Institut d'Estudis Occitans
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« L’occitan,… qu’es aquò? » (What’s Occitan?)

Everything you have always wanted to know about Occitan is explained in this short synthetic document for all ages, presented by the national I.E.O..


« Where do you find Occitan? »

Occitan is the historic language of southern France, plus twelve alpine valleys in Italy and the Val d’Aran in Spanish Catalonia.


« “Patois” and “Occitan” aren’t the same thing »

Whether you call it « patois », « langue d’oc », « limousin », or « langue régionale », the historic language of Limousin and France’s southern regions is Occitan.

A lot of people have been calling and still call Occitan « patois », first among them, those who speak it : it’s a derogatory word, the result of a gradual cultural alienation. The authorities have done their best to persuade users of other languages than French that their language wasn’t truly one but only a local distortion of French.
In 1762, the French Academy dictionnary gives the following definition for the word « patois » :

« A rustic way of talking to be found among peasants or the lower classes ».

Nowadays this word is rejected by almost all linguists who had rather speak of « languages », « dialects » (local variations), « sub-dialects » and, on a very small scale, « parlers ».

« Occitan is a distortion of French »

Just like French, and Italian, Catalan, Castilian, Portuguese, etc., Occitan derives from Latin : it’s a Romance language.

Back in the Middle Ages, the Romance languages divided into two big families :

  • North of the Loire river, where the influence of Germanic languages was strong, « yes » was said « oïl ». It’s the oïl area. Present French comes from the Ile de France oïl dialect called «Francien».
  • South of the Loire river, where Germanic influence remained low, « yes » was said « oc », it’s the oc area. Occitan is the oc language.

« We, in Limousin, don’t speak true Occitan »

There’s no true Occitan. As befalls any language, Occitan isn’t exactly the same from one end of the territory to the other. There are different ways of speaking, variations or « dialects » of equal worth: « auvergnat », « vivaro-alpin », « provençal », « languedocien », « gascon » and… « limousin ».

Occitan has a great wealth (of vocabulary, expressiveness, developing capacity), a great variability (dialectal diversity and stresses) but cross-comprehension between speakers from different regions is usually possible with careful listening and practice.

All languages vary, depending on where you are, and this diversity is a treasure. In Castilian, for example :

  • in Spain, « c » and « z » are pronounced « th » in the English way : « centro » is pronounced « thentro » ;
  • in Latin America, they’re pronounced « s » as in « snake » : « centro » is pronounced « sentro ».

« Occitan varies from one hamlet to another »

There are variations indeed, even inside the same dialect. Yet differences aren’t all that important and are mainly due to vocabulary and/or pronunciation.

« Occitan is an oral language »

Occitan can boast a prestigious tradition of written literature.

The first literary texts appear around the year 1000 : the Clermont Passion (around 950), the Poem about Boèce (around 1000), the religious poems from Saint-Martial in Limoges (beginning of the 11th century), the Sainte Foi song (around 1040).

From the 12th century onwards, the poetry of the Troubadours spread across Europe and inspired the European lyric poetry : more than 2500 poems have been preserved (and a few 250 melodies).

Later on, Occitan literature witnessed several stages of decadence and revival, but it survived the decline of the language and is still flourishing today.

A few great names from contemporary Occitan literature enjoy international fame : Max Rouquette (1908-2005), Robert Lafont (1923-2009), Bernat Manciet (1923-2005), Jean Boudou (1920-1975), Marcelle Delpastre (1925-1998)…

Nowadays, even if Occitan is a written language indeed, the major part of its speakers are illiterate in their language since they haven’t had the right to an Occitan-medium school.

« Written Occitan doesn’t look at all like the Occitan we speak »

To read Occitan, you must forget the rules of French reading.
Like any other language, Occitan has its own rules.

Here are the main ones per far los primiers pas dins la lectura de nòstra lenga :

  • the final a is pronounced like the « o » in « often » : la vacha (the cow)
  • -e- is either open, like the « ai » sound in « air » or is pronounced like the French « é » :
    la lebre (the hare)
  • -o- is pronounced like « o » in « do » :
    la loba (the she-wolf)
  • -ò- is pronounced like the « o » in « often » :
    la pòrta (the door)
  • There are numerous diphthongs :
    -ai- like the « i » in « sight » : aiga (water)
    -au- like « ow » in « now » : paraula (word)
    -ei- like in « eight » : eisserbar (to weed)
    -oi- like « o » in « do » followed by « ei » in « eight » : boirar (to melt)
    -òu- like « ow » in « row » : jòune (young)
    -iu- like « yeo » in « Yeoville » : diumenc (sunday)
  • The final consonants aren’t usually heard :
    bac (trough)
    topin (pot)
    jorn (day)
    filh (son)
    venir (to come)
  • Only exceptions to this rule, the final -n in conjugated forms (3rd person plural) and the -r in a few cases :
    per (for)
    sur (on)
    mar (sea)
  • The final -s isn’t usually heard but it lengthens the preceding vowel :
    las femnas (women)
    los òmes (men)
    viste (quick)
    baston (stick)
    escòla (school)
  • -lh is pronounced like in French « escalier » :
    la filha (the daughter)
  • -nh is the equivalent of « gn » in French :
    banhar (to bath)
  • -ch- is pronounced [ts], [tch], [s] or [ch]
    chabreta [tsabrètò] (limousine pipe)
  • -j- is pronounced [dz], [dj], [z] or [j]
    jau [dzaw] (cock)
  • The apostrophe at the beginning of a word means that the first syllable has disappeared, most often a vowel (apheresis) :
    ’nar (anar) (to go)
    ’ribar (arribar) (to arrive)
    (aquí) (here)

« Learning Occitan is of no avail ! »

It certainly is ! Our local language can play an important part in the making of tomorrow’s society !

Let’s take three examples :

Culture and identity

Each language is a precious portion of Human Culture.
Learn the language of a territory, and you can start a true relationship with it. Everything gets clearer and meaningful : place-names, family names, customs, traditions, values, regional phrases…
In the place where they were born or arrived in their early years, children need roots and landmarks. If they’re proud of their roots, they’ll turn to others easily and try to know different cultures. All the more so as Occitan is an open door to other romance languages.


Linguists have always known the beneficial effects of early bilingualism. From birth to 7 years of age, the human mind can assimilate two, even three languages, but this capacity decreases until it gets very low around the age of 10. This is why it is so important to learn two languages from nursery school.
Bilingualism develops Broca’s area, a region of the brain that will be thus better equipped for the acquisition of other languages later on.

Why Occitan?
Because it is the language spoken here, present in the environment (place/family/plant names, colloquialisms) and used in many homes, conveying emotional ties between generations.
If you don’t know Occitan, your child will help you learn it quickly. If you come from other places, he will let you share in the Occitan heritage.
He will have access to a thousand year old culture (tales, songs, games, literature… whose educational interest is recognized) and to an easier acquisition of other romance languages : Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish,…

Occitan versus English…
« An Occitan learning child will learn English more easily. On the contrary, English today stands in the way of other languages. Hominization came from linguistic and cultural diversifications. If you speak English, you get the false impression that you are in touch with the whole wide world. If you look at figures though, you will see that all languages suffer from this preponderance of English. It works as a steamroller that levels all differences. English, yet, is absent from the child’s environment from birth to 7 years of age, except in mixed families. It isn’t a personal experience. » (G. Dalgalian, psycho-linguist)

→ Calandreta lemosina : an Occitan-medium nursery school for your children in Limoges


The Basque country and Brittany use their cultural identity as an asset for their touristic and economic development : it does work. Why don’t we do the same?

→ Occitan : studies… jobs…
→ The Servici de l’emplec : job offers for Occitan-speakers

« The words “Occitan” and “Occitania” are recent fabrications »

« Occitanie » is an old word. It was already used at the end of the 13th century (1290) to name the « langue d’oc » regions.

At the Poitiers consistory of May 29th 1308, the French king was declared to reign over two nations : the « lingua gallica » and the « lingua occitana » ones.

In 1381, king Charles VI considers his kingdom to be made up of two parts : the « langue d’oc » countries or « Occitanie » and the « langue d’oïl » countries or « Ouytanie » :

« Quas in nostro Regno occupare solebar tam in linguae Occitanae quam Ouytanae. »

« Occitanie » stayed in force in the administration until the 1789 French Revolution. It was picked up again from the 19th century onwards by those who wanted to promote the Occitan language.

« Only elderly people still speak the language »

About two million people speak Occitan every day, six million understand it. However the language suffers from a lack of family language transmission. So that Occitan speakers tend to be ageing.

Nevertheless, a new generation seems to take over, mostly young people :

  • who benefited from family transmission ;
  • who received some Occitan-medium education (in «Calandretas» or bilingual classes).

Hence today’s artistic creation.
Here are a few music groups :

→ Artús
→ Cocanha
→ Du Bartàs
→ Feràmia
→ Goulamas’k
→ Lo Còr de la Plana
→ Lou Seriol
→ Mauresca Fracas Dub
→ Sourdure

« Anyway, I’m not concerned, I don’t speak it »

Nowadays in Occitania, Occitan speakers are indeed a minority compared to French speakers.
And yet, if you live in Occitania, you must have heard the language at one time or another :

  • your parents or grandparents speak it between themselves but didn’t pass it on to you ;
  • you overheard two of your neighbours having a discussion, but they weren’t speaking French ! ;
  • you have seen roadsigns with two names and one isn’t French ;
  • every time you pass by a certain place or shop, you find their names strange-looking ;
  • some of your friends’ children learn Occitan in school ;
  • there has already been an Occitan cultural event in your town, it was advertised in the paper ;

Numerous examples show that Occitan is part of your every day life, of the identity of the region you live in. This cultural heritage belongs to all of us, you just have to get involved. The « Librariá occitana » will help you through.

« Anyway, in a few years’time, it’ll be over for Occitan »

The future of Occitan greatly depends on us, on you.

Whether you speak Occitan or not, here are some steps you can take :

  • get information ;
  • let people know about Occitan, make them understand what is at stake ;
  • call on your representatives to urge them into action ;
  • learn Occitan ;
  • speak Occitan as often as you can ;
  • pass on Occitan to your children and grandchildren ;
  • support and take part into actions for the promotion of Occitan ;
  • get involved into an association for the promotion of Occitan, such as the I.E.O.

Languages are like plants : unique and irreplaceable. The ball is in your court !
Make haste, things are hotting up !