Identification. Occitans are people who live in the predominantly agricultural French meridional and speak langue d'oc. This language is distinct from langue d'oïl, from which "standard" or official French derived. Both geographic and linguistic factors thus define Occitanie. Today the region is fully integrated into the socioeconomic life of France as a whole but, for historicocultural reasons, the Occitans retain a strong sense of "otherness" from the Paris- or north-dominated larger polity. It is defined, essentially, in terms of its opposition to, or difference from, the France of north of the Paris Basin. This being the case, the present essay will concentrate upon the elements of early Occitanian development that established that difference.
Location. "Occitanie" today consists of thirty departments (French administrative divisions) south of the Loire, bordered on the west by the Atlantic, on the east by the Alps, and on the south by the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean. The northern limits of the region are less clearly defined—with no true natural frontier between the northern and Southern territories, this northern border is defined more appropriately in linguistic and cultural terms. Occitan Territory largely coincides with six historical provinces: Gascogne, Languedoc, Limousin, Auvergne, Provence, and Dauphiné. One cannot speak of geological or climatic unity for Occitanie. The region's varying sections—the north-central area, dominated by the Central Massif; the western and eastern limits, dominated by mountainous terrain; the very different Atlantic and Mediterranean littorals; and the many fertile river valleys throughout the territory—establish important and distinct ecological zones. Occitanie is located on the border between the temperate and subtropical zones, enjoying on average a higher mean annual temperature than that of the north of France. Summers are, through much of the region, hot and dry. By virtue of its geographic location and environmental conditions, Occitanie comprises the most important agricultural region of France, particularly for cereals, olives, and, of course, some of the world's most famous vineyards.
Demography. Defined by geographical criteria, there are approximately 15 million inhabitants of Occitanie, but not all of these are Occitan according to linguistic and cultural tradition. Of this 15 million, approximately 10 million possess some degree of fluency in one or another of the Occitan dialects, and perhaps 2 million use it in their daily lives. Speakers of Occitan are also found in parts of Catalonia and in villages of the Italian Piedmont, as well as in the Principality of Monaco. In the area today understood as Occitanie, the predominantly rural population is currently suffering a Decline in numbers, largely because the region's economy cannot provide employment for much of its youth. Over the past three decades, out-migration by Occitanians for economic reasons and in-migration by well-to-do northerners seeking a romanticized, bucolic life-style have had a profound effect on the local communities and have undermined the geographical-linguistic association of Occitans and Occitanie. Linguistic Affiliation. Occitan is an Ibero-Romance Language, more strongly influenced by Latin than the "standard" French of the Paris Basin and closely related to Catalan. The langue d'oc/langue d'oïl distinction refers to the retention, in Occitan, of the Latinate "oc" as an equivalent for "oui" (the Parisian form is "oïl"). This distinction directly invokes the differences in linguistic development between the two linguistic traditions in France and also implies different degrees of Germanic and Roman sociocultural influences. Within the linguistic tradition called "Occitan" there is, however, a great deal of dialectic diversity. Perhaps because much of the effort, since the late 1800s, to develop a standard Occitan lexicon and orthography has focused upon the Provençal dialect to the neglect of others in the langue d'oc family, Provençal has often been treated as synonymous with Occitan. Within Occitanie, however, there is no consensus accepting such a presumption. Because of the pervasiveness of the French educational system, which employs the langue d'oïl, there are no longer any purely monolingual speakers of Occitan, and it has come to be considered by many to be a patois used by rustics.