Gallo language

Gallo is a regional language of France. It is not as commonly spoken as it once was, as the standard form of French now predominates. Gallo is classified as one of the Oïl languages.

Native toFrance
Native speakers
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3
The historical Gallo language area of Upper Brittany

Gallo was originally spoken in the Marches of Neustria, which now corresponds to the border lands of Brittany and Normandy and its former heart in Le Mans, Maine. Gallo was the shared spoken language of several of those who took part in the Norman conquest of England, most of whom originated in Lower Brittany and Lower Normandy. Thus, Gallo was a vehicle for the subsequent transformation ("Gallicisation") of English, along with the Norman language.

Gallo continued as the language of Upper Brittany, Maine and some neighbouring portions of Normandy until the introduction of universal education across France, but today Gallo is spoken by only a small minority of the population, having been largely superseded by standard French.

As an Oïl language, Gallo forms part of a dialect continuum which includes Norman, Picard and the Poitevin dialect, among others. One of the features that distinguish it from Norman is the absence of Old Norse influence. There is some limited mutual intelligibility with adjacent varieties of the Norman language along the linguistic frontier and with Guernésiais and Jèrriais. However, as the dialect continuum shades towards Mayennais, there is a less clear isogloss. The clearest isogloss is that distinguishing Gallo from Breton, a Brittonic Celtic language traditionally spoken in the western territory of Brittany.

In the west, the vocabulary of Gallo has been influenced by contact with Breton, but remains overwhelmingly Latinate. The influence of Breton decreases eastwards across Gallo-speaking territory.

As of 1980, Gallo's western extent stretches from Plouha (Plóha), in Côtes-d'Armor, south of Paimpol (Paimpol), passing through Châtelaudren (Châtié), Corlay (Corlaè), Loudéac (Loudia), east of Pontivy (Pontivy), Locminé (Lominoec), Vannes (Vannes) and ending in the south, east of the Rhuys peninsula, in Morbihan.


The term gallo is sometimes spelled galo or gallot.[3] It is also referred to as langue gallèse or britto-roman in Brittany.[3] In south Lower Normandy and in the west of Pays de la Loire it is often referred to as patois,[4] though this is a matter of some contention.[5] Gallo comes from the Breton word gall, meaning "foreigner", "French" or "non-Breton".[3][6]

Celtic, Latin and Germanic roots

The Celts settled in Armorica toward the 8th century BCE. Some of early groups mentioned in the written records of the Greeks were the Redones and the Namnetes. They spoke dialects of the Gaulish language[7] and maintained important economic ties with the British Isles.[8] Julius Caesar's invasion of Armorica in 56 BC led to a sort of Romanization of the population.[9] Gaulish continued to be spoken in this region until the 6th century CE,[10] especially in less populated, rural areas. When the Bretons emigrated to Armorica around this time, they found a people who had retained their Celtic language and culture.[11] The Bretons were therefore able to integrate easily.

In contrast to Armorica's western countryside, Nantes and Rennes were Roman cultural centres. Following the Migration Period,[8] these two cities, as well as regions to the east of the Vilaine, including the town Vannes,[12] fell under Frankish rule.[8] Thus, during the Merovingian dynasty, the population of Armorica was diverse, consisting of Gaulish tribes with assimilated Bretons, as well as Romanized cities and Germanic tribes.[13] War between the Frank and Breton kingdoms was constant between the 6th and 9th centuries,[8] which made the border between the two difficult to define. Before the 10th century, Breton was spoken by at least one third of the population[14] up to the cities of Pornic and Avranches.

Decline of Gallo

Historically, France has been a nation with a high degree of linguistic diversity matched with relative tolerance, that is until the French Revolution.[15] Gallo's status as a tolerated regional language of France suffered as a direct consequence of the French Revolution. During the revolution, the Jacobins viewed regional languages as a way in which the structural inequalities of France were perpetuated.[15] Accordingly, they sought to eradicate regional languages to free regional language speakers of their unconstitutional inequalities.

The consequences of the revolution on Gallo stretch into recent history. Within the 1900s, government policy directly affected the use of minority languages in France. In 1962, Charles de Gaulle established the Haut Comité pour la défense et l'expansion de la langue française; this French Language policy's purpose was to enforce the traditional dialect of French, to the detriment of minority languages.[16] Furthermore, in 1994, the Loi Toubon declared that any governmental publications and advertisements must be in French.[16] Thus, the use of Gallo declined due to direct government actions.

Furthermore, Gallo speakers began to associate French as the language of intellectuals and social promotion, and their Gallo language as an impediment to their success.[17] As a result, the rate of children learning the language has diminished, since parents struggle to see the benefit of Gallo in their children's future.

Gallo and education

Within recent history, the presence of Gallo has fluctuated in Brittany's school system. Shortly before World War II, the Regional Federation of Bretagne introduced the idea of rejuvenating Gallo's presences in schools.[18] They were primarily motivated in increasing the linguistic competence of children.[18]

In 1982, Gallo was officially adopted as an optional subject in high schools in Brittany, even appearing on France's high school-exit exam, the Baccalaureat.[18] It took years for the Gallo language to actually be incorporated into the curriculum, but by the 1990s, the main focus of the curriculum was cultural awareness of the Gallo language and identity.[18] However, in 2002, Gallo's optional-subject status in high schools was withdrawn.[18]

In reaction to the 2002 decision, an effective and committed network of Gallo activists advanced Gallo's status in Brittany schools.[19] Gallo is now taught in Upper Brittany's state schools, though the population of students enrolled in Gallo courses remains low. In the academic year of 2003 to 2004, there were 569 students learning Gallo at high school or college.[19] For comparison, in the same year, 3791 students were learning Breton in either high school or college.[19]


One of the metro stations of the Breton capital, Rennes, has bilingual signage in French and Gallo, but generally the Gallo language is not as visibly high-profile as the Breton language, even in its traditional heartland of the Pays Gallo, which includes the two historical capitals of Rennes (Gallo Resnn, Breton Roazhon) and Nantes (Gallo Nauntt, Breton Naoned).

Different dialects of Gallo are distinguished, although there is a movement for standardisation on the model of the dialect of Upper Brittany.

It is difficult to record the exact number of Gallo speakers today. Gallo and vernacular French share a social-linguistic landscape, so speakers have difficulty determining exactly which language they are speaking.[15] This makes estimates of the number of speakers vary widely.[15]


Although a written literary tradition exists, Gallo is more noted for extemporised story-telling and theatrical presentations. Given Brittany's rich musical heritage, contemporary performers produce a range of music sung in Gallo (see Music of Brittany).

The roots of written Gallo literature are traced back to Le Livre des Manières written in 1178 by Etienne de Fougères, a poetical text of 336 quatrains and the earliest known Romance text from Brittany, and to Le Roman d'Aquin, an anonymous 12th century chanson de geste transcribed in the 15th century but which nevertheless retains features typical of the mediaeval Romance of Brittany. In the 19th century oral literature was collected by researchers and folklorists such as Paul Sébillot, Adolphe Orain, Amand Dagnet and Georges Dottin. Amand Dagnet (1857-1933) also wrote a number of original works in Gallo, including a play La fille de la Brunelas (1901).[20]

It was in the 1970s that a concerted effort to promote Gallo literature started. In 1979 Alan J. Raude published a proposed standardised orthography for Gallo.[21]


English Gallo Old French French
afternoon vêpré vespree après-midi (archaic: vêprée)
apple tree pommieu pomier pommier
bee avètt aveille abeille
cider cit cidre cidre
chair chaérr chaiere chaise
cheese fórmaij formage fromage
exit desort sortie sortie
to fall cheir cheoir tomber (archaic: choir)
goat biq chievre, bique chèvre (slang: bique)
him li lui, li lui
house ostèu hostel maison (hôtel)
kid garsaille same root as Old French gars Same root as gars, garçon
lip lip levre lèvre (or lippe)
maybe vantiet puet estre peut-être
mouth góll goule, boche bouche (gueule = mouth of an animal)
now astour a ceste heure maintenant (à cette heure)
number limerot nombre numéro
pear peirr peire poire
school escoll escole école
squirrel chat-de-boéz (lit. "woods cat") escurueil écureuil
star esteill esteile, estoile étoile
timetable oryaer horaire horaire
to smoke betunae fumer fumer (archaic: pétuner)
today anoet hui aujourd'hui
to whistle sublae sibler, sifler siffler
with ô or côteu avek o/od, avoec avec


  • Of Pipers and Wrens (1997). Produced and directed by Gei Zantzinger, in collaboration with Dastum. Lois V. Kuter, ethnomusicological consultant. Devault, Pennsylvania: Constant Spring Productions.


  1. "Enquête socio-linguistique : qui parle les langues de Bretagne aujourd'hui ?" [Socio-linguistic survey: who speaks the languages of Brittany today?]. Région Bretagne (in French). 8 October 2018.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Gallo". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  3. Chevalier, Gwendal (2008), "Gallo et Breton, complémentarité ou concurrence?" [Gallo and Breton, complementarity or competition?], Cahiers de sociolinguistique (in French) (12), pp. 75–109, retrieved 2018-10-09
  4. "Gallo language, alphabet and pronunciation". Retrieved 2018-10-09.
  5. Leray, Christian and Lorand, Ernestine. Dynamique interculturelle et autoformation: une histoire de vie en Pays gallo. L'Harmattan. 1995.
  6. Walter, Henriette. "Les langues régionales de France : le gallo, pris comme dans un étau (17/20)". Canal Académie.
  7. Celtic Countries, "Gallo Language" 04 March 2014
  8. "The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. - 600 A.D" 04 March 2014
  9. Ancient Worlds Archived 2012-01-06 at the Wayback Machine "Armorica" 04 March 2014
  10. "Gaulish Language" 04 March 2014
  11. "An Overview of the Languages Used in Brittany" 04 March 2014
  12. Encyclopædia Britannica, "Vannes" 13 April 2014
  13. "France" 04 March 2014
  14. Sorosoro "Breton" 04 March 2014
  15. Nolan, John Shaun (2011). "Reassessing Gallo as a regional language in France: language emancipation vs. monolingual language ideology". International Journal of the Sociology of Language. 2011 (209). doi:10.1515/ijsl.2011.023.
  16. Radford, Gavin (2015-03-04), "French language law: The attempted ruination of France's linguistic diversity", Trinity College Law Review (TCLR) online, retrieved 2016-11-07
  17. Hervé, Gildas d'. "Le Gallo dans l'enseignement, l'enseignement du gallo" (PDF). Marges linguistiques. Retrieved November 11, 2016.
  18. Le-Coq, André (2009-09-01). "L'enseignement du gallo". Tréma (in French) (31): 39–45. doi:10.4000/trema.942. ISSN 1167-315X.
  19. Nolan, John Shaun (2008). "The Role of Gallo in the Identity of Upper-Breton School Pupils of the Language Variety and their Parents". Sociolinguistic Studies. 2 (1). Retrieved 2016-11-07.
  20. Bourel, Claude (2001). Contes et récits du Pays Gallo du XIIe siècle à nos jours. Fréhel: Astoure. ISBN 2845830262.
  21. Paroles d'oïl. Mougon: Geste. 1994. ISBN 2905061952.
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