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The History of the Languedoc:   Occitan, Occitania and the Troubadours

Occitan is the Language of the Languedoc.   Like most other southern European languages, it is a Romance Language.   Its origin 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".

Map showing the area where Occitan s spoken. 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 mother Eleanor 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 Occitan today.  



Book Review


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.

Highly recommended.






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Cross of Toulouse.
Occitan, Occitania and the Troubadours