Jayeless.net

Arpitan

Arpitan (also known as Franco-Provençal or Patois even though that second term can also be considered disparaging, and as Romand in Switz­er­land) is a Gallo-Romance language traditionally spoken in the east of France, western Switz­er­land and northwestern Italy (in the Aosta Valley and parts of Turin). It’s difficult to ascertain its present number of speakers, as reliable census data is lacking, but it seems to be less than 100,000, most of which live in the Aosta Valley (and speak the dialect Valdôtain). Arpitan’s dialects have long been pretty fragmented and distinct from one another, to the point that there isn’t always mutual intelligibility between them.

Arpitan is sometimes considered a transition zone between the langues d’oïl to the north and Occitan to the south, hence its traditional name (Franco-Provençal – basically “that language that’s like a hybrid between French and Provençal”). It’s still generally called this in linguistic literature, sometimes without the hyphen (i.e. “Francoprovençal”). “Arpitan” is preferred by some speakers and writers because it characterises the language on its own terms and not just in relation to other languages. The most commonly-used terms among its own speakers are “patois” or else the name of their specific dialect.

One legacy of the language that is very prominent is place names; a lot of place names in the east of France end in a silent -z or -x, which is the legacy of an old Arpitan spelling convention. Arpitan used these letters to show stress, with -z indicating penultimate syllable stress (e.g. Chanaz /ˈʃɑnɑ/) and -x indicating final-syllable stress (e.g. Chênex /ʃenˈe/).

Current Status

The language has declined very rapidly in numeric terms in France, basically because intergenerational transmission of this language completely ceased in the middle of the 20th century (my page Vergonha describes some of the repression causing this) and now the only remaining speakers are very, very elderly. France technically recognises Arpitan as one of the “languages of France”, but because their constitution states that the only language of the republic is French, there is zero political support for it, no education available for children at school, etc.. As of 1988 there were 60,000 Arpitan speakers in France, but there don’t seem to be any more recent figures.

The Aosta Valley is by far the place where the language is healthiest, and the only part of the traditional Arpitan-speaking region where the language is still being passed down from parents to children. There the language does receive official support, including inclusion in the school curriculum. As of 2003, there were 68,000 Arpitan speakers in the Aosta Valley. The language is not thriving so much in the neighbouring Italian region of Turin, where 22,000 speakers were reported but official support is lacking. There are a couple of villages in the south of Italy with Arpitan speakers too, totalling another 1,400.

In Switzerland, the language has no official status and is now spoken only by very elderly people in rural villages (an estimated 7,000 of them in 2009).

Linguistic Features

Much of Arpitan’s grammar is similar to other Romance languages, but here are some interesting points:

  • Its definite articles are lo/la/los/les, and the indefinite ones are on/na/de(s). It also has a partitive article used before mass nouns but Wikipedia doesn’t say what it is lol.
    • Before women’s names, the definite article la is used, but never before men’s names.
  • Nouns are inflected for gender and number, but like in French, the final pluralising -s is usually silent. This means that masculine nouns are generally pronounced identically whether singular or plural. Feminine nouns are not though, because their usual singular ending -a is pronounced [ɑ] while plural -as is usually more like [e~ɛ].
  • Subject pronouns are usually kept, although the first-person singular one can be dropped.
  • Arpitan has a “neuter” pronoun, o or el, used before impersonal verbs (like English “it” in “it’s raining” or “it’s three o’clock”).
  • The numbers 1, 2 and 4 inflect for gender.
  • There are distinct words for 70, 80 and 90 (unlike French), except in some western dialects which seem to have been influenced by French to adopt their system for those numbers. I wonder if it’s this which influenced Swiss French to keep its own words for 70, 80 and 90.

And here’s some phonological features:

  • Unlike French, it retains syllabic stress. Stress can fall on either the penultimate or final syllable of a word.
  • However, like French, it has a large vowel inventory (16 un-nasalised vowels plus 5 nasalised ones).
    • Where a word has a vowel followed by “m” or “n”, generally the vowel phoneme in Arpitan is the closest vowel phoneme + nasalisation, not moving all over the place like French nasalised vowels do. e.g. vent “wind” is pronounced [vɛ̃] in Arpitan but [vɑ̃] in French.
  • It preserves the final vowel sounds from Vulgar Latin, i.e. -o and -a (both lost in French).
  • It has a whole series of palatal consonants.
  • Some reflexes from Latin:
    • Latin intervocalic “p” becomes “v” in Arpitan (like French)
    • intervocalic “c” and “v” became “y” (also like French)
    • intervocalic “t” and “d” were lost (what do you know, again like French)
    • “c” and “g” before “a” softened to “ch”/“j”, yet again like French

Orthography

There is no widely-accepted orthography for Arpitan. Instead there are four competing norms (not too dissimilar from the situation of Occitan). These are:

  • Chenal: Comes from the work of Aimé Chenal and Raymond Vautherin, who published the first comprehensive dictionary and grammar of Arpitan in multiple volumes between 1967–1982.
  • BREL/CEFP: Two organisations based in Italy use the same orthography and promote it widely; it’s very similar to the Chenal orthography but uses some hyphens in some circumstances, I think to show stress (under… some system).
  • Conflans: Used by speakers in Bresse and Savoy. It uses underlines to show stress whenever it’s not word-final. Wikipedia describes it as the closest to IPA descriptions of Arpitan.
  • ORB: First put forward in 2003, it’s a system designed to be super similar to French. It is, therefore, the least faithful to Arpitan’s phonology. However, it’s easy for existing French speakers to learn.