Many of our Dear Readers have written to say that -- since discovering their French ancestry -- they have been studiously learning French, but we say to hold your horses. If your ancestors came from the southern half of France, though they would have spoken French at school and work, but at home they would have spoken Occitan, (once known as Limousin and in the far south as Provençal). It was the language of the troubadours, such as Bertran de Born, and of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The area where Occitan was and still is spoken, called Occitania, stretches across France from the Atlantic to the Alps, with the southern boundary being the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, and the northern boundary being a bit more vague than the others but including the regions of Limousin, the Auvergne and the southern half of Rhone-Alpes, thus, almost half of modern France. All those ancestors from Albi, Toulouse, Barcelonette, Bordeaux, Montauban, Montpellier, Nice, etc. spoke French well enough, but their native tongue was Occitan.
To know more about the history and dialects of Occitan, we recommend the pages on it at orbilat.com. If you wish to read the most detailed and haughty description, we recommend the article from the Glorious Eleventh. If you wish to try reading the news in Occitan, there is La Setmana. For a blog in Occitan about events in Occitan, read Rubrica en òc. For a radio broadcast, there is the regular show, "Meitat chen, meitat porc" on France bleu. Type Occitan in the YouTube search box and get thousands of results, including this cutie pie singing the Occitan Hymn. (The melody sure sounds like a familiar other.) Be sure to read the comments below this video to get a feel of just how important the language still is to many.
There are almost no parish registrations and definitely no civil registrations written in Occitan, so to be sure, keep up the French lessons. If, however, your ancestors spoke Occitan, we suggest a few lessons in that as well.
©2013 Anne Morddel