terrug-telgruc, place names

Language and place names, in Brittany, Wales …

de Patrick REGNAULT
Publié le Dernière mise à jour le

In Brittany, Wales … language and place names

Throughout the world native languages are disappearing at a phenomenal rate. They are being replaced with the language of the dominant cultural group or with a distorted, hybrid version of the original language. There is nothing new in this behaviour. Humans have done this since time immemorial.
Often this is imposed as a fait accompli but we must not forget the passive and at times active participation of some locals in this cultural genocide.

The first step is to ban the language in schools and public places.

The second is to mount a propaganda campaign to make people believe they would be better off integrating into the dominant language and culture. Finally replacing local indigenous place names with new ones, effectively erases local history.
The population can easily be made to believe that if their town or streets are given new non-native names they will attract more tourist money or employment opportunities.

What is a name ?

Place names remind us of people, activities, events and environments that once were. It tells us about the vegetation, the soil, the topography and the hydrography. In Brittany, Moustangwern tells us that once there was a hermitage on the edge of an elder grove. Elders are found in damp soil or near bodies of water. Run-Fao reminds us that the hill was covered with beech trees. Which in turns indicates the soil was rich and well drained. Now replace Run-Fao with « Bellevue » (beautiful view) and all essential information is lost. And perhaps the price of the real estate goes up but at what cost?
Llyn Bochlwyd in Wales carries the story of a deer hunt and the escape of the grey cheeked animal from hunters by crossing the lake. Some are wanting to rename it Lake Australia due to its shape probably in the hope of attracting AU$ and make it easier to pronounce for English speakers. Here we see the loss, not just a place name but also its story.


Agricultural policy of consolidation of farms has made it near impossible to keep the place names of what were once small distinct parcel of lands. Liorzh indicated the field closest to the farm building. And Maez an open field, Palud an occasionally flooded or swampy paddock, Enez an island, etc.
In administrative forms the names are changed to numbers such as Plot 3 Parcel 426B. And often the farmers, although they know the original name, Prad Ledan for instance, do not want to add to their administrative load so do not correct the names on the form. Gradually the names disappear. And a linguistic marker falls into oblivion.
Slowly but surely the decline of the language reaches a point of no return and the knowledge of centuries is lost

We all have our part to play in the retention of place names. Small as it seems, the common will to keep local names and their wisdom alive can have collective consequences that surpass individual memory

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