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Brezhoneg/Breton 2 : Starting and Ending a Conversation


And the controversy begins. This post is part of the #celticlanguages group. It's time for my second lesson on Breton ! See my presentation post and the lesson 1 (Prononciation).

We won't start on the grammar yet, just overview a few useful sentences.

Starting a conversation

Let's start with the basics : saying Hello.

The word "Hello" is Demat in breton. It literally means "Good Day" (like the french Bonjour).

So, that's it ?

Well, no. Remember, we breton people are celtic and french. People from Britain moving to France centuries ago. We're complicated. We just don't say Hello.

Marins bretons

Demat ? You’re overdoing it

Ugh, you might say. So very french of you. So very rude. But actually, it's under french influence that breton people tend to say Hello. Remember, breton language was the popular language and french the elite's language. When people in Brittany wanted to sound uptight snob or polite, they simply spoke french instead of breton. That’s why the french word Bonjour was used even between two people speking breton, more than its breton equivalent Demat. Demat kind of sounds to some breton speakers like “Have a very good day, my Lord”.

Breton greetings tend however to be informal and simply start the conversation depending on the context, like "It's raining today, hey ?", or "Oh, I see you are making dinner" (only to be used when the person greeted is making dinner). There’s a funny video in french about the millions ways breton offers you to start a conversation.

But do you really have to learn how to say all of these things just to start a conversation in breton ? No, you don’t. You can simply ask in any situation :

Mat ar jeu ? How are you ? (litt. Is the game good ?)

To which the person will answer Ya, mat ar jeu. Ya meaning, you guessed it, “Yes”. You can also note that we've seen the word mat twice now, as it is also in Demat (Good day). That is of course because Mat means good.

Well, this isn’t too difficult is it ? You might find the fact that a conversation doesn’t have to start with “Hello” strange, but remember, this isn’t unlike the english “What’s up ?” (or “How do you do you do ?”).

But what to use if you want to be more formal than “S’up” ? Bonjour or Demat ?

Bonjour vs Demat

There was a controversy, where some said that Demat was a new breton word made up in the 20th Century, and a frenchisation of breton. This isn’t true. The word “Demat” was found in 14th century texts. However, it was never widely used. People who spoke breton as their motherlanguage simply used, like I said before, the french word bonjour.

So, here come an interesting question : is it okay to use long-forgotten breton words like “Demat” when trying to widespread the use of the language ? Should you stick to what your grandparent’s generation said and keep the word Bonjour ? Or embrace the fact that bretons just don’t say hello that often ?

I think you should decide for yourself. I don’t see anything wrong with using bonjour - since speaking a breton language free of french influence is chimeric. I do like however the word Demat, the idea of revieving it, and the fact that we’re not overly formal people. So I would use Mat ar jeu, as well as Demat for special occasions.

If you say Demat and the person answers something like “It’s isn’t really breton, stupid”, you can explain to him that Demat actually is a genuine breton word, albeit long forgotten, and that you think that linguistics evolution and, in this case, word revival, is necessary to expand the vocabulary and use of a language.

Thanking someone

You can say Trugarez (Thank you), or Trugarez Vras (Thank you very much).

Once again, Trugarez can be seen by some as overly formal, something like “This is too gracious of you”, and the french word mersi was often used instead. I personnaly like the word Trugarez and use it.

Note that the word for please is Mar plij.

Ending a conversation : Saying Goodbye

The most used word for it is Kenavo. Do keep in mind, however, that Kenavo litteraly means Until, so the person you’re speaking to can be kept in suspense (“Until WHEN ????”). You might wanna be more precise and say Ken arc’hoazh, Ken warc’hoazh ! (both meaning “See you tomorrow”), or Ken ar c’hentañ ! (See you next time !)

I would like to end this lesson with a breton song by Youenn Gwernig. Don’t try to understand the words, just enjoy the song !

Kenavo !

Back to the celtic language group page

Back to Lesson 1 : Prononciation

Back to my Breton presentation Post

May 11, 2015



Well, the previous troll posts were a bit... discouraging. Is it possible to report someone to the moderation ?

[deactivated user]

    Thanks for a great and interesting lesson, but... Bretons are not French, as much as Scots are not English. I personally knew many people who did not identify themselves as French.

    And I agree that a language, if it is alive absorbs and interacts somehow with the outside world anyway, so French influence is okay and inevitable in any case, however it would be reasonable to try and limit to some extent its influence, which is already very strong in mersis, touts, dijas, and even komprens, as well as in the pronunciation.

    A galon vat! ;)


    Oh, well I guess it depends. In my family we strongly identify ourselves as bretons and french (like Scots can be scots and british). England is only a part of the UK, so that's a bit different I think. Plus, they mostly came from the region of Vannes, so they spoke a breton dialect that was especially latinized. I agree with what you said about breton and french, personally, I find speaking a heavily frenchised version of breton a bit... disappointing I guess but these are the words my great grandparents used. So I haven't completely made up my mind about it.


    Hi, how do you pronounce the Rs in Breton? Is it tapped or rolled like a Spanish R or is it back in the throat like the French R?

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