Corsican in France
Institut de Sociolingüística Catalana
Version française
Corsican in France
  1. Introduction
  2. The language in the country
    1. General information on the language community
    2. Geographical and language background
    3. General history and history of the language
    4. Legal status and official policies
  3. The use of the language in various fields
    1. Education
    2. Judicial Authorities
    3. Public Authorities and services
    4. Mass media and Information technology
    5. The Arts
    6. The business world
    7. Family and social use of the language
    8. Transnational exchanges
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

There is no dat for this topic.

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

There is no dat for this topic.

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2.2. Geographical and language background

Corsican is a Romance language, close to the central Italian dialects and spoken on the French island of Corsica in the northern Mediterranean, off the French Riviera coast.

In 1990, the total population of Corsica was 253,992. The native Corsican population has traditionally had a very strong propensity to emigrate, mainly to the French mainland, a trend that was most marked in the years following each of the World Wars. The opportunities for stable employment on Corsica are few because of the island's precarious economic situation.

This trend, however, has been accompanied since the end of the Second World War by a significant level of immigration by people from the French mainland, attracted by the development of tourism and the service sector on Corsica. The arrival of large contingents of workers from the French mainland and the mass emigration of native inhabitants to the southern French coast have wrought major changes in the linguistic and sociolinguistic situation on the island, since around half of its present population was born outside Corsica; the oral tradition of the Corsican language has been broken and the pool of Corsican speakers on the island seriously depleted, etc.

Half of the population lives in small towns of between 10,000 and 15,000, while the other half lives in rural or semirural areas.

The economic structure of Corsica, dominated by the service sector, bears many traits of an economically fragile region. The "Isle of Beauty", as Corsica is known, is the poorest region in France. Moreover, the average socioeconomic status of Corsican speakers seems to be slightly inferior to that of the island's other inhabitants.

According to several different estimates, Corsican is the first language of almost 10% of the total population of Corsica (i.e. about 25,000 people). It seems, however, that almost half the population (125,000 people) has some command of Corsican, which would indicate a sharp fall in the course of recent years, since in 1980 a survey conducted by INSEE, the French national institute for statistics and economic studies, found that 75% of men and 65% of women had some command of the Corsican language. So it is clear that the general trend over the past thirty years has been a gradual increase in the use of French at the expense of Corsican.

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2.3. General history and history of the language

Latin came to be spoken in Corsica as a result of the Roman conquest in 259 B.C., which led to a very deep-rooted social, economic and linguistic assimilation to the Roman model from the first century B.C. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the linguistic fragmentation of the former Roman colonies gave birth to the lingua corsa. The language subsequently developed into three separate dialectal groups - the dialects of the north, those of the south and the distinctive vernacular of Bonifacio. In addition, it is important to note the way in which Tuscan influenced the various Corsican dialects once a situation of diglossia had established itself during the Middle Ages, with Tuscan as the prestigious language and Corsican in the subordinate role. This situation was totally transformed after Corsica became a province of France in 1769. The cultural élite in Corsica reacted to the process of gallicization and tried to resolve the conflict by raising the various local Corsican dialects to the status of a language. But the diglossia remained within the new constellation, based now on the relationship between Corsican and French. Although incorporation into France meant that French replaced Italian as the island's official language, Italian nevertheless remained the language of culture for the Corsican élite for many more decades. The social and cultural élite of Corsica continued to attend Italian universities, especially those in Pisa, Rome and Padua.

After compulsory schooling was extended under the Third Republic, the knowledge and use of French permeated the Corsican social fabric more widely as education reached the rural areas, which had hitherto been virtually isolated from external influences. Nevertheless, the various Corsican dialects continued to characterize everyday social intercourse among the common people.

The new economic doctrines and activities of the 19th century came into collision with the crumbling traditional agricultural structure on Corsica. The disturbance of the economic, cultural and social balance on Corsica naturally had an impact on the language, as well as on the island's political life, and brought forth the nationalist movements that were to develop on Corsica in the 20th century. Even before the end of the 19th century, A Tramuntana, the first newspaper to be written in Corsican, was founded, then, on the threshold of the First World War, the magazine A Cispra marked the first appearance of "Corsisme" in the cultural domain and of demands for political autonomy.

The newspaper A Muvra, founded in 1920, was the focal point for the first circle of autonomists, who founded the Partitu Corsu d'Azione in 1923, under the influence of the Partito Sardo d'Azione that had only recently been constituted in Sardinia. The party became a spiritual home for the island's cultural élite and campaigned for Corsica to be granted the same sort of administrative autonomy that was enjoyed by Alsace-Lorraine. The most important thing about this group, however, was to be its contribution to the cultural renewal of Corsica through the publication of numerous magazines and other literature, translations into Corsican, many theatre productions and popular poetry competitions - the Mirendelle - in the villages.

The thirties were marked by an outbreak of Corsican autonomism following the secession from the movement of the radical anti-French element, who saw Mussolini's rise to power as a means of reuniting Corsica with Italy, which almost nobody wanted. The situation only served to kindle French patriotic sentiment on the eve of World War II.

As far as the present position of Corsican is concerned, the absence of a single linguistic standard for the Corsican language has given rise to numerous debates among the various movements and associations for the promotion of Corsican. The absence of such a standard served as an argument for not applying the Deixonne Act to Corsica. Corsican was considered to be a non-native dialect derived from Italian. This led to increasing awareness of the need for a single standard for the Corsican language as one of the main conditions of its obtaining official recognition and an enhanced social status, which would make it easier to combat the linguistic uncertainty created by diglossia and by the diverse forms of the language.

A social and cultural revival of the Corsican language has been under way for some twenty years, helped by the fact that certain nationalist movements operating on the political stage have seized upon these linguistic aspirations. Thus, under the pressure of these various political and cultural movements, the Deixonne Act was extended to Corsican in 1974. Because of this pressure, the position of Corsican within society has been somewhat bolstered by actions in the press to popularize certain aspects of Corsican language and culture, campaigns to stimulate public interest (involving phone-in quizzes, various competitions, intervillage contests), etc.

Finally, the first Regional Assembly for Corsica voted in 1983 for compulsory teaching of Corsican in the education system. The French Government initially rejected this proposal, but after the cultural movements and nationalist groups had rallied behind the demand, the French national Government undertook to satisfy the desire for the inclusion of Corsican in the school curriculum.

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2.4. Legal status and official policies

Corsican has no official status within the French legal system, although it enjoys some measure of official recognition as the result of a French Government decree of 1974 on the teaching of the Corsican language in schools (application of the Deixonne Act to Corsica). In addition, the Savary circular of 1982 redefined the conditions governing the teaching of Corsican, especially in primary schools. The substance of these instruments was that the French Government sanctioned the optional use of Corsican within the education system, while the regional Government of Corsica was to support the Corsican language by helping institutions to publish educational works, to publish Corsican books in general and to train Corsican-speaking teachers.

The introduction by the Cultural Council in 1989 of the strategy of equal status for Corsican and French should be emphasized, although the people of Corsica generally feel that the policy of promoting the Corsican language pursued by the regional authorities is too limited, despite the impressive declarations of intent.

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3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

As far as the use of Corsican in nursery education is concerned, only certain nursery schools have included optional Corsican lessons in their work programme, which means that only a small number of nursery children receive lessons in Corsican.

The same situation generally obtains in primary schools, although the schools have access to teaching manuals in Corsican for language, history and geography lessons. Primary teachers have the option of teaching Corsican for three hours per week if they volunteer to do so and if a sufficient number of parents so request. This, however, has done nothing to alter the fact that the influence of Corsican in primary education is steadily waning and that, as a general rule, the teaching of Corsican in primary schools does not produce any new Corsican speakers.

At secondary schools, around 20% of pupils take courses in the Corsican language as an optional subject in particular schools. The staff responsible for teaching Corsican - most of whom acquired their CAPES teaching diploma from the University of Corti - have very little teaching material to help them in their work, apart from which the optional nature and the duration (one or three hours per week) of these courses mean that the number of pupils taking Corsican is falling quite drastically.

At university level, Corsican is present in the sense that students in every faculty have the opportunity of attending an optional initiation course in Corsican for one hour per week. In addition, since 1991 there have been competitive examinations for the recruitment of teachers of Corsican and the development of the Centre for Corsican Studies (Centre d'Etudes Corses) and the various levels of diploma it offers (diploma of general university studies (Diplôme d'études universitaires générales - DEUG), bachelor's degree (licence) and master's degree (maîtrise)). In addition, support is given for certain magisterial disserations, advanced degree courses (Diplôme d'études approfondies - DEA) and doctoral theses in Corsican, as well as for some lectures.

As for educational supervision, the French Government has set up a system of appraisal of Corsican teaching by means of a regional education inspectorate.

There is a highly developed movement for the promotion of Corsican in schools - Scola Corsa - which publishes children's books and organizes courses for adults. Moreover, a teachers' association - A Caspa - is campaigning for equality of status and compulsory teaching of Corsican at nursery school and university. The pressure exerted by the various popular movements has helped to strengthen somewhat the position of Corsican in the education system, a development reflected in the opening of the University of Corti in 1981, the organization of a public service at the regional education department through the creation of a coordinator's post followed by that of an inspector, the establishment of posts for teachers of Corsican, the organization of primary and secondary teacher training under the aegis of the regional education department and university and the creation in 1991 of a competitive examination for a diploma in secondary education (Concours d'Aptitude d'Enseignement dans le Secondaire - CAPES) at the University of Corti.

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3.2. Judicial authorities

The role of Corsican in court proceedings is a tenuous one. For example, although a person is occasionally permitted to address the court in Corsican if he is incapable of expressing himself properly in French, lawyers, judges and magistrates never speak Corsican in court, nor are there translation and interpretation services for Corsican speakers. Furthermore, proceedings are never conducted in Corsican, and documents not written in French are deemed inadmissible by the judicial authorities. French is therefore the only language of the cour

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3.3. Public authorities and services

The French Government has never really pursued a policy of promoting Corsican in society and especially not in its dealings with the public. The regional authorities themselves make no provision for the inclusion of Corsican in their official documents or for its use in the sessions and debates of the Regional Assembly or in their own relations with the public.

As for the services provided by the various administrative departments, Corsican is not used at all in any of their fields of competence. This means that the documents issued by the various public services are drawn up in French only, despite the fact that, very occasionally, members of the public may express themselves and be addressed in Corsican in certain public offices (post offices, tax offices, etc.).

With regard to the promotion of Corsican in the regional public services, the regional authorities do take account of candidates' command of Corsican when staff are recruited and when training courses are organized for new employees.

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3.4. Mass media and information technology

Some newspapers with limited circulation (scarcely 5,000 copies) are written entirely in Corsican; this applies, for example, to Scontru. U Ribombu (circulation 20,000) is written partly in Corsican, while Corse Matin, Nice Matin and La Corse only use Corsican very rarely in particular notices and articles.

There are some periodicals which are written entirely or partly in Corsican, such as the weekly magazine Arritti (20,000 copies) or Paese and A fiara. Rigiru and A'pian d'afretu are two cultural and literary magazines that appear at irregular intervals, although Rigiru boasts a circulation of some 20,000 copies.

Radio Corsica Frequenza Mora, which is a regional station of Radio France, broadcasts for about 30 hours per week in Corsican with listening figures of about 30%, although its use of Corsican is limited to discussion and record programmes. Other stations that broadcast in Corsican are Alta Frequenza (40 hours' broadcasting and 20% of the audience), the cooperative radio station of the ADECEC organization in Cervioni, Voce Nustrale, and other private radio stations such as RCI and Radio Golfe. Other local radio stations exist in Corti, Calvi and Porto Vecchio. Finally, Radio Paese, which broadcasts from Paris, is sometimes relayed and can be received on the island, while France Inter and Radio Monte-Carlo also sometimes broadcast certain programmes in Corsican.

The use of the Corsican language on television is limited to the programmes of France 3 Corse, which transmits 40 minutes of programmes per week in Corsican and enjoys very high audience ratings.

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3.5. The Arts

Although there are no reliable data on the number of books published every year in Corsican, certain sources speak of ten books published in 1990, 15 in 1991 and 20 in 1992 (mainly school textbooks, poetry, short stories and novels).

Nowadays, traditional music is the flagship of the Corsican language, thanks to the existence of numerous successful groups singing in Corsican, about ten of which have recently produced records. Some of these groups, such as I Muvrini, have even made a name for themselves internationally. On the other hand, there is very little in the way of Corsican rock music or modern music in general.

In the world of the theatre, some professional companies perform mainly - though not exclusively - in Corsican, such as U Teatrinu from Bastia, Ghnomaccia, I Muvrini, I Chjari Aghjalesi, P. Guelfucci and I Surgenti. There are also many amateur comedy troupes such as Théâtre Point and Locu Teatrale. Despite the public aid granted them by the Regional Cultural Directorate of the island's Government, their work remains a minority interest.

The presence of Corsican in the cinema is very small, although numerous short films and some full-length feature films, such as La Déchirure, have been shot in Corsica. In the latter case, the film was also dubbed into Corsican. A large number of cultural associations engage in activities to promote the use of Corsican in this domain: language courses, colloquia, days of reflection on the Corsican language, the creation of a museum of popular arts and traditions, the creation of a cooperative radio station, the establishment of a lexical database, etc.

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3.6. The business world

Corsican is very rarely demanded as a job qualification, except, as we have seen, for some posts in the regional administration and in education. The presence of Corsican on shop signs, along with French, is quite frequent, but it virtually never appears on roadside hoardings or in radio and television advertising, except for some radio advertisements for products aimed at the local market. Nor is Corsican used on product labels or in instructions to consumers.

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3.7. Family and social use of the language

The problem of oral tradition in Corsican is extremely acute, and has been all the more so since the end of the Second World War. Few Corsican-speaking parents in the towns speak to their children in Corsican, preferring to communicate directly in French, which means that the use of Corsican within families is gradually disappearing. The rising generations therefore have French as their first language.

The reasons for this are economic (decrease in the active population as a result of the continual emigration of Corsican speakers, passage from a traditional to a modern society), social (emphasis on French as one of the keys to social advancement) and demographic (job shortage in rural areas leading to gradual depopulation of the countryside). This last factor is very important in view of the fact that the Corsican- speaking social structure does still function, especially in rural areas, where the oral tradition of Corsican is passed on to a far greater extent than in the towns.

Given that parents living in towns scarcely ever pass on the Corsican language to their children, it is poised to disappear as a customary means of communication in urban society. Furthermore, since Corsican is perceived as a language with no future value, the vast majority of Corsican speakers have succumbed to the ideology of diglossia, believing that Corsican is set to disappear within one generation. This attitude is reinforced by the fact that the number of Corsican speakers is in constant decline, that young people who do not speak Corsican at home scarcely ever go on to learn the language, apart from a few rare exceptions, and that, at least up to the present time, the introduction of Corsican at various levels of the education system has not produced any new Corsican speakers.

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3.8. Transnational exchanges

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4. Conclusion

Corsican is a clear example of the gradual demise of a linguistic tradition. Bilingualism in one generation has normally been followed by monolingualism in the next. Despite the absence of reliable data (an absence which is significant in itself), the reduction in the number and percentage of Corsican speakers over the last few decades is obvious. Socioeconomic conditions for the preservation of Corsican have long been unfavourable, due to the twofold phenomenon of the emigration of native speakers and the immigration of non-speakers.

The scant use of Corsican by public bodies, its very limited presence in the education system - due in part to the lack of uniform spelling and the various forms of the language - and its confinement to rural areas make it virtually impossible for the language to take root among young people. In addition, the prestige of the language, as reflected in its usefulness as a means of obtaining employment, is almost non existent.

Nevertheless, the pressure exerted by various popular associations for the promotion of Corsican has managed to enforce the formal introduction of Corsican into the educational system and to generate a gradual increase in awareness among the Corsican regional authorities.

Finally, it is important that the regional authorities continue to support the promotion of Corsican, especially by giving it a higher profile within the education system, in order to counteract the gradual erosion of the Corsican-speaking population. These two aspects of the situation point to the possibility of recovering a certain amount of lost ground. But the social basis of the Corsican language is very weak at the present time and is limited, in the towns, to an élite group which is very active in the cultural sphere but represents a tiny minority of urban society.

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