The streets in Toulouse have signs in two languages, first French and then Occitan, the traditional language of southern France. Like other regional languages in France, Occitan was long suppressed, ridiculed and sometimes even forbidden by the French central government.
Hardly anyone in Toulouse actually speaks Occitan any more, as far as I know, but not everyone is willing to just let it die. You can buy books in Occitan, and a few years ago they experimented with making bilingual announcements in the Toulouse Métro.
There were no bilingual street signs until 2001, but since then they have become more or less the norm, at least I don’t recall seeing many street signs in Toulouse (“Tolosa” in Occitan) that were not bilingual.
The street in my lead photo, “Carrièra del Coronél Pèire-Maria Espinasse” in Occitan, was named after a man who actually wanted the street to be named after his father, not himself. In his will, Colonel Espinasse donated a large amount of money to the city (either for the public schools or for the Church of Saint-Aubin, depending on which website you believe) on the condition that the street be re-named in honor of his father, who had been a member of the National Convention that ruled France during the Revolution, from 1792 to 1795, and subsequently a member of the Council of Five Hundred from 1795-1799.
Rue Joseph Lakanal (“Carrièra Josèp Lakanal” in Occitan) was named after another member of the Convention of 1792-1795, called a “Conventionell” in French or “Convencional” in Occitan.
Rue Vélane (“Carrièra de Na Velana” in Occitan) was apparently named after a woman called Madame Avellane in the 15th century.
By coincidence, “Vélane” is used in the Harry Potter books as the French translation for “the Veela”. According to the Harry Potter Wiki, the Veela are “a race of semi-human, semi-magical humanoids reminiscent of the Sirens of Greek mythology”. Their appearance “and especially their dance is magically seductive to almost all male beings, which causes them to perform strange actions in order to get nearer to them.”
According to the regional newspaper La Dépêche, the Rue Peyrolières (“Carrièra dels Pairoliers” in Occitan) was named after the boilermakers who settled in this street during the Middle Ages, alongside other metal craftsmen such as bell-makers and gunsmiths.
Rue Petrarque (“Vanèla Francesco Petrarca” in Occitan) is an alley or narrow passage named after the Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374).
All you loyal readers of my Avignon post The sun in its travels … might recall that Petrarch had a day job in the Papal bureaucracy. I quoted his description of Avignon in the fourteenth century as “the most foul and stinking city on Earth.”
My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.
Next Toulouse post: Art museum in the Augustinian Convent.
6 thoughts on “Bilingual street signs in Toulouse”
Actually they do, and on the small towns around it even more like in my family Lavaur. Here in Brittany we have the same with the Breton and it is spoken in my town; just like France try to make it all national but there are resistances all over.
Thanks for the information. Oddly, we’ve never noticed the bilingual street signs in Toulouse. I guess we don’t look at signs. Next time, thanks to you, we’ll check them.
Hi Sally. Perhaps you were there before the signs in Occitan were added??
Both before and after. We often pick up our leased car at the Toulouse Airport. It’s very convenient to both the Dordogne and to Occitanie (Languedoc-Roussillon). When we actually stay in Toulouse, we take the bus so look for bus stops, not street signs. Obviously, that is a mistake.
In Toulouse I never took the bus (or the tram or the metro) because I always used the VélôToulouse bikes.
Adieussiatz (as they say in Occitan),
My inlaws are from Britanny where we go several times a year and where all road signs are written in French and Breton. I’m sure less than 1 percent of drivers read or understand what is written in Breton, as written Breton seems artificial even to the few who speak. The numerous signs at many roundabouts written in both languages create confusion when you have to react quickly so as not to miss your turn-off.
Aside from that, I’m in favor of keeping local languages alive, as language is always a vehicle of culture.
Alan from Paris