Béarnese is a dialect of Gascon spoken in Béarn (in the French department of the Pyrénées Atlantiques, in southwestern France). As a written language, it benefited from the fact that Béarn was an independent state from the mid-14th century up to 1620. Béarnese was used in legal and administrative documents long after most other Gascon provinces were incorporated into France (The French language definitively replaced Béarnese language for legal documents in 1789, after the French Revolution).
Béarnese is currently the most prominent variety of Gascon. It is widely used in the normativization attempts to reach a standard Gascon and is the most likely dialect to succeed, due to the stronger cultural identity and output of this area.
A 1982 survey of the inhabitants of Béarn indicated that 51% of the population spoke Béarnese, 70% understood it, and 85% were in favor of preserving the language. However, use of the language has declined over recent years as Béarnese is rarely transmitted to younger generations within the family. There is a revival of focus on the language which has improved the situation, though, leading children to be taught the language in school (comparable to the way Irish students are taught a standardized form of Irish).
Currently, the majority of the cultural associations consider Gascon (including Béarnese) an Occitan dialect. However, other authorities consider them to be distinct languages, including Jean Lafitte, publisher of Ligam-DiGam, a linguistic and lexicography review of Gascon.
A detailed sociolinguistic study presenting the current status of the language (practice and different locutors' perceptions) has been made in 2004 by B. Moreux (see Sources): the majority of native speakers have learned it orally, and tend to be older. On the other hand, the proponents for its maintenance and revival are classified into three groups: bearnists, gasconists and occitanists, terms which summarize the regional focus they give respectively to their language(s) of interest: Béarn, Gascony or Occitania.
Concerning literature and poems, the first important book was a Béarnese translation of the Psalms of David by Arnaud de Salette, at the end of the 16th century, contemporary with the Gascon (Armagnac dialect) translation of these Psalms by Pey de Garros. Both translations were ordered by Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre and mother of Henry IV of France, to be used at Protestant churches. Henri IV was first Enric III de Navarra, the king of this independent Calvinist and Occitan-speaking state. The Béarnese dialect was his native language that he also used in letters to his subjects.
During the 17th century, the Béarnese writer Jean-Henri Fondeville (among others) composed plays such as La Pastorala deu Paisan and also his anticalvinist Eglògas. Cyprien Despourrins is certainly one of the main 18th-century Béarnese poets; many of his poems are still Béarn's folk songs. From the 19th century we can mention poet Xavier Navarrot and also Alexis Peyret, who emigrated to Argentina for political reasons where he edited his Béarnese poetry
After the creation of the Felibrige, the Escole Gastoû Fèbus (which would become Escòla Gaston Fèbus) was created as the Béarnese part of Frédéric Mistral's and Joseph Roumanille's academy. Simin Palay, one of its most prominent members, published a dictionary.
- The Ethnologue on Gascon (15th edition)
- DiGam project
- Website about Béarnese folksong with Despourrins's song recorded.
- "Mais l'association de la musique et du genre pastioral donnait en Béarn, au XVIIIe siècle une floraison d'un autre type : la chanson. Ce fut l'oeuvre de Cyprien Despourrins (1698-1759). [...] La trentaine de chansons qu'il laissa (réunies et publiées en 1820 par Vignancour) constitue un modèle souvent imité [...] [English: But the combination of music and the pastoral genre in Béarn during the eighteenth century brought about the flourishing of another kind of art: song. It was the work of Cyprien Despourrins (1698-1759). [...] The thirty songs he left behind (collected and published in 1820 by Vignancour) are a model often imitated... ]". Robert Lafont, op. cit (448)
- Argentine edition of Peyret's poetry
- Anatole, Cristian - Lafont, Robert. Nouvelle histoire de la littérature occitane. París : P.U.F., 1970.
- Molyneux R-G (2007). Grammar and Vocabulary of the language of Bearn. For Beginners (reissue ed.). Pyremonde/PrinciNegue. ISBN 978-2-84618-095-5.
- Moreux, B. (2004). Bearnais and Gascon today: language behavior and perception. The International Journal of the Sociology of Language,169:25-62.
- The Ostau Bearnés
- Method for learning Béarnese
- The Occitan Institute (Institut Occitan)
- Ací Gasconha
- Biarn-e-Gascougne.org (Institut Béarnais et Gascon)