Simon Pocock - Blues in BrittanyAN INTERESTING HOUSE NAME

Our place in Brittany bears a very interesting name: Coat Aillis, which is Breton language. We are so happy to have a house with a name in Breton! However, my Breton purist friends are quite sniffy about it as it is a meaningless name. According to them, the previous owner corrupted it! The original name is Coat An Illis (or Iliz) and it appears on a couple of our utility bills and on Google earth. In Breton, the word “Coat” means “wood or copse”. The word “An” means “of” and the word “Illis” (or iliz) means “church”.


The reason behind the name is that a couple of fields away from us lie the remains of a 5th century Roman Gallic temple. Sadly, they are literally only the ruins of the walls, so nothing overly exciting. Right next to the site is a house called “Coz Iliz”, which for a long time I thought meant “Home of the church”. However, after some investigation, I found out that it actually means “Old church”. It transpires that the previous owner was a communist who didn’t like the association of religious names, so he changed it. The end result is bizarre: half our post bears one name and the other half, the official post, bears the original name.


We are really fortunate to live in such a beautiful and interesting region, with most road signs written in both French and Breton. We do find this mysterious language most fascinating. So much so that my wife and I decided to take a few Breton classes, as we thought it would be fun. The nearest town to us offering classes is Concarneau, so we decided to go along. Classes vary according to students’ level (there are 6 levels), and focus mostly on verbal tuition rather than written. Our tutor uses a method called Oulpan, which is rather modern, with conversation about everyday life and stories. The support materials are a book and a CD. This popular method enables students to hold a conversation in a relatively short time, whereas traditional methods mostly base themselves on grammar and written tuition. Our tutor uses recordings, movies, cards, games, songs, etc…. We have even already attended a Breton movie night with the school!


We moved to Brittany in 1992, our whole family very keen to understand the culture in order to fit in. Without a basic knowledge of the “official” Breton language, we felt something was lacking. Our first invitation to a Fest Noz, for example, left us rather dumbfounded! We had no idea, what on earth was that?

Nowadays, Breton is one of the minor regional languages in France, whereas it once was most likely the dominant language in Brittany. Without a huge effort to keep it alive, it could disappear altogether in the next few years. Many local groups and associations attempt to protect it and keep it alive. For example, in 2017, 651 children went on Breton language holidays. At the start of school year 2019, the Conseil Régional de Bretagne opened 16 bilingual classes. However, the number of teachers is not enough, mostly due to the distances to travel to the training centres. Many associations are also asking for Breton teaching for everyone, in the same vein as with English. The attempts are there, with a huge effort in place, but will it be enough?

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