Occitan language, also called Languedoc, a modern name given by linguists to a group of dialects that form a Romance language that was spoken in the early 21st century by about 1,500,000 people in southern France, though many estimates range as low as one-third that number. The UNESCO Red Book lists some of the dialects of Occitan as “seriously endangered.” All Occitan speakers use French as their official and cultural language, but Occitan dialects are still used for everyday purposes. The name Occitan is derived from the old geographical name Occitanie (formed on the model of Aquitaine) of the area now known as Languedoc. The name Provençal originally referred to the Occitan dialects of the Provence region and is also used to refer to the standardised medieval literary language and still-vigorous literary movement based on the dialect of Provence. Because of that long literary tradition, many in the Provence region still prefer to call their language Provençal. As represented chiefly by Provençal, Occitan was rich in poetic literature in the Middle Ages until the north crushed political power in the south (1208–29). The standard language was well established, however, and it did not succumb before French until the 16th century, while only after the Revolution of 1789 did the French language begin to gain popularity over Occitan. The Occitan dialects have changed comparatively little since the Middle Ages, though now French influence is increasingly evident. Perhaps this influence has helped them to remain more or less mutually intelligible. The main dialect areas are Limousin, in the northwest corner of the Occitan area; Auvergnat, in the north-central region of this area; northeastern Alpine-Provençal; and Languedoc and Provençal, on the west and east of the Mediterranean seacoast, respectively. Gascon, in the southwest of France, is usually classified as an Occitan dialect, though to most other southerners it is today less readily comprehensible than Catalan. Credits: Rebecca Posner, Marius Sala and The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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