Updated: Oct 17
Do you speak French?
Yes, do you speak Provençal? Don’t worry, speaking Provençal is not a prerequisite to come to Provence. However, you will quickly realize that some Provençal expressions are often used in everyday life. Provencal therefore still has its importance. In this article I propose to see the history and importance of this language. I hope you like it and will be useful.
1. Provencal in Provence - What is Provencal?
Provencal is a Romance language primarily spoken in Provence, in the southeastern region of France.
Provencal has a long history and was spoken in Provence for centuries. It has influenced other Romance languages, like French, due to geographical proximity and cultural exchanges between regions where these languages were spoken.
Over the years, Provencal has experienced a decline as a spoken language, giving way to standard French. Nevertheless, it remains an important language in terms of cultural and linguistic heritage.
Efforts to preserve and promote Provencal are numerous, including through education, literature, and music. Some people still speak Provencal in their daily lives in certain regions of Provence.
2. Provencal in Provence - Where is Provencal Spoken?
Primarily spoken in Provence, Provencal is a regional language with different variations in different parts of Provence.
Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur is the main region where Provencal is spoken. Cities like Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Arles, and Nice are in this region.
The departments within this region include Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, and Var.
3. Provencal in Provence - Its Ubiquity
Even if you don't hear Provencal spoken during your visit, you will come across it unintentionally. In fact, at the entrance to most cities in the region, signs displaying the city's name are written in French. There is often a second sign with the city's name written in Provencal just below.
Additionally, some street names in the city center of Aix-en-Provence are written in Provencal. In the photo below, the name of this street means "narrow elbows."
It is also possible to hear Provencal in some French songs. A Marseille-based rap group called IAM released their first hit in 1993 titled "Je danse le Mia." The first line of the song says, "Tu es fada. Je crains dégun," which means, "You're crazy. I fear no one."
4. Provencal in Provence - But Who Speaks Provencal?
The use of Provencal in everyday life has diminished over time. However, Provencal is still spoken by a few individuals or groups:
• Native speakers, often elderly people who grew up speaking Provencal as their mother tongue.
• Teachers and enthusiasts of Provencal language and culture committed to preserving the language. They teach it in schools or language courses.
• Writers and poets who write in Provencal to preserve the language and its literary richness.
• Tourists and fans of Provencal culture who may also learn and use Provencal during their visits to Provence, either to communicate with locals or to explore the richness of the local culture.
5. Provencal in Provence - Provencal Expressions
Even though the Provencal language is fading over the years, there are still expressions that persist and are used by all generations.
a. Provençal Expressions: "Con"
A polysemous word, it originally referred to the human vulva. In a completely different context, "con" is also a rude and familiar way of calling someone "stupid" or "foolish."
In the southwest of France, the word "con" is a means of conveying an emotion, often surprise or disappointment.
This expression is now almost perceived as a casual interjection by Southerners.
For example, you might hear phrases like "Oh con, we're in a tough spot" or "Oh con, I didn't see that one coming!"
b. Provençal Expressions : "Emboucaner"
If you look in the dictionary, the term "emboucaner" means "to smell bad" or "to stink." However, in Provence, "emboucaner" has a completely different meaning. For Provençals, it means "to bother" or "to get into an argument."
In a more colloquial sense, this term also means "to take someone for a fool" and is widely used by the people of Marseille.
c. Provençal Expressions : "Être dans un brave pastis"
Derived from the expression "être dans de beaux draps," this means that one is in a complicated situation and may get into trouble.
This expression reflects the uniqueness of the people of Marseille, who decided to create their own expression by incorporating their beloved drink: pastis, also known as "jaune" for connoisseurs.
6. Provencal in Provence - A Bit of Vocabulary
Here's a short video where you can discover some Provencal phrases and expressions.
If you come to my place for an immersion stay in Provence, I will make you discover the different aspects of Provence: the landscapes and the scents, but also the culture, the gastronomy... while helping you to improve your French. See you soon in Provence!
Virginie In Provence