5 things

Musicians' Diary

5 facts & Numbers about Breton Language

5 facts about Breton language
5 facts about Breton language

   – 1 – Breton is… a language

Which means, from a linguistic point of view, it is a language, with its own own specific grammar, syntax and vocabulary, and not a dialect derived from French. Of course, it contains many words derived from French, just like French also has some words from Breton.


   – 2 – Breton is a Celtic Language

Where French is a Latin language, Breton is from the Celtic branch of Indo-European languages, and is related to Welsh and Cornish (‘P’ Celtic languages) as well as to Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx (to a certain extend…).

When we look at old Cornish grammars (the last person speaking fluently the language is said to have died in 1777 – although there are groups of “neo-Cornish-speakers”), it really is very similar to modern Breton.


Celtic languages family
Celtic languages family

   – 3 – Breton is a written language

Just because it is not an official language ( it is the only spoken Celtic language that isn’t recognised as an official or regional language), it is not taught in most schools doesn’t mean it can not be written. And indeed it has been written for centuries, The Leyde Manuscript (790) being a well-know example of old Breton.

Leyde Manuscript – Image source >http://goo.gl/niMXm<


   – 4 – About 200000 people speak Breton

Last official survey in 2007 indicates that 206000 people in Brittany speak Breton (out of the 4,3 Million inhabitants in the province). In 1999, 61% of them were over 60 years.

More recent sources >here< (in French, but numbers are quite easy to understand 🙂 )


   – 5 – 14 709 children get education in Breton at school

In 2012-13, 14 709 pupils (from age 3-18) get to study in Breton, within 3 systems:

  • Diwan: private schools with 100% teaching in Breton (except French and foreign languages)
  • Div-Yezh: public bilingual school system
  • Dihun: private bilingual school system

In 2011 it represented 1,62% of the total number of Breton pupils.

Astrakan world music album on band camp

Album Songs and Lyrics

5 Breton words you’ll find in our songs

5 breton words from our songs

And you’ll find them more than once…

breton word kanan to sing

Kanañ [‘kã:nã] is “to sing”, you can find it in the first sentence of >1932<, and other words from the same roots like in >barzh an ifern<, kanaouenn, song, used in plural, kanaouennoù. This is also where the “kan” from Astrakan comes from, meaning singing. More about it in the >FAQ< section.

Breton words from songs Berjelenn

Berjelenn : is a Shepherdess (or also maybe a cow-girl 🙂 ) you’ll find this word in many Breton songs, and sometimes even in their titles. She’s taking care of sheep but also of cows. The word however never appears in Breton dictionaries, it might be because it’s from French origins, but anyway, this is the word I most commonly use, and songs too! You can find a nice love story between a Shepherdess and a Prince in this video from >7 Hills< with all the lyrics hand-written. On stage we also play another song called Berjelennig lazhed, or the murdered little shepherdess.

Breton word yaouank youngYaouank [‘jɔwãŋk] : young, it is found very often in typical sentences like “young and old people, listen to my song”, but also in in >3 Martolod an Orient<, in >1932<, in >barzh an ifern<, in this last song it’s the word “yaouankiz” that is used, for youth. It’s a very common word in Breton, and even people that don’t know Breton know it, maybe also because of a very well known fest-noz band from the 90’s called Ar Re Yaouank (the young ones)

Breton word Marv death

Marv [marw] : death, we have a certain addiction to sad songs, and they are also quite common in Breton culture, so, this word is also to be found a lot… In >Pemp Bolot<, a few times for example. On stage we also play a very famous song called “Marv eo ma Mestrez“, my beloved is dead.

breton word kalon heart

Kalon [‘ka:lɔ̃n] : a beautiful word meaning heart, used in most of songs, like our >Kreñv ‘veld ar garantez<, >Pemp Bolot<, >1932< and also >O Soñjal<, in this last song, the exact word used is “kalonad“, which basically is “the content of your heart”, in that case fear and sadness.

§ Simone

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