Breton, Corsican, Occitan, Catalan… Regional languages ​​are cultivated on Wikipedia

Franco-Provençal, Gascon, Flemish, Burgundian… Many are known as French regional languages. “at risk” by the Directorate General for Internal Policies of the European Parliament. With millions of speakers, they have not yet disappeared in France, but for some they need a serious renewal of their vital forces to avoid this cataclysm.

Wikipedia, which today exists in 318 different versions, can be an ally in reviving these languages. Alemannic, Corsican, Catalan, Norman and even Tahitian each have their own version in the encyclopedia. In total, fourteen French regional idioms can boast of having their own Wikipedia version. On March 16, 2001, the Catalan version was even one of the first non-English versions. The most recent addition is Guyanese Creole, which was launched in 2019 and currently has only 2,436 articles.

Surprisingly, these regional idioms can sometimes rely on contributors who don’t speak a word of their own language. As one user on the Reddit forum observed, here’s what happened in 2020: Behind the author creating and editing tens of thousands of articles in Scots, a Germanic language spoken in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Nord is probably hiding the American teenager who did it. he did not master this language and made many mistakes.

Speakers are few, but important work

This is where the shoes get tight: regional Wikipedia communities are often underserved. So they don’t have Internet users to come and check each other’s work, which makes it easy for a “Scottish contributor” to be one of the most important on this Wikipedia. Because what gives an encyclopedia its reputation for reliability is its large number of users available to watch for vandalism and errors.

Olivier only contributes to Wikipedia in its Breton version. It’s not that he has a special grudge against the French, but he knows “The chasm this can represent in terms of time” if he invests in it. This computer scientist is already doing a lot of work with the Breton version, which he became an administrator for a few years ago. Due to his profession, his technical skills are particularly useful for society. Today, there are six more or less active administrators to manage about fifteen regular users.

On the Occitan side, we often claim the same number of volunteers who contribute. Being able to rely on just a few motivated people has at least one advantage. “We are very supportive and with such a tight group there are not often clashes”assures Joan, one of the managers.

Even if they are only made by a small group of speakers, these additions are important, he assures: “You need to have a digital presence to keep a regional language alive. The problem is that few people communicate in Occitan on social networks. Therefore, completing an online encyclopedia can contribute to language sustainability. A doubly important feature because, according to Wikipedia, it is the only complete encyclopedia written in Occitan for centuries.

When language usage in Wikipedia changes

The stakes are the same hundreds of kilometers apart. “There are no longer any measures to ban or discourage the use of the Breton language, but what is missing today is to keep the language alive and to use it. Oliver analyzes. And for this, Wikipedia is the ideal support, because it allows you to cope with everything. I believe that Wikipedia has relatively little political manipulation and regional nationalisms are rarely covered. Anyway, I’ve never run into it.

Wikipedia even allows you to expand the speaker base in some rare cases, sometimes surprisingly. In a small group of active members of the Occitan community, Joan was surprised to identify an American learning Occitan and a former Russian.

“You need to have a digital presence to keep a regional language alive. [….] Completing an online encyclopedia can contribute to language sustainability.

Joan, administrator of the Occitan Wikipedia

Having a place to practice the language allows you to practice, but not only. Implementing a little-used language also means adapting it to new terms and therefore updating it. “A Welshman who spoke very little Breton wrote an article about internet trolls and called them ‘Roñfl’, a term that means ‘ogre’ in our language.Olivier explains. The translation was decided to be ambiguous and then remained on Wikipedia for years.

Problem: because the article is called “Roñfl”, some Bretons started using this word. Therefore, it was decided to keep this translation as imperfect as it had become a common practice. The Breton administrator prefers to see the glass as half full in this story: “The good thing is that we can see that our contribution can have a real impact, which shows that what we do is not useless.»

Verbal and lack of talkers

Reviving Wikipedia in a regional language is no picnic. “There are great difficulties in the development of these communitiesWikimedia France CEO Remi Gerbet knows. That’s why we try to help them with various measures.” Joan confirms that sometimes meetings are organized around technical points. He laughs: “But because it was organized in French, everything had to be translated for the American contributor in Occitan. It was a rather surprising situation!”

The biggest obstacle to their development remains and will remain the number of speakers for certain languages ​​that are truly endangered. “Although I know a few people who have raised their children in Occitan, these are extremely rare.Joan is crying. “The last natural speakers I know are very old.” An aging population of people who speak regional languages ​​fluently is accompanied by a lack of computer skills among these elders, who are not always comfortable with digital tools.

As problems are never alone, Occitan, like other idioms, has another language. “It’s not a uniform language, it depends on where you come from”, Joan explains. By-laws were drafted to address these differences. Contributors may use any language they wish, but their use must be consistent within the same article.

When Rémy Gerbet looked into the matter, he quickly identified the final hurdle. “People who speak a regional language are not always able to master it in writing.” Wikimedia France has therefore created Lingua Libre, a tool to overcome the writing barrier to create an audiovisual corpus and thus to realize these idioms in spite of everything. Originally intended for French language variants, this platform achieved some success and also benefited from an unexpected audience of Poles or Bengalis.

“We still have languages ​​to look for, announcement Mayor, especially Creole regional languages ​​that are under-represented in Wikipedia.”

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