Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation





First Advisor

Elaine Chun


This dissertation examines discourse practices in and about Gallo, a marginalized Romance language of Upper Brittany, France. Specifically, it explores how various Gallo social actors (advocates, performers, teachers and students) defined, labeled and displayed Gallo, as they constructed it as a language capable of participating in modernity, producing local authority, and forging links with loved people and places.

Gallo was popularly imagined as part of a rural past and dismissed as a “deformation” of French, unlike the Breton language, which stood as a salient emblem of Brittany’s cultural distinctiveness. This dissertation elucidates the ideological and everyday consequences of using this ostensibly “traditional” language in “modern” times. Using interactional and ethnographic data collected during twelve months of fieldwork, I investigate how Gallo was represented in multiple contexts: celebratory festivals, association meetings, artistic performances, language classrooms, everyday conversations, and ethnographic interviews. I argue that strategies of Gallo representation involved not just explicit statements about the language but also bids by speakers to assign themselves, as well as interlocutors and/or publics, to participant roles and stances. By occupying these positions, participants jointly articulated language and speakerhood.

First, I examine how Gallo was defined as a “language” rather than as deformed French, in promotional materials and performances, and I illustrate how these genres positioned a participant role of Gallo recognizer as desirable and achievable. Second, I explore the implications of patois and gallo as language labels. While Gallo advocates often preferred gallo, I elucidate how even patois allowed speakers to draw useful social distinctions and to meaningfully connect disparate people and places. Thirdly, I discuss how dictionaries, a prominent part of Gallo advocate culture, served as icons of Gallo’s existence and “weight,” indexes of modernity, and triggers for the performance of local expertise. Finally, I show how performers on stage constructed audience members as competent evaluators of Gallo. In sum, this dissertation illustrates that language is both social object and social action. When individuals and institutions propose a representation of a language, they also propose associated participant roles, stances, and figures of speakerhood, which are open to creative recontextualization through interaction and artistic performance.


© 2016, Sandra Keller