Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November 2014, 10:12 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Italy : Occitans

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2008
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Italy : Occitans, 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49749d01c.html [accessed 26 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Profile

There are an estimated 50,000 Occitan-speakers in 14 Piedmontese valleys in the Alps (provinces of Cuneo and Torino), in one community (Olivetta San Michele), and a few hamlets in the Liguria region (province of Imperia), and in one community (Guardia Piemontese) in the region of Calabria (province of Cosenza). These remote communities are traditionally dependent on agriculture.

Occitan is an Indo-European Romance language with three main varieties: northern Occitan, which comprises Limousin, Auvergnat and Alpine Provençal, central or southern Occitan, which comprises Languedocien and Provençal, and Gascon.

Occitan is also known as the lenga d'oc. Provençal became the predominant variety of Occitan through its literature which developed in the nineteenth century (see France). Provençal is spoken in the Val d'Aosta of Piedmont (see Aostans).


Historical context

The presence of Occitan in the north-west of Italy probably derives from historical frontier established by the administrative divisions of the Roman Empire. Occitan was the language of the southern half of France, including this part of modern Italy, until the thirteenth century when the French kings began to gain control. From the eleventh century the language was held in high esteem in some parts of France, Italy, Spain, Germany and England on account of the troubadours, poet-musicians who sang of high ideals, social equality among classes and between men and women, and of courtly love. Occitan was said to be the favourite language of King Richard I of England. The troubadours were detested by the Roman Catholic Church, which fought against the Occitans in the Cathar Wars in the thirteenth century. The Cathars and Occitans were eventually defeated and persecuted. In 1539 French replaced Occitan in public administration.

From 1142 to 1548 the marquisate of Saluzzo, a small Occitan community, enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy, when it was conquered by Savoy.

The Occitan community in Calabria was established by members of the Waldensian or Vaudois movement, who emigrated there to escape religious persecution in northern Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the langue vaudoise – an artificial language which did not correspond to any specific local variant of Occitan – became the language of the most important documents of eastern Occitania. From the sixteenth century, Occitan competed with the Piedmontese dialect. Occitan was squeezed out of the lowest valleys by the increasing influence of the Piedmontese dialect and Italian. Occitan vocabulary and syntax was altered by these influence of these languages in the middle valleys and only remained intact in the highest and most remote valleys.

The Occitan autonomy movement is associated with resistance to Fascism. In the Second World War a clandestine journal was published in the mountain area of Piedmont, Il Pioniere Giornale Partigiano e Progressista. After the war the Associazione Soulestrelh, the Union dals Autonomistas Valadas Occitanas and Ousitanio Vivo were founded by Occitan liberationists, and this tradition has continued with many of the cultural organizations. Troubadour groups have maintained their traditional stance for political independence. Paratge is one of the latest political autonomy organizations. It has opted to be a movement rather than a political party.

Article 6 of the 1947 Italian Constitution guarantees protection for the linguistic minorities but there is no specific mention of Occitan. The region of Piedmont approved two laws in 1979 and 1990 to promote and protect the development of the linguistic and cultural heritage of Piedmont. The Piedmontese authorities provide limited financial aid for Occitanian associations. In 1999 the Italian government adopted a law setting out the means of protecting minorities, giving specific mention to the Occitans.


Current issues

A considerable number of parents still pass on Occitan to their children, although for several decades the number of families who only use Occitan has been in constant decline. From the 1970s in some villages Occitan has been replaced by either Italian or the Piedmontese dialect. Occitan is not perceived as a modern language and young people tend to prefer Italian, which also gives them more employment and career opportunities.

However, there are many Occitan cultural associations which promote the language and culture, some of which receive financial support from municipal and regional governments and the European Union. The Occitan cultural associations are involved in organizing festivals, seminars and workshops, music prizes, live and recorded performances of music, dance and theatre, film, newsletters, journals and book publishing, and language courses. Many take an autonomist political stance. There are disagreements between the cultural organizations regarding the codification of the language. The Italian municipal and regional authorities have set up Espaci Occitan to provide information and links.

Occitan is taught as an optional subject outside the main curriculum in some pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, including the primary school of Santa Lucia di Monterosso Grana in Piedmont and in primary and secondary schools in Guardia Piemontese. There is some public funding for these courses from the local and provincial authorities. The Associazione Soulestrelh and the Saluzzo education office organized the first teachers' in-service course in Occitan language and culture in 1993. Occitan language and culture are studied at several universities.

There are no daily newspapers in Occitan but there are several periodicals, most of which are bilingual in Occitan and Italian. The publisher Ousitanio Vivo, the Italian section of French-based Institut d'Estudis Occitans, produces a monthly magazine of the same name and books. The Chambra d'Oc publishes bilingual (Italian/Occitan) monthly magazine, Nóvas d'Occitània. It also publishes books and acts as the coordinator for documentary and feature films. Documentaries have received EU funding, whereas the first Italian feature film in Occitan, E l'aura fai son vir, directed by Giorgio Diritti in Occitan, Italian and French, was produced by Aranciafilm and Imago Orbis of Bologna as a cooperative project. The film was a nominee for best film at the 2005 London Film Festival.

There are other journals available from the internet which are bilingual in French and Occitan and Spanish and Occitan.

Various organizations and cultural centres for the promotion of the Occitan language, including the Comboscuro Centre Prouvençal, which unites various associations of the Occitan minority in Italy, the Centro Culturale detto Dalmastro in the valley of Castelmagno, Centro Studi e Iniziative Valados Usitanos in the Chisone and Germanasca valleys, which has a research and documentation centre, Associazione Soulestrelh, which provides courses and supports music and theatre groups, and Associazione Culturale Occitano-Guardiola in Calabria. Some of these associations have received EU support. Most publish periodicals.

The Associazione Agricola Turistica Beaulard, set up in 1997, is developing year-round eco-tourism and promoting Occitan heritage with a book and video and research into the language in collaboration with a local school.

Occitan is rarely used on television, and no public radio station broadcasts in Occitan. There is, however, one private radio station, operated by the diocese of Saluzzo, which broadcasts for a few hours per week in Occitan. Until 1993 the private radio station Radio Onde Azzure broadcast one weekly programme in Occitan, but the application of the new legislation governing private radio stations and a change of proprietor resulted in the withdrawal of that station.

The traditional music scene is doing very well; there are numerous very active groups which enjoy a great deal of popular success and have produced numerous CDs, such as the group from the Soulestrelh association, Li Troubaires de Coumboscuro, Lou Dalfin, Lou Senhal, the Suonatori di Robilante, I Esquiarzéé and Baret-Lageard, as well as the singer Sergio Berardo. The rare attempts to produce modern music with Occitan lyrics have not been well received.

There is an amateur comedy company at Coumboscuro (Lou Teatre Coumboscuro), which receives a grant from the regional authorities.

There are numerous cultural festivals, such as the Roumiage de Setembre in Coumboscuro, devoted to folk music, poetry and cultural activities in general, and the Rescuntre Usitanas, organized by the MAO movement. These gatherings are highly successful and draw increasingly large numbers of people from year to year. There are other gatherings too, such as the Baio, the biggest traditional Occitan festival, which is celebrated every five years in Sampeyre; and Uno terro, uno lengo, un Pople, an annual Provençal literature competition; the Festival delle Etnie d'Europa, which is held each year in the month of August, includes representatives of the Italian Occitan-speakers and is organized by the Coumboscuro association; and the I Noltre festival of Occitanian pastoral music.

The labels on organic products from the Pra-Chistel cooperative in Coumboscuro are printed in Occitan.

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