Identification. The southwest of France, or Aquitaine, is geographically and culturally diverse. It consists of the departments (political divisions) of the Gironde, Perigord, Lot et Garonne, Landes, and Pyrénées-Atlantiques. The southwest, however, should not be understood simply as a natural entity having eternal geographical boundaries: its specific identity has been socially and historically constructed, subject to continuous renegotiation. As a cultural area, the southwest reflects not only long-standing regional relations and inequalities but also a struggle for autonomy between a local region and a strong centralized state that since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries has sought to construct and impose a French national identity. While the struggle for Regional identity is often experienced in political and economic terms, its quotidian dimension is also apparent in terms of dialect and pronunciation—often a subject of ridicule in Paris. A further complicating factor in the cultural identity of the southwest is the presence of immigrants from neighboring European countries and from former French colonies who have made the southwest their home since the Second World War. These groups have struggled to maintain their identities in the midst of changing regional, national, cultural, and Political dynamics.
Location. The southwest of France is bordered on the south by the Basque country, the Pyrenees Mountains, and Spain, on the west by the Atlantic Ocean, on the north by the regions of Poitou-Charentes and the Limousin, and on the east again by the Midi-Pyrenees. The capital of the Aquitaine, Bordeaux, is approximately on the same latitude as New York City. Geographically, the southwest is spread over 41,308 square kilometers incorporating mountains, rolling hills, and two important rivers in the Garonne and the Dordogne. It is also renowned for its caves, which were the homes of prehistoric peoples. The Aquitaine exhibits a strong cool and wet oceanic influence in the cold season and a Mediterranean climate in summer. Winters are mild and moist, Summers hot and dry. Average annual rainfall is 58.2 centimeters with average temperatures ranging from 5° C in January to 20° C in July.
Demography. The population of the Aquitaine is approximately 2,718,200. The largest upward trend in population has been since the Second World War. Immigrants account for roughly 8 percent of the population.
Linguistic Affiliation. The principal language spoken in the southwest is French. However, prior to the second half of the nineteenth century, numerous dialects were spoken. These included Provençal or Occitan, which is divided into North Occitan, Middle Occitan, and Gascon. These dialects only approximate ancient political boundaries. The French language itself spread first among the nobility and bourgeoisie of the eighteenth century and only appeared in the Countryside as an administrative language. The centralization of power, culture, and the economy in the French state served to suppress but not to eradicate regional dialects.