Breton (ar brezhoneg)

Breton is a Celtic language spoken mainly in Brittany (Breizh) by about 210,000 people, about 35,000 of whom speak use it as an everyday language. It is spoken mainly in western parts of Brittany, and is also spoken, to some extent, in parts of eastern Brittany, and by Breton immigrants in other parts of France, and in other countries.


The area known to the Romans as Armorica was renamed Brittany ("Little Britain") after the people who migrated there from Britain, particularly from Cornwall, in the 6th century AD.

Breton at a glance

  • Native name: brezhoneg [bʀe.ˈzõː.nɛk]
  • Linguistic affliation: Indo-European, Celtic, Insular Celtic, Brittonic, Southwestern
  • Number of speakers: c. 210,000
  • Spoken in: Brittany, France
  • First written: 9th century
  • Writing system: Latin alphabet
  • Status: recognised as a minority language in Brittany

Between 1880 to the middle of the 20th century, Breton was banned from schools and children were punished for speaking it. This changed in 1951 with the promulgation of the Deixonne law, which allowed for the Breton language and culture to be taught for one to three hours a week in public education if the teacher is willing and able to do so. Since then a number of schools and colleges have been set up providing either education through the medium of Breton or bilingual Breton/French education.

Breton first appeared in writing in 790 AD in a manuscript entitled le manuscrit de Leyde, a botanical treatise in Breton and Latin. The first printed text in Breton, a passion play, made its appearance in 1530. In the 19th century there was a revival of Breton literature and it continues to flourish today.


There are four traditional dialects of Breton which correspond to medieval bishoprics rather than to linguistic divisions. They are Leoneg in the county of Léon, Tregerieg in the county of Trégor, Kerneveg in Cornouaille, and Gwenedeg in Vannes. The dialects form a dialect continuum varying only slightly from one village to the next.


For most of its history there was considerable variation in the spelling of Breton. Then in 1908 the orthography of three Breton dialects, Kerneveg (Cornouaille), Leoneg (Leon) and Tregerieg (Tregor), was unified. The other dialect, Gwenedeg (Vannetais), was not included in this reform, but was included in the orthographic reform of 1941.

Current usage

Breton can be heard on a number of radio stations for a few hours a week and there is a weekly one-hour TV programme in Breton. There are also a number of Breton language weekly and monthly magazines.

Relationship to other languages

Breton is closely related to Cornish and less closely related to Welsh, though these languages are not mutually intelligible. Breton has also absorbed quite a lot of vocabulary from French, Latin, and probably from Gaulish languages, which are now extinct.

Breton is also distantly related to Irish, Manx and Scottish Gaelic.

Here is an illustration of some of the differences and similarities between the Celtic languages using the phrases 'What is your name?' and 'My name is ... / I'm ...':


  • The only word in these examples that is similar in all the languages: ainm (Irish), ainm (Scottish Gaelic), ennym (Manx), anv (Breton), hanow (Cornish) and enw (Welsh).
  • The word for what - Cén (Irish), De (Scottish Gaelic), Cre (Manx), Petra (Breton), Pyth (Cornish) and Beth (Welsh) - illustrates one of the sound differences between the branches of the Celtic languages. In the Gaelic languages, apart from Scottish Gaelic, it starts with C, which is why they are called Q-Celtic languages (this sound is sometimes written with a Q in Manx), while in the Brythonic languges it starts with p or b, which is why they are known as P-Celtic. Both sounds developed from the Proto-Celtic [kʷ].
  • There are more similarities within each branch of these languages than between the branches (Gaelic and Brythonic), and the Gaelic languages are closer to one another than are the Brythonic languages.
  • There are other versions of these phrases: see the What's your name? phrases page.

Celtic connections - words that are similar in the Celtic languages

A a B b Ch ch C'h c'h D d E e F f G g H h I i J j K k L l
a be che ec'h de e ef ge hach i je ke el
M m N n O o P p R r S s T t U u V v W w Y y Z z  
em en o pe er es te u ve we ye zed  


Breton pronunciation


  • Vowels can be long or short
  • Vowels are nasalized when written with a tilde (ã), or followed by a n or a ñ
  • Stress usually falls on the penultimate syllable.
  • v - is normally pronounced [v], but after a noun such as o it is pronounced [ɒ], at the end of a verb stem it is pronounced [f], while after ñ it is silent.
  • Before a vowel, i is pronounced [j]

Many letters have different pronunciations in different dialects of Breton. You can find out more on:

Mutations (Ar c'hemmadurioù)

Breton Mutations

* g disappears before w or ou, e.g. e wele (his bed), but e c'harzh (his garden).

Sample text in Breton

Dieub ha par en o dellezegezh hag o gwirioù eo ganet an holl dud. Poell ha skiant zo dezho ha dleout a reont bevañ an eil gant egile en ur spered a genvreudeuriezh.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Sample of spoken Breton

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Information about Brittany and the Breton language

Online Breton lessons

Breton phrases

Online Breton dictionaries

Online Breton radio

Breton language book store - a non-profit association dedicated to the promotion of Brittany and the Breton language on the internet (in Breton, French and English)

Ofis ar Brezhoneg (l'Office de la langue bretonne)

More Breton-related linked

Celtic languages

Breton, Celtiberian, Cornish, Irish, Leptonic, Lusitanian, Manx, Scottish Gaelic, Tartessian, Welsh

Other languages written with the Latin alphabet