While browsing YouTube this morning I came across a video about Gallo, a Gallo-Romance language spoken in Brittany and Normandy in the northwest of France.

Gallo is one of the langues d’oïl, and is closely related to such languages as Norman and Picard. It is recognised as a minority language in France, and is taught at state schools in Upper Brittany, although few students choose to study it.

One of the comments on the video goes as follows:

De ce que j’en entends dans ce reportage, c’est plutôt une déformation paysanne du français et non une langue avec sa grammaire et son vocabulaire comme le breton.

Which means:

From what I hear in this report, it is rather a peasant distortion of French and not a language with its grammar and vocabulary like Breton.

This kind of thing seems to be quite common when minority and regional languages and dialects are discussed. Speakers of majority languages often belittle them, claim they are not proper languages, that they don’t have their own grammar, and/or that they are ‘just’ dialects, patois, or distorted / corrupted versions of a majority language, and so on.

I wonder why people feel the need to make such comments. Any ideas?

7 thoughts on “Gallo

  1. Probably the same reason people who don’t know what the passive voice is insist that the passive voice can/should never be used in English.

  2. I’ve encountered similar sentiments to Ukrainian and Belarusian (compared with “literary” Russian), and to Rusyn (compared with “literary” Ukrainian). In all cases it was accompanied by denial of separate ethnicity. I guess that in France calling all or most regional languages “patois” is a display of insecurity in the idea of France as a nation state.

  3. Why do people feel the need to make such comments? I suspect the short answer is, “pride”.

    So, Gallo is “a peasant distortion of French”? Does that mean only “low-life” people like “peasants” would ‘lower’ themselves to speak it? It’s “not a language with its grammar and vocabulary”? Wow! If so, that would be an astonishing accomplishment: A language with no grammar and no vocabulary. I am not sure how they could manage such a feat, but if they could, it would be brilliant! I can only wonder if the person on this video even bothered to LOOK before assuming that a “grammar” and “vocabulary” were really missing. Maybe the grammar and vocabulary were written in (wait for it) Gallo, and as the reviewer couldn’t READ Gallo, they dismissed all of its documentation as irrelevant.

    Some years ago there was a science fiction TV show called Babylon 5. In one episode they were trying to make contact with an alien race, without success, after several tries. When one character said ‘Maybe they will only respond if we use their own language’, the other character replied, ‘Who knew they were French?’

    I fear that the world has far too many people like the one in this video, who dismissively conclude, If you don’t speak MY language, you are illiterate.

    Um, no, not actually. No.

  4. Ignorance. Most people don’t know much about languages. Dialects, idiolects, languages, etc, it means nothing to most people. I’ve had to explain to people, bright in every other way, that yes, ASL is a language. It is not “simply” English sentences with a sign for each word in the sentence. People simply don’t know.

  5. It is unfortunate that people have this attitude towards minority languages. It is very difficult to know if a language is a language or just another direct. And that is why during the 2011 census in India the Government collected names of “Mother Tongues” from 1.2 Billion people in India.

    The result was a list of 19,500 mother tongues that people spoke. These mother tongues are normal languages or dialects but people call them by their own name and sometimes only a majority language gets the language tag and the minority language will just get a direct tag.

    I think we must see beyond languages and invest time on mother tongues that can be same as a language but people will have the right to call it whatever name they wish to.

  6. I am wondering if the term “dialect” can even be applied legitimately. It seems that a common response to speakers of “dialects” is one of resentment to this word, that even to label a form of speech as a dialect is an implied insult and pejorative. I am not a language expert by any means, so I am no one to weigh in on this subject, but perhaps other readers here, better versed than I am on this, could give us their views. Is the word “dialect” a “left-handed insult”? Is a dialect merely an “offshoot” of a “major” language that doesn’t have a long, independent history of its own? Is the very use of the word “merely” here ALSO an insult? Is there ANY valid use of the word “dialect” that does not demean the language group described by it? Should linguists abandon the use of the word “dialect” altogether and simply say that any form of speech is a “language” and not try to qualify it any further? I honestly don’t know. Do you? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

  7. The French government has been trying to kill any and every language they could within the Hexagon besides standardized French. Little kids were beaten for speaking Breton just down the hill. This really is about replacing regional pride with nationalism. Lest we forget, the students in the French colonies in Africa used to start their history lessons with “nos ancêtres, les Gaulois,” which has nothing to do with actual history and certainly not the history of people in French colonies, but which contributes to the construction of a national mythos where people are taught a national history that postulates a natural progression to the people in charge today being in charge today. To view Gallo as a language is to believe that Paris has failed to bring the whole of France under its umbrella successfully. To acknowledge it as a language that has developed alongside French and remained the preferred language for however small a minority is a threat to the idea that France is simply France, and not a collection of kingdoms and fiefdoms, some more successfully assimilated than others. To call it a dialect, or bad French, is much more comforting if you work for or derive your income or authority from l’État.

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