France’s latest Eurovision song was in Breton – a language whose existence the government doesn’t even acknowledge. From roughly a million back in the 1950s, the number of Breton speakers has shrunk to less than 200,000 today, leading UNESCO to warn that the language is at high risk of going extinct.
There are 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, and half will be gone by the end of the century. This means that every fortnight, a language dies – and so do the traditions, the sounds, and the ways of living and thinking about the world it brings to life. This means entire cultures could vanish without a trace.
Breton, which is spoken in France’s northwestern region of Bretagne (Brittany), was once at risk of vanishing too, but it is now seeing a surge in young speakers. An effective, widespread educational system and a strong cultural heritage have brought young people to start learning Breton again, and to spread it – each in their own way.