Béarnese is a dialect of Gascon spoken in Béarn (in the French department of the Pyrénées Atlantiques, in southwestern France). As a written language, it benefited from the fact that Béarn was an independent state from the mid-14th century to 1620. Béarnese was used in legal and administrative documents long after most other Gascon provinces were incorporated into France. (French definitively replaced Béarnese language for legal documents only in 1789, by the French Revolution).
Béarnese is currently the most prominent variety of Gascon. It is widely used in the normativization attempts to reach a standard Gascon and is the most likely dialect to succeed, due to the stronger cultural identity and output of this area.
A 1982 survey of the inhabitants of Béarn indicated that 51% of the population spoke Béarnese, 70% understood it, and 85% were in favor of preserving the language. However, use of the language has declined over recent years as Béarnese is rarely transmitted to younger generations within the family. There is a revival of focus on the language which has improved the situation, though, leading children to be taught the language in school (comparable to the way Irish students are taught a standardized form of Irish).
Currently, the majority of the cultural associations consider Gascon (including Béarnese) an Occitan dialect. However, other authorities consider them to be distinct languages, including Jean Lafitte, publisher of Ligam-DiGam, a linguistic and lexicography review of Gascon.
This section needs expansion with: Results of the study mentioned below. You can help by adding to it. (September 2011)
A detailed sociolinguistic study presenting the current status of the language (practice and different locutors' perceptions) has been made in 2004 by B. Moreux (see Sources): the majority of native speakers have learned it orally, and tend to be older. On the other hand, the proponents for its maintenance and revival are classified into three groups: Béarnists, Gasconists and Occitanists, terms which summarize the regional focus they give respectively to their language(s) of interest: Béarn, Gascony or Occitania.
Concerning literature and poems, the first important book was a Béarnese translation of the Psalms of David by Arnaud de Salette, at the end of the 16th century, contemporary with the Gascon (Armagnac dialect) translation of these Psalms by Pey de Garros. Both translations were ordered by Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre and mother of Henry IV of France, to be used at Protestant churches. Henri IV was first Enric III de Navarra, the king of this independent Calvinist and Occitan-speaking state. The Béarnese dialect was his native language that he also used in letters to his subjects.
During the 17th century, the Béarnese writer Jean-Henri Fondeville (among others) composed plays such as La Pastorala deu Paisan and also his anti-Calvinist Eglògas. Cyprien Despourrins is certainly one of the main 18th-century Béarnese poets; many of his poems are still Béarn's folk songs.[verification needed] From the 19th century we can mention poet Xavier Navarrot and also Alexis Peyret, who emigrated to Argentina for political reasons where he edited his Béarnese poetry.
After the creation of the Felibrige, the Escole Gastoû Fèbus (which would become Escòla Gaston Fèbus) was created as the Béarnese part of Frédéric Mistral's and Joseph Roumanille's academy. Simin Palay, one of its most prominent members, published a dictionary.