” (from Latin sic, now ) were Italian; those who said “oil” (from Latin hoc ille, now oui) were French; those who said “oc” (from Latin hoc, now òc) were Occitan, and they spoke the most important European literary language of Dante’s time, the language of the troubadours. English-speaking people have been accustomed to call this language Provençal, but it was, and is, spoken all over the south of France, not just in Provence, and the troubadours were not all, or even mostly, from Provence.

These days, the people who speak it can’t decide on what to call it, or even whether it’s one language. You could call Occitan a language family comprising Gascon, Limousin, Auvergnat, Languedocien, and Provençal; you could call Occitan a language and the others dialects. Either one will pass muster in, say, Toulouse, but not in Marseille and Nice, where the language (it’s not a dialect, gramarci) is Provençal and they don’t much care what everybody else speaks or calls it. The Provençaux view “Occitan” as a code word for Languedocien and an attempt to privilege that as the language of the French South. It’s true that if you decide you’re going to learn “Occitan” (and all of a sudden you can), what you’ll be learning is Languedocien, which is the most central member of the Occitan family, the most conservative, and the most like the language of the mediæval troubadours. If you want to become a hip-hop star in Marseille, on the other hand, you need to tell the language guys to get going on Teach Yourself Provençal.

  Topics: Music Features , Culture and Lifestyle, Language and Linguistics, French Language
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY JEFFREY GANTZ
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   MAMA KNOWS BEST: THE HUNTINGTON'S FEEL-GOOD A RAISIN IN THE SUN  |  March 19, 2013
    Fifty-four years after its groundbreaking Broadway premiere, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun remains as dense, and as concentrated, as its title fruit.
  •   LIGHT WAVES: BOSTON BALLET'S ''ALL KYLIÁN''  |  March 13, 2013
    A dead tree hanging upside down overhead, with a spotlight slowly circling it. A piano on stilts on one side of the stage, an ice sculpture's worth of bubble wrap on the other.
  •   HANDEL AND HAYDN'S PURCELL  |  February 04, 2013
    Set, rather confusingly, in Mexico and Peru, the 1695 semi-opera The Indian Queen is as contorted in its plot as any real opera.
  •   REVIEW: MAHLER ON THE COUCH  |  November 27, 2012
    Mahler on the Couch , from the father-and-son directing team of Percy and Felix Adlon, offers some creative speculation, with flashbacks detailing the crisis points of the marriage and snatches from the anguished first movement of Mahler's unfinished Tenth Symphony.
  •   THE NUTCRACKER: BUILDING A BETTER MOUSETRAP?  |  November 19, 2012
    "Without The Nutcracker , there'd be no ballet in America as we know it."

 See all articles by: JEFFREY GANTZ