Archival research

We visited the Archives Municipales in Menton (Mairie de Menton Service Archives – Documentation B.P. 69; 2, rue Saint Charles) today. Our intention in going to the archives was to collect newspapers, magazines, or videos published in Mentounasc. We would like to find out if there were any sources of the like, and if so when they were published. This would help us establish a link with the memory boom (or the lack thereof).

Unfortunately, we did not manage to find any of these types of sources. Instead, we found only several lexical books on learning Mentounasc that were published in the early 2000s. However, this lack of documents may in fact itself be revealing of the nature of Mentounasc–that it was utilised more as a vernacular language than as an official one. It is also important to point out here that “Mentounasc” is a subset of La langue d’oc or Occitan, which is spoken in about 30 departments in the south of France.

carteocc

Furthermore, Mentounasc is not only spoken in Menton but also in surrounding towns such as Roquebrune-Cap Martin, Gorbio, Saint-Agnès, and Castellar.

A Mentounasc textbook titled U scriche dou païs mentounasc provided us with some useful information on the recent re-emergence of Mentonasc and its perceived importance by citizens. For example, it cited a 1994 survey by the Haut Conseil National des Langues Régionales de France, which found that 94% surveyed believed that regional languages constitute an integral part of French culture and 90% expressed that regional languages do not represent a threat to the French language. We will carry out a survey to get more updated and specific results to Menton, by posting the questionnaire in the facebook group “Tu sais que tu as vécu à Menton quand…”, of which many locals are members.

Another interesting point is the description of the history of Mentounasc. The same textbook emphasised its importance in literature, administration, scientific areas before the Villers Cotterets ordonnance of 1539, which ordered that French replace Latin (and by default all other languages) as the language of government. It also expressed its regret of a certain ideology and the conflation of national unity and uniformity. This leads to interesting questions on the French identity and the role of regional languages in shaping or challenging identities (refer to interview with M. Revest). It is even more interesting when we realise that the Villers Cotterets ordonnance was not applicable to Menton, because Menton was not part of France at that point in time. The extent of suppression and subsequently revival are areas we will look into further (refer to the legal section).

The same book pointed out that Occitan courses began in 1985, while a “cours de langue et culture régionales” was initiated in 1986 in Lycée Pierre et Marie Curie in Menton and in 1993 in Lycée St. Joseph in Roquebrune. It was reported that 61 students took classes in 1997-98 and 67 in 1998-99. We are in the process of contacting the schools for an interview with a professor of the language and the possibility of sitting in a class.

A newspaper source we found in Niçoise (not Mentonasc) is Lou Ficanas, which produced issues from 1887-91 in Nice. A new website, Le Ficanas, seeks to revive the old newspaper, though articles are for the moment written in French. We found an equivalent news website, https://www.jornalet.com in Occitan, with a regional coverage of the South of France that speak Occitan. The weather forecasts on this website for example only covers cities and towns in the Occitan-speaking region.

We also asked the staff at the archives if she knew of anyone who speaks Mentounasc fluently. Other than the professor at the Société d’art et d’histoire de Mentonnais (SAHM), she said that most people only speak a few words, especially in the market in the mornings. We will visit the market to verify this information with stall owners and ask them about their views on the revival of Mentounasc.

From these findings, we can draw the preliminary conclusion that there is a close link between the memory boom and the revival of Mentounasc, as the beginning of the Occitan courses and the publication of the book correspond to the early years of the memory boom and took place just a few years after the year of heritage was declared in France in 1980. We have to look further into whether or not there is a causal link, namely by examining the extent to which the revival of Mentounasc was organised and institutionalised. We hope to get a professional point of view through contacting a professor that teaches the language, as mentioned above.

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