Breton language

Musicians' Diary

bloavezh mat happy new year in breton bonne année en breton


Thank you all for your support along this 2013 year, no words can tell how much it mattered to us!

§ Simone & Yann

Album Songs and Lyrics

7 Hills


[ lyrics, translation & facts for the last song from our album >here< ]

This song is a really really famous one, all over Brittany although it is originally from the Vannes area (>google map<). The dance itself is quite simple. The song is usually called by the 1st sentence of the lyrics, du-hont ar ar manez over the mountain/hills. Indeed, the Breton word for mountain may be used for hill as well, they aren’t any huge high mountains, highest point is 380 meters (yes !) at the Mont Saint Michel de Brasparts.

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Yann transformed the initial dance rhythm by adding a 7th beat. To be more technical it was a 6/4 and it was turned into 7/4.

Music & Lyrics: traditional

Instruments : acoustic & electric guitar, acoustic & electric saz

Rythme : hanter-dro dance with an extra beat

In case you had miss it, here is the video from that song that you may listen to while reading further. In case you hadn’t? Well take a chance to enjoy it once more!!!



The Vannes area has a particular Breton dialect, for linguistics lovers, the stress on the words and sentences tend to be on the last syllable, a bit like in French but unlike the other dialects from Brittany – and for non linguistics lovers, well, it does have a huge impact on the beat and the rhythm of the songs. Some words are also spelt

Du-hont, du-hont, àr ar manez ez eus ur verjelenn
Berjelenn e c’houarn he deñved a sonas ur sonenn.

On the top of the hills there’s a shepherdess
While she’s taking care of her herd, she’s singing a song

Mabig ar roue he selaoue hag he selaoue mat
Na dre ar fenestr uhellañ ‘oe e palez e dad

The son of the king listen to her, and he listens well
From the highest window of his dad’s castle

Sonet, sonet, berjelennig, kar me ‘gav brav ho son
O na raktal pan he c’hlevan e rejoui ma c’halon

Sing, sing young shepherdess, since I like your song ,
And when I hear it my heart is full of joy

Nompas, nompas, denig yaouank, me ne ganin ket ken
Kar me ‘meus ur breur en arme hag a ra din anken

Oh no, young man, I won’t sing any longer
Since I have a brother gone to the army, which makes me sad

Ouian ket mard eo beuzet er mor, pe lazhet en arme
Kaset em eus un evnig rouz da c’houiet e zoare

I don’t know whether he drowned in the see or if he died at the army
I’ve sent a little red bird to hear about him

Mar da ma breur ha dont en-dro me ‘vo-me begulez
Mar da ma breur ha chom en dour me ‘vo-me minourez.

If my brother is to come back I’ll have children
If my brother drowns in the waters I’ll be orphan

This is as usual a personal translation, with emphasis on the meaning than on the exact-correct-official translation

§ Simone

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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 ><


   – 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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Album Songs and Lyrics


[ lyrics, translation & facts for the 7th song from our album >here< ]

We’ve played this song for many years, in fest-noz (breton balrooms). The dance itself is called kas a-barh, and it has origins in the south of Brittany (in the Vannes area). The rhythm is similar to many traditional dances from various places in Europe and in the Balkans.

Traditionally in that area of Brittany, the assembly will repeat the lyrics after the leader while dancing. Our way to add extra voices however is more influenced by the time we recorded it, in Shiroka Laka, a small mountain village from the Bulgarian Rodopi Mountains. During our breaks we used to watch Folk TV. The result then of course doesn’t sound Bulgarian at all, maybe more Albanian?


Because of these voices, we named  the song “mouezhioù” which means “voices”. Indeed, most of Breton songs, unlike Irish ones, don’t have any official title, we tend to refer to them by the beginning of the first verse, this one being referred to as “pa garche ma mamm”


Music & Lyrics: traditional

Instruments : guitar, darbuka

Rythme : kas a-barh dance.


Pa garche ma mamm ha ma zad / Ma’m behe bet ur chansig vat

Ma’m behe bet ur chansig vat / Ma’m behe mab un avokat

Ma’m behe mab un avokat / Breman m’eus bet un astralhuiad

Breman m’eus bet un astralhuiad / Na oar na devoam nag arad

Na oar na devoam nag arad / Med konduin e c’har a c’huitellad

Med konduin e c’har a c’huitellad / Monet d’en davarn mintin mat

Ha leun an ti a vugale / Pevar ar bank pemb e gwele

Pevar ar bank pemb e gwele / C’hoaz a vo c’hoaz ma vez danvez

C’hoaz a vo c’hoaz ma vez danvez / Ya ma bez bolontez Doue

Ya ma bez bolontez Doue / Bolontez an dud gwech a vez


If my mother and father had wanted to / I would have been more chanceful

I would have been more chanceful / I had married a lawyer

I had married a lawyer / Now I’m with a drunkard

Now I’m with a drunkard / He doesn’t know how to plow a field

He doesn’t know how to plow a field / But he drives his wagon and whistles

But he drives his wagon and whistles / And goes to the pub early in the morning

And the house is full of kids / Four on the bench and five more on the bed

Four on the bench and five more on the bed /  And there will be more if there is willingness

And there will be more if there is willingness / Or if it’s God’s will

Or if it’s God’s will / And also people’s will sometimes


Notes: As usual, it’s a personal translation, with no attempt to translate the poetic style, it might not be fully accurate, the purpose is more to give an idea about what it is.

Astrakan world music album on band camp