Gallo language

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Not to be confused with Galo language.
Native to France
Native speakers
28,000 (date missing)[citation needed]
Official status
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog gall1275[1]
Linguasphere 51-AAA-hb
Pays Gallo.svg
The historical Gallo language area of Upper Brittany

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.

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 the leaders of the Norman conquest of England, most of whom originated in Upper Brittany and Lower Normandy. Thus Gallo was a vehicle for the subsequent transformation ("Gallicisation") of English.

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education across France, but today Gallo is spoken by only a small minority of the population, having been largely superseded by standard French.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 Poitevin, among others. One of the features that distinguishes it from Norman is the absence of Norse influence. There is some limited intercomprehension with adjacent varieties of the Norman language along the linguistic frontier and with Dgèrnésiais 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 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.[2] 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[6] meaning “foreign”, “French” or “non-Breton”.[7]

Celtic, Latin and Germanic roots[edit]

The Celts, who came from central Europe, settled in Armorica toward the 8th century BC. Many peoples were formed there, such as the Redones and the Namnetes. They spoke dialects of the Gaulish language[8] and maintained important economic ties with the British Isles.[9] Julius Caesar’s invasion of Armorica in 56 BC led to a sort of Romanization of the population.[10] Gaulish continued to be spoken in this region until the 6th century,[11] especially in less populated, rural areas. Thus, when the Bretons emigrated to Armorica around this time, they found a people who had retained their Celtic language and culture.[12] The Bretons were therefore able to integrate easily.

In contrast to Armorica’s western countryside, Nantes and Rennes were real Roman cultural centres. Following the Barbarian invasion,[13] these two cities, as well as regions to the east of the Vilaine River, including the town Vannes,[14] fell under Frankish rule.[15] 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.[16] War between the Frank and Breton kingdoms was constant between the 6th and 9th centuries,[17] 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[18] up to the cities of Pornic and Avranches.


The town of Loudéac displays its Gallo name, Loudia, on signage

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.[19] This makes estimates of the number of speakers vary widely. [19]


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]

A Gallo sign in the Rennes metro


English Gallo Old French French
afternoon vêpré vesprée 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 chièvre, bique chèvre (slang: bique)
him li lui, li lui
house ostèu hostiaus, hostel maison (hôtel)
kid garsaille same root as Old French gars Same root as gars, garçon
lip lip lèvre lèvre (or lippe)
maybe vantiet puet estre peut-être
mouth góll gueule, boche bouche (gueule = jaw)
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 ot, avoec avec


Bilingual signage in the Rennes metro
  • 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. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Gallo". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  2. ^ Les Cahiers de Sociolinguistique "Les Cahiers de Sociolinguistique" 04 March 2014.
  3. ^ Les Cahiers de Sociolinguistique "Les Cahiers de Sociolinguistique" 04 March 2014.
  4. ^ Omniglot., “Gallo language, alphabet and pronunciation.” 04 March 2014.
  5. ^ Leray, Christian and Lorand, Ernestine. Dynamique interculturelle et autoformation: une histoire de vie en Pays gallo. L’Harmattan. 1995.
  6. ^ Les Cahiers de Sociolinguistique "Les Cahiers de Sociolinguistique" 04 March 2014.
  7. ^ Canal Académie, “Les langues régionales de France : le gallo, pris comme dans un étau.” 04 March 2014
  8. ^ Celtic Countries, “Gallo Language” 04 March 2014
  9. ^ [1] “The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. - 600 A.D" 04 March 2014
  10. ^ Ancient Worlds "Armorica” 04 March 2014
  11. ^ [2] "Gaulish Language” 04 March 2014
  12. ^ “An Overview of the Languages Used in Brittany" 04 March 2014
  13. ^ [3] “The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. - 600 A.D" 04 March 2014
  14. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, "Vannes" 13 April 2014
  15. ^ [4] “The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. - 600 A.D" 04 March 2014
  16. ^ [5] "France" 04 March 2014
  17. ^ [6] “The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. - 600 A.D" 04 March 2014
  18. ^ Sorosoro "Breton" 04 March 2014
  19. ^ a b Nolan, John Shaun (2011-06-06). "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. ISSN 1613-3668. 
  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.