Spoken where France, Italy, and Switzerland meet, Franco-Provençal’s name also represents the frontier between linguistic regions. You can see where it is spoken on this language map from the Arpitan Cultural Alliance:


Graziadio Isaia Ascoli, famous linguist of the 19th century, named Franco-Provençal after two groups of languages spoken in central Europe at the time: the langues d’oïl (Franco) and the langues d’oc (Provençal).

The names of these language groups are based on how their speakers said “yes.” To the south, speakers of langues d’oc stated the affirmative “oc” while speakers of langues d’oïl said “oïl,” which evolved into modern-day adaptations in French (oui) and in Franco-Provençal (ouè).

Listen to a sample of Franco-Provençal in this video to hear similarities and differences from French pronunciation of colors.

According to UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, Franco-Provençal is a “potentially endangered language” in Italy and an “endangered language” in Switzerland and France. We would like to thank user Alexandre Raymond for requesting Arpitan / Franco-Provençal (frp) to be supported in Amara, so that Arpitan speakers can subtitle video in their language.

Modern residents of the Western Alps have questioned the appropriateness of the name Franco-Provençal for their language. It is often confused for the Provençal region or dialect of France.

In addition, the use of “Provençal” as a language qualifier can be considered controversial. It is similar to the use of the word “patois” to refer to any dialect associated with uneducated, poor, or rural classes in countries with a majority of French or English speakers. The original meaning of patois in French is “rough speech.” The word was derived from the Old French patoier, meaning to “treat roughly” from patte, or “paw”. Both “patois” and “Provençal” imply a value judgement favoring accepted standard languages over regional dialects.

The majority of residents in Aosta Valley, an autonomous region northwest of Italy, still speak Franco-Provençal. In the 1980s, a political organization in the Aosta Valley called Mouvement Harpitanya attempted to rebrand the language as “Arpitan.” This name is a rhotacization of the latin word alpes, meaning “mountain highlands”. This name gained popularity because of its similarity to Occitan (langue d’oc) and the awareness efforts of the Arpitan Cultural Alliance.

3 thoughts on “Franco-Provençal (Arpitan): Language Convergence at Alpine Heights

  1. I agree that “patois” can imply a value judgment but must disagree about “Provençal” which is very different. It just refers to the region of Provence. There is no stigma attached to it. A man from Provence is a Provençal, and the historic language of the region was, naturally enough, called Provençal.

    The name “Franco-Provençal” simply means that this language contains aspects of both French and Provençal (Occitan). That said, I can see why some might object to this name as it defines the language by its neighbors rather than itself.

  2. Thank you this blog. I looked up patois because my maternal grandparents immigrated to San Francisco in 1915 from the region of St. Jean de Maurienne in Savoie. I have visited relatives in area and am in contact with them . They graciously consider me family after 3 generations and have reciprocated visits. Now I am involved in a project to translate letters between my grandparents from 1902-04. I have transcribed very tiny, but beautifully written letters and now are translating with an eye for future generations with my own memories of my grandparents and background historical and cultural information. I knew they spoke patois and my grandmother who only went to third grade (she lived in the hamlet of La Roche) struggles in French (no final syllables) yet also has tiny, beautiful handwriting. My husband who is a linguist thought there could be interference in her French from the patois. So I was interested in knowing more about it. Thank you. Incidentally my mother wrote a beautiful, detailed account of a year’s journey she made back to the “pays” in 1927 after leaving when she was nine. I made a crude stab at translating it from French to English and sent it to my second cousin, in the thought that perhaps a local museum might find it insightful. But nothing has been done with it. We do have CD copies if something like that would be interesting to you, the culture seen through the lens of a new American. I am reading a wonderful book given to me in 1993 by the name of Journal de Montagne by Estella Canziani, a British painter and author who traveled in Haute Savoie in 1905.,editions Curandera. She often quotes the “patois”. You can see this is a subject close to my heart. I would love to be connected with your blog. Yvonne Kramer (my mother’s maiden name was Michel, my grandmother’s was Gravier)

  3. Joseph La Penne,
    My family traces its origin to Foggia, Italy. There was little known about my grandfather’s (and namesake) childhood before he came to America. We know that he came through Canada into Buffalo and then spent his life in NYC. People have always been curious about the spelling of my last name as it seems French. The e at the end is silent in the way we pronounce the name. My father visited the region years ago and claimed that he went to a town he said was called Loca Rotund but I could find no record for the name. I’ve always doubted that my father even did as much as that since he was only on a business trip and had limited free time. It has always seemed strange that no one there would have pointed out the similarities of our name and that of a famous politician and winner of Italy’s highest medal in the war, Durand de la Penne, who was still alive back then and would have been very well known as he was still serving in their Parliament. Italy’s sole aircraft carrier is presently named is named the ‘Durand de la Penne’after the war hero. My attempts to research the possible connections to the names proved fruitless for someone who doesn’t speak French or Italian. I remember that the Admiral was originally from the Provençal/Piedmont region of the north of Italy I believe. There is a also small town in the French part of the region by the name of LAPENNE. I wish I knew more … especially after 70 years of people saying that my name is spelled and pronounced as if it were French. Lol.
    If you or anyone else do know anything more or know of a family by that name in the either of the two southern Italian towns that are recorded as still having a few Franco-Provençal speakers today, please let me know if you’d be so kind.

    It is interesting indeed and fun to learn about as well.

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