New edition of Assimil’s Occitan textbook L’Occitan sans peine

In the 1970s, Assimil published a self-teaching course of Occitan titled L’Occitan sans peine. I bought this in a bookshop in Madrid many years ago and thought I had discovered some kind of literary buried treasure, as it had probably been on that shelf for a couple of decades, unread and unloved. I assumed that it would be the only textbook of the spoken language I would ever find, as the language is arguably moribund.

Surprisingly, Assimil has put out a second edition.Cover of the second edition of Assimil’s L’Occitan sans peine Now under the authorship of Nicolas Quint (the original was written by Alain Nouvel), the new L’Occitan sans peine is a substantially different book. The original tried to give broad coverage of the many dialects of Occitan, but it left out the Italian Vivaro Alpine dialect, which is spoken close to Provençal but distinct from it. This dialect is now covered, and the book even gives some space to medieval literature (though Paden’s Introduction to Old Occitan is the best guide to the language of the troubadours). Whereas the first edition came with ridiculously overpriced audio cassettes, this new edition comes in a fairly inexpensive box that has both traditional audio CDs and MP3 CDs.

This news along with the recent publication of new Breton resources makes me wonder if interest in minority languages is rising among the French public – after all, L’Occitan sans peine is written in French and thus supposedly intended for a domestic audience, even if linguaphiles everywhere can profitably use it.

Occitan audio

I bought Alain Nouvel’s textbook L’Occitan sans peine (Paris: Assimil, 1976) several years ago in a Madrid bookshop, but I passed on the cassette package, which cost nearly a hundred euro and had evidentally spent a couple of decades in the sun. I regretted that for a long time, since from the textbook alone I was never really sure how to pronounce Occitan and didn’t get much help from Assimil’s French-based phonetic transcription, e.g.:

Perqué la parlas?

Perqué es ma lenga : de mai, es bèla e plan celébra.

Mas, dempuèi quora es celèbra?

Dempuèi l’epòca dels Trobodors; veirem tot aquò dins qualques leiçons.

perké la parlos?

perké és ma léngo : dé may, és bèlo é pla sélèbro.

mas démpuèy kour(o) é(s) sélèbro?

démpuèy l’époko dés troubadous : béyrén tout ako din kalkés léyssous.

Ugly. Well, I assumed that this 1970s-era book was left to fall into obscurity—after all, it is probably one of Assimil’s lowest-selling courses—and I never bothered to check on its in print status. But I recently discovered that you can buy L’Occitan sans peine in a book and 3 audio CDs package. The CDs sound fantastic, very clear enunciation by several speakers. I’ve now embarked on trying to learn this language with a goal of oral proficiency, not just counting it as another Romance language I can read.

The book does really show its age in the racist cariactures which illustrate claims that people outside of France are interested in the language:

A not very politically correct illustration from L’Occitan sans peine.

Another rather objectionable illustration from L’Occitan sans peine

Language-learning snake oil

While mainstream publishers use plenty of hyperbole in the titles of their textbooks, from Teach Yourself’s ‘Instant’ series to Hugo’s ‘In Three Months’ books, the product usually still works somewhat if you put enough work into it. Only recently, however, have I discovered that there’s a wide variety of snake oil products for language learning, and these firms cover even the smallest of Western languages. Take, for example, this hypnosis product for Occitan:

  • Boost your understanding and articulation of Occitan automatically, naturally, and effectively.
  • Create a linguist’s mindset so that you not only desire success in Occitan, but that you will find a way to excel at it!
  • Find yourself more and more confident in Occitan until you soon discover you’ve become totally fluent.
  • This CD contains three different subliminal sessions. The first one is a 20 minute study session that you can listen to while studying Occitan. All you will hear are the soft sounds of a rain forest combined with the subtle entrainment beats that will allow your mind to learn effectively, and it can be used without headphones if desired. The second session is a 29 minute musical entrainment experience designed to take your brainwaves into a proper state to give your mind the ability to rapidly learn, absorb, and speak Occitan. It can be used without headphones if desired. The final session is a 30 minute musical entrainment experience to give you more than one option musically and it is designed to be used with headphones. All three sessions have specific suggestions pertaining to you learning the Occitan language.

I can’t imagine that there’s much profit potential in this, so the producers of this CD must be doing it out of love for a threatened minority language. And nothing says ‘I’m learning a language of the Mediterranean shores’ quite like the sounds of the rainforest.

The company Brainwave Mind Voyages offers audio CDs for relaxation and meditation—and even one that promises to reverse hair loss—but they’ve got some language ones as well. I like how one Amazon reviewer responded to their Spanish offering:

This CD stands out from all the new age subliminal hypnotic affirmations trash that goes around.

Due to the limitations of the human ear, ultrasonic subliminals have no effects whatsoever on humans, which is why I thought this product is just a joke.

But I decided to give it a try anyway, and had it played in a loop overnight. Next morning, my dog starts speaking with my Hispanic neighbors as if Spanish was his mother’s tongue!

I’m astonished, and must say Quantum Subliminal Matrix Technology works! Buy this CD and expand your dog’s education with a 2nd language!