The History of the Languedoc: Occitan, Occitania and the
Occitan is the Language of the Languedoc. Like
most other southern European languages, it is a Romance Language.
can be traced back to the tenth century, though like all Romance
languages it clearly developed from Vulgar Latin.
Occitan is sometimes represented as a dialect of French,
or even as a corrupt form of French - a patois.
Both of these ideas are wrong, though have been taught in
French schools until recently. As philologists
are fond of pointing out, this sort of error arises by regarding
a language as "a dialect with an army".
Historically, Occitan was spoken over a huge area - larger
than the traditional French speaking area. It
had a number of dialects, including Provençal.
Occitan is also closely related to the Catalan
language. Like "unofficial" languages elsewhere
in Europe, the use of Occitan was actively discouraged for
centuries in France, even suppressed.
in the interests of imposing an official language to help
bolster a nascent national identity. To avoid
confusion between the present Languedoc (part of the Languedoc-Roussillon
Region) and the Languedoc (the area of the langue d'oc
where Occitan was traditionally the first language), the latter
area is often called Occitania.
It is easy now to underestimate the vitality and spread of
the language. It was for example the first (and
preferred) language of King
Richard I of England (the Lionheart), as well as of his
of Aquitaine. Occitan was the first literary
language of modern Europe, the language of the Troubadours.
The Occitan legacy of the Troubadours constitutes one of the
greatest literary treasures of Europe. To appreciate
the beauty of the language and the surprisingly modern tone
of their poetry, you might like to read a short Troubadour
song, written by a woman over eight hundred years ago.
Despite efforts by the French state to suppress Occitan,
it still survives. Indeed, it has undergone a
revival in the last few years, so you can learn a little about
Grains of Gold - An Anthology of Occitan Literature,
by James Thomas (Ed), Francis Boutle Publishers, 2015,
775 pages, paperback, ISBN 978 1 903427 880
This anthology is essential reading for anyone interested
in Occitan literature, whether they know Occitan or
not. A wide range of works are given in both Occitan
and English translation.
Occitan is more familiar to some under its old names
- the Langue d'Oc and Provençal,
and less well known under its medieval name the "Roman
tongue" from which we derive our word "romance".
Romantic love and romantic stories were both medieval
inventions of the Occitan-speaking world.
This compilation represents a broad sweep of historical
Occitan, from the time of Guilhem IX (1086-1127), Duke
of Aquitaine, right up to the twenty-first century.
It includes works by Troubadours and Trobairitz (women
troubadours); prose works including medieval chronicles,
statutes, charters; and even Cathar rites. You will
find works by all the best known troubadours, as well
as works in Occitan and about Occitan by some unexpected
writers including Dante, Rabelais, Nostradamus, John
Locke, Simon Weil, and Ezra Pound. There are whole sections
on the Felibridge movements, including one on Frédéric
Mistral (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1904
for his work in Occitan) and the Avignon Felibridge.
The book has a good but all-too-short introduction,
a useful bibliography, but no index, though this is
compensated for by a detailed contents section.