Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel
Breizh Poellrezh SF - Douarañ Santel

Breton (Ar Brezhoneg) Made Easy

Jean-Michel is a Sgitheanach and I am Bretonne, two parts of the greater Celtic civilization, a civilization that by 2000BC had travelled across Europe, the Balkans and Asia Minor; a civilization, which in its many forms, is only linked by language, the Druidic religion and a deep love of art. This is one of the ancient, complex and subtle languages of the Celts. Like our childhood languages it is part of the Brythonic family, the other being the Goidelic family.

The original wave of Celtic immigrants to the western seaboard of Europe was called the q-Celts and spoke Goidelic. It is not known exactly when this immigration occurred but it may be placed sometime in the window of 2000 to 1200 BC. The label q-Celtic stems from the differences between this early Celtic tongue (the original Ur-language from the Indo-European language tradition) and Italic, the precursor of Latin. Some of the differences between Italic and Celtic included that lack of a p in Celtic and an a in place of an the Italic o.

In the 5th century, a second massive influx of emigrants, referred to as the p-Celts speaking Brythonic, from Great Britain (Wales, Cornwall, Devon, Ireland & Scotland) crossed the sea as a result of the Germanic invasions of Britain, and renewed the Breton population: Armorica as it was known to the Romans; became Brittany (Little Britain) and its language Breton.

Thus the Celtic language families are split:

Goidelic, which led to the formation of the three Gaelic languages spoken in Ireland, Man and later Scotland.
Brythonic, that gave rise to Welsh and Cornish, as well as surviving here in the form of Breton.

The label q-Celtic stems from the differences between this early Celtic tongue and the latter formed p-Celtic. The differences between the two Celtic branches are simple in theoretical form. Take for example the word ekvos in Indo-European, meaning horse. In q-Celtic this was rendered as equos while in p-Celtic it became epos, the q sound being replaced with a p sound. Another example is the Latin qui who. In q-Celtic this rendered as cia while in p-Celtic it rendered as pwy. It should also be noted that there are still words common to the two Celtic subgroups.

Breton is not thought to be a modern-day descendant of any Continental Celtic language such as Gaulish, though it may have borrowed some features from it, but it is rather descended from insular Brythonic, whilst the other regional language (Gallo) derives from Latin.

Breton is traditionally spoken in Lower Brittany, roughly to the west of a line linking Plouha and Vannes. It comes from a language community between Britain and Amorica, present day Brittany, a language of the elite until the 12th century. However, afterwards it was only the language of the people of West Brittany (Breizh Izel), and the nobility, and then successively the bourgeoisie adopted French. As a written language, the Duchy of Brittany used Latin, switching to French in the 15th century. There still exists a limited tradition of Breton Literature. It should be noted that Old Breton has left some vocabulary, which has served in the present day to produce philosophical and scientific terms in Modern Breton.

The French Monarchy never really concerned itself with the minority languages of France. It was at the time of the revolutionary period that policies favouring French over the "regional" languages, more pejoratively called patios. It was assumed that reactionary and monarchist forces favoured regional languages in an attempt to keep the peasant masses under informed.

At the time of the 3rd Republic, the French Ministry of Education intervened to banish this minority language from schools and children were punished for speaking it. In 1925, thanks to Professor Roparz Hemon, the first issue appeared of the review Gwalarn. During its 19-year run, Gwalarn tried to raise the language to the level of other great "international" languages by creating original works covering all genres and by proposing Breton translations of internationally recognized foreign works.

In 1946, Al Liamm replaced Gwalarn. Other periodicals appeared and began to give Breton a fairly large body of literature for a minority language.

Everything 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 it. Since then a number of schools and colleges have been set up providing either education through the Breton or bilingual Breton/French education system. In 1977, DIWAN schools, lay schools, were founded by teachers and parents, in order to teach Breton by immersion. They teach thousands of young people from elementary school to high school and are free to attend and open to all. At present there are 31 of these schools with some 20,000 pupils. Another teaching method proposed was a bilingual approach, Div Yezh (two languages).

According to the defenders of the Breton language, humiliating practices geared toward stamping out Breton lingered in schools and churches until the 1960s.

Please remember that this language is neither a patios, nor a minority local dialect. Today it is spoken and understood by 700,000 people, including ourselves, despite the political centralization of France and the important influence of the media. This is, however, down from 1.3 million in 1930. At the beginning of the 20th century, half the population of Lower Brittany knew only Breton, the other half being bilingual. By 1950, there were only 100,000 monolingual Bretons. Similarly the language is in daily use, yet is the only Celtic language which is not recognized legally. It is a powerful vector for discovering a way of life, as it stems from the oral traditions of a people and is strongly linked to our identity, however state has refused to change the second article of the Constitution added in 1994, which declares, "The language of the Republic is French." Each year more protesters demand the repeal of this law, which is unique in Europe.

The Breton Alphabet

A a B b Ch ch C'h c'h D d E e F f G g H h I i J j L l M m N n O o P p R r S s T t U u V v W w Z z


We complete this piece on the Breton language with the following quotation from "Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights":

“Dieubha 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.“

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.

So we are proud to support this language, possibly a struggling language, one that Jean-Michel has grown to love as it reminds him of his childhood days on an t-Eilean Sgitheanach.

It was said by one of the early Greek philosophers: "Whilst we (the Greeks) are struggling to come to terms with the complexities of democracy, the Gaels are plotting the course of the stars and the influence of the moon in relation to the seasons of the year"

Breton – English Dictionary

* A-walc'h: enough
* Aber, aven: estuary (Pont-Aven)
* alamaneg: German
* Amann: butter
* Ankou: death
* Aod: coast, shore
* aotrou: Mister
* argoad, argoed: wooded area
* armor, arvor: coastal
* avel: wind
* bag: boat
* bagad: pipe band
* bara : bread
* beg (bec): point, end, top
* bihan: small (Mor-bihan : small sea)
* biniou: bagpipe
* bombarde : clarinet
* bras (braz): big (Mor-Braz: Océan)
* breizad: Breton (subst.)
* breizh: Bretagne
* brenzoneg: Breton (adj)
* butun: tobacconist
* chistr: cider
* Da bep tu: all directions demat: good day, hello
* digemer mad: welcome
* douar: land
* dour: water
* du: black
* enez (inis): island
* Fest-deiz : Daytime festival
* fest-noz: Nightime festival
* galleg: French
* Ganeoc'h: with you
* Ganin: with me
* Gant: with
* gast!: whore!
* Glav a ra: It's raining
* gwenn (guen): white, holy
* gwerz: song
* gwin: wine
* ha, hag: and
* Hanv: Summer (An hanv eo!: It's summer!)
* hen: old
* hir: long
* heol: sun
* huel: high
* Itron: Madam
* izel: low
* kaer: beautiful
* ne gomprenan ket: I do not understand
* kastell: castle
* ken ar c'hentan: until later
* kenavo: goodbye
* Kenavo a c'hentañ: Goodbye until the next time
* ker (car): village, hamlet
* kig: meat
* kozh (kozn koh): old
* krampouez: pancakes
* Kreizkêr: town centre
* lan: hermitage, monastery, church
* lann: heath, gorse
* loc: isolated place
* loc'h: coastal lake, lagoon
* mad: good
* mar plij: if you please
* men: stone
* menez: mountain, hill
* meur: grand, important
* mont a ra?: how are you?
* mor: sea
* nann: no
* nevez: new
* noz: night
* palud: marsh
* penn: head, boils, top
* pesk: fish
* petra eo da anv?: what is your name?
* plijet bras on: enchanted
* plou: parish
* roc'h: rock, crag
* skol: school
* skol-veur: university
* ster : river
* stivell : fountain, source
* tad: father
* ti (ty): house
* Ti-kêr: town hall
* traezhenn: beach
* Treizh (treiz, treh, trech, tre) : passageway, crossing
 (Kerantreiz/Kerantrech : hamlet at the crossing)
* trez: sand
* trugarez: thank you
* vamm: mother
* wreg: married woman
* ya: yes
* yar-mat!: cheers
* yen: hot


1 = eun/unan 2 = daou 3 = tri 4 = pevar 5 = pemp

6 = c'houec'h 7 = seiz 8 = eiz 9 = nao 10 = dek

Breton Grammar
Distagadur / Pronunciation

The stress is important in Breton and generally falls on the second last syllable of words, thus giving the language a rhythm unlike anything you would find in French. However, there are many exceptions and one of the dialects the stress falls on the last syllable. It is worth remembering that all French sounds, apart from x, can be found in Breton. But the aspirations in the language are decidedly Breton.

"c'h", like ch in German.
h, as h in English or German (sometimes silent).
th (in certain regions), as in English.
th (elsewhere) has changed to z or tz

e is never silent and never has an accent

g and s are hard consonants as in “grain” and “crass”

"Conjugated" Prepositions

As in other modern Celtic Languages,

Breton pronouns are fused into preceding prepositions to produce a sort of "conjugated" preposition

Below are some examples in both Breton (Léon dialect) and Irish.

Breton Irish English Literal Translation
ur levr zo ganin

ur banne zo ganit

un urzhiataer zo ganti

ur bugel zo gantañ

ur c'harr zo ganeomp

ur stilo zo ganeoc'h

arc'hant zo ganto
á leabhar agam

tá deoch agat

á ríomhaire aige

á páiste aici

tá carr againn

á teach agaibh

tá airgead acu
I have a book

You have a drink

He has a computer

She has a child

We have a car

You (pl) have a house

They have money
A book is at-me

A drink is at-you

A computer is at-him

A child is at-her

A car is at-us

A house is at you (pl)

Money is at-them

Initial Consonant Mutations

Breton has four initial Consonant mutations:though modern Breton lost the nasal mutation of Welsh, it also has a 'hard' mutation, in which voiced stops become voiceless, and a 'mixed' mutation, which is a mixture of hard and soft mutations.

Unmuted Consonents Soft Mutantion Spirant Mutation Soft Mutation Mixed Mutation
p b f
t d z
k g c'h
b v p v
d z t t
g c'h k c'h
gw w kw w
m v v

Breton Placenames

Almost all the Breton place names around today are evidence of Celtifcation.

The majority of towns and villages have either suffixes or prefixes and below are a few examples:

Ploue, from the Latin plebs (people) came to mean "church" in the Middle Ages and by extension "parish". PLOU, PLO, PLEU, PLE are all derived from ploue, and combined with suffixes, give rise to names such as Plogoff, Pluebian, Pleumeur.

Tré, Trèv or Tref meannig a subdivision of a parish, gives you Trégastel (hamlet near the Gallo-Roman castellum [KASTELL]) , Trémeur.

Loc (holy place) gives rise to Locmaris, Locronan

Lann, Ian (Sanctuary or church) Lannion, Lampaul
Ker, Kear, Car, Cré, Quer (all unique to Breton), means house or dwelling-place - Kermaria, Kermeur.

Over the past few years, friends that have come to stay have been somewhat confused by the roadsigns and some of the placenames. So we have produced a short list showing the Breton and the French name for some of the main towns in Brittany.

Towns & Villages







La Baule-Escoublac













Ar Baol-Skoubleg


An Oriant






























Kastell Paol

Côtes d'Armor








Print Print | Sitemap
© Breizh Poellrezh SF 1994 - 2018