Academy of Dialectal Languages: studying and preserving the Monegasque language

langue monégasque
J. Pérez Soriano (Pepetps)

Its president, Claude Passet, hopes to interest the younger generation in the Principality’s language.

Claude Passet – All rights reserved

“The guarantor of a people’s originality is its language: to take it away is to destroy that originality”. It was with these words that Prince Rainier III inaugurated the Academy of Dialectal Languages, on 15 May 1982. Created exactly 40 years ago, its origins date back almost a century.

It all began in 1924. In order to ensure that “traditions are not lost”, a number of Monegasques had the idea of creating the Comité National des Traditions Monégasques (National Committee of Monegasque Traditions). The aim was to preserve major aspects of the Principality’s culture and heritage, such as Saint Devota or Saint Roman. “In 1924, it was already felt that many traditions were gradually disappearing,” says Claude Passet, president of the Académie des Langues Dialectales (Dialectal Languages Academy).

Despite the founding texts of the Committee providing for the creation of a Monegasque language commission, it never came into being. The Academy of Dialectal Languages did not appear until almost 60 years later, in 1982. In the interim, great names, who were not linguists but who were passionate about the language, had begun to codify Monegasque.

“In 1927, the members of the Traditions Committee asked Louis Notari, who spoke Monegasque very well, to write The Legend of Saint Devota. He did so, and he collected old vocabulary by questioning people, pulling it all together to produce a vocabulary and a grammar essay that was published in 1927″, says Claude Passet. “In 1947, Robert Arveiller, a former high school teacher, wrote a thesis on Monegasque: it was the first purely linguistic work on the language. Twenty years later, the Committee wanted to study the language and assembled academics from different countries, organising several symposia. Then, in 1981, the committee felt that it was treading water and wanted to create what had been envisaged back in 1924: an organisation to study the Monegasque language, as well as the Latin languages.”

SEE ALSO: The best books for learning the Monegasque language

Once a forbidden language

Presided successively by Robert Boisson, René Novella, then by Paulette Cherici-Porello, the Academy is now directed by Claude Passet. Its members are spread over seven countries and around fifteen universities, and organise a symposium every three years. The aim is to study and understand the origins of Latin languages, including Monegasque: “Languages evolve, Monegasque originates from the Ligurian languages”, stresses Claude, who makes the Academy’s premises available to the Traditions Committee for Monegasque classes.

The language is now taught in schools. Ironically, as a schoolboy, Claude Passet was forbidden to speak the language he now defends: “My generation did not learn Monegasque. It was forbidden at the time to speak it at school, it was considered a vulgar, popular language. How many times was I given lines… I had to write “I must not speak in dialect”. In Monaco-Ville, people would speak Monegasque in the street in the 1960s and 1970s. And the children would repeat it, that’s how I learned.”

Now, and since 1973, thanks to Canon Georges Franzi, Monegasque is a compulsory subject until year 10 (US 9th grade). But Claude Passet feels that even though this is positive, it is still not enough: “It’s only two hours a month,” he says, regretfully. “That’s not much. There are only two hours on Monaco’s history and two hours of Monegasque. (…) It’s a pity: pupils learn it as a subject, as if they were learning Latin. They don’t speak it outside of school. But it’s good that they know the language exists, and that they speak it in the playground. (…) It’s the same thing with the Monegasque language competition : the pupils write little texts, but they aren’t published, it’s a shame, they should be!”

SEE ALSO: VIDEO. Learn the basics of the Monegasque language in three minutes

Preserving the culture and identity of Monaco

For his part, Claude Passet would like to give the Academy a second wind: “the Monegasque Language Commission was meant to create a Franco-Monegasque dictionary, which was never completed. I would love to see this project restarted, but also to bring fresh blood into the Academy. There have been attempts to attract younger people. For example, the Academy of Music tried to create a choir that would sing in Monegasque, but it only lasted for one year. There was also talk of launching a Monegasque bistro, so that people could meet in a bar and speak Monegasque, but Covid put a stop to the project. It would be good to get that going. If we want a language to continue, even if it is not a perfect or literary language, we need to speak it.”

For Claude, and for the Academy, preserving regional languages – in the Principality or elsewhere – is important in many ways. “We must make sure that the language is not lost: a language is part of a country’s culture, its identity. If you lose your language, you lose a bit of your identity”, he believes, also noting that Monegasque used to have varieties.

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“In Monaco, there wasn’t just one Monegasque language: there was the Monaco-Ville version of Monegasque, which was spoken in La Condamine, and the Saint-Roman Monegasque, which was more popular and similar to the Provençal of Roquebrune and Menton. (…) Today, Monegasque is a silent language, spoken only in the classroom. However, it’s dangerous when a language is only spoken.”

But Claude Passet is not giving up hope: through conferences, publications and future projects, he hopes that the new generations will gradually rediscover the desire to learn the language, which, far from being just a dialect, is an integral part of the Principality’s cultural and historical heritage, echoing, once again, the words of Prince Rainier III: “to let a language die is to tarnish forever the deepest soul of a people, it is to renounce forever one of the most precious legacies of its past.”