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Separated Multilingualism?

The experience of students’ multilingualism in minority language education in Brittany/France

This research work presents the results of a three-months empirical study in a private minority school of the non-profit association DIWAN in Brittany, France.

The private minority schools of DIWAN, founded in 1977 as a reaction against monolingual language policy in France, were modelled on Canadian immersion schools, which first appeared in 1965 in Ontario, as well as on Ikostalas (Basque country) and Welsh language schools (Wales) (Kuter 1999). The network of DIWAN immersion schools, which has expanded over the years, has created a linguistic regime, ideologically founded in language revitalization. The regime guarantees a secure Breton-only space in schools, along with the teaching of two foreign languages (English and German or Spanish) and classes in the students’ mother tongue French. Nowadays this quite secure Breton-only space definitely is in opposition to a globalized and flexible world. In this context, the research work questions the following: „How do the pupils experience their multilingualism?“ – hypothesizing that the students encounter separated multilingualism.

The empirical study is based on theoretical concepts, such as multilingualism, defined in an ample way as “a matter of degree, a continuum” of all “different linguistic varieties, registers, styles, genres and accents” (WEBER/HORNER 2012), on the models of multilingualism- encouragement in schools (e.g. recursive & dynamic bilingualism, CF. GARCÍA 2009 ; flexible/integrated & separated multilingualism, CF. BLACKLEDGE/CREESE 2010). In addition, there is reference to theory of the production of (social) space (LEFEBVRE 1974), the concept of regime of languages (KROSKRITY 2000; COULMAS 2005) and the study of material semiotics (BLOMMAERT/HUANG 2010).

Furthermore, the empirical study of this work combines language biographical (language portrayals, CF. GOGOLIN/NEUMANN 1999; KRUMM/JENKINS 2001; BUSCH 2013, and narrative interviews) and ethnographical approaches, as well as linguistic landscaping, and attempts to reveal answers to the question and hypothesis above.

The following conclusion can be drawn from the study:

The school environment is characterized as a place where a monolingual habitus (GOGOLIN 1994) in Breton language is present. It is accompanied by a monolingual Breton regime of languages, which affects the scope of administrative language. However, in this place, pupils can be localized and considered as multilingual subjects in process (KRISTEVA 1977; KRAMSCH 2006) who experience separated multilingualism. Due to total immersion it is officially implied that the students speak Breton (during their school time), but the study suggests that in informal moments the pupils rather use French language, since it is easier and more natural for them.

The experience of separated multilingualism effects the students’ emotional world: They frequently feel constrained using Breton the whole day due to the present regime of languages, even if they want to express themselves in another language, such as French, in certain moments.

Apart from separated multilingualism, the pupils encounter - rarely and only at the level of not-administrative language - integrated multilingualism, in situations of mixing languages in a conversation. The students experience this quite positively and it, at the same, reflects the benefits of multilingualism.

In conclusion, this research work partially agrees with the hypothesis that the pupils who participated in the study encounter separated multilingualism. What is more, it shows that the experience of multilingualism remains a complex issue due to various circumstances, only some of which can be considered in this research work.

Project period09/2012 – 11/2012
FundingKWA-scholarship of the University of Vienna

 Further Information

Project staff


  • Osterkorn, Patrick K., Vivre un multilinguisme disjoint? L’expérience du multilinguisme des collégiens dans une école minoritaire vivant en breton. Wien (Universität) 2013 [Diplomarbeit] (URL: [26.09.2017]).
  • Osterkorn, Patrick K., ’Separated multilingualism? The experience of students’ multilingualism in minority language education in Brittany (France)’, in: SALi. Studies in Applied Linguistics. Special issue: Teaching and learning foreign languages (Karls-Univer-sität Prag) 2014, 51-64 (URL: [26.09.2017]).
  • Osterkorn, Patrick K. / Vetter, Eva, ’„Toutes les langues ensemble, c’est tout?“ - Separated multilingualism in minority language education in Brittany (France)’, in: Gabryś-Barker, Danuta / Wojtaszek, Adam (eds.), Studying Second Language Acquisition from a Qualitative Perspective, New York et al. (Springer) 2014, 189-202.
  • Osterkorn, Patrick K. / Vetter, Eva, ‘„Multilinguisme en question“ - The case of minority language education in Brittany (France)’. In: Jessner, Ulrike / Kramsch, Claire (eds.), The Multilingual Challenge. Trends in Applied Linguistics. Berlin et al. (Mouton de Gruyter) 2015, 115-142.