Galician language

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Galician (Galego)
Spoken in: Spain
Region: Northwestern Spain. Also spoken in Portugal.
Total speakers: 3 to 4 million (1/2 million by emigrants in South America and Europe)
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Indo-European
Official status
Official language of: Spain
Regulated by: Real Academia Galega
Language codes
ISO 639-1 gl
ISO 639-2 glg
See also: LanguageList of languages

Galician (Galician: galego) is a language variety of the Western Ibero-Romance branch, spoken in Galicia (in the Galician language, Galicia and also Galiza are used), an autonomous community with the constitutional status of "historic nationality" located in northwestern Spain, and in areas in the neighbouring autonomous communities of Asturias and Castilla-León.



Historically, the Portuguese language originated in Galicia and Northern Portugal (comprising the Roman Gallaecia), and branched out in the 14th century after the Reconquista brought it southwards. Many linguists consider Modern Galician and Portuguese as dialects or varieties of the same language; the question of which variety is the true form is a matter of debate. For instance, in past editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Galician was a Portuguese dialect spoken in northwestern Spain, once often incorrectly considered a dialect of Spanish. However, neither the Galician government, nor the vast majority of Galician people regard their language as a variety of Portuguese, but rather as a separate language. After centuries of separation between the two languages, mutual comprehension can sometimes be difficult, although usually it is quite fluent.

Briefly, the relationship within the Galician-Portuguese sub-group can be compared with that between Moldavian and Romanian, as well as between Flemish and Dutch.

The Instituto da Lingua Galega (ILG) claims that Galego is an independent Romance language that belongs to the group of Ibero-Romance Languages. On the other hand, according to the minority and unofficial Associaçom Galega da Língua (AGAL), Galego has never ceased to be a part of the Portuguese language, just like other versions such as Brazilian Portuguese, African Portuguese, and other dialects. Thus it uses a more Portuguese spelling system of Galego, in place of one closer to Spanish; Galicia is therefore spelt by them as Galiza. However, in some aspects, the Portuguese dialects are more conservative than the Galician ones, which for the most part have lost the voiced fricatives /z/.

The Portuguese dialects most similar to Galician are Alto-Minho Portuguese, Trás-os-Montes Portuguese, and Northern Portuguese.

In any case, discussions on the Galician language tend to mirror the never-ending debate in Galician society between reasserting its own identity ("isolationism"), or assimilating to a bigger cultural block ("reintegrationism"). See Writing system section, below.

Geographic distribution

Galician is spoken by more than 3 million people, including most of the people in Galicia, as well as among the many Galician immigrants in the rest of Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Biscay), elsewhere in Europe (Andorra, Geneva, London), and Iberoamerica (Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Havana).

Because of its historical status as a non-official language, for some authors, the situation of language domination in Galicia could be called "diglossia", with Galician in the lower part of the continuum, and Spanish at the top; while for others, the conditions for diglossia established by Ferguson are not met.

Official status

Spain has recognized Galician as one of Spain's four "official languages" (lenguas españolas), the others being Castilian (also called Spanish), Catalan-Valencian, and Basque. Though this is viewed by most as a positive step toward language maintenance, officiality does not guarantee language transmission among the youngest generations.


Galician has multiple dialects, yet mutual comprehension is total.



The vowel phonemes of Galician
Phoneme (IPA) Grapheme Example
/a/ a nada
/e/ e tres
/ɛ/ e ferro
/i/ i min
/o/ o bonito
/ɔ/ o morto
/u/ u gusto


Phoneme (IPA) Grapheme Example
/b/ b and v banco, ventá
/θ/ z+a,o,u and c+e,i cero, zume
// ch chama
/d/ d dixo
/f/ f falo
/g/ or /ħ/ g+a,o,u and gu+e,i galego, guerra
/k/ c+a,o,u and qu+e,i conta, quente
/l/ l luns
/ʝ/ or /ʎ/ ll botella
/m/ m mellor
/n/ n nove
/ɲ/ ñ mañá
/ŋ/ nh algunha
/p/ p por
/ɾ/ r hora
/r/ r and rr recto, ferro
/s/ s sal
/t/ t tinto
/ʃ/ x viaxe



Writing system

Galician orthography was introduced in 1982, and made law in 1983, by the Real Academia Galega (RAG), based on a report by the ILG. It remains a source of contention, however, as some citizens would rather have the institutions recognize Galician as a Portuguese variety, and therefore opt for the use of the Portuguese writing system, perhaps with some adaptations. A revised edition was published in 2003, with some minor changes towards Portuguese orthography.

Currently, there are two different writing systems, but only one is official. The official orthography is approved by RAG and is used by official institutions, in education, and by most writers. The other version, oriented toward Portuguese, is called reintegrationism (reintegracionismo), uses a written system known as maximal orthographic system (normativa de máximos ortográficos), and is promoted by AGAL (Associaçom Galega da Língua). A more radical point of view on reintegrationism is lusism (lusismo), which proposes to insert the Galician language fully into Portuguese using the same writing system as part of the common Portuguese language community (lusofonía). Until 2003, there was a third writing system of commitment between the official system and reintegrationism, but their supporters now accept the official norm.

In 1986 and 1990, there were meetings between all of the Portuguese-speaking countries, in order to establish a spelling reform (there are some minor spelling differences between Portugal and Brazil, just as between British and American English). Galicia was invited to take part in the meetings, but the Galician government (that claims that Galician is not Portuguese) ignored the invitation. However, an unofficial commission formed by Galician linguists was sent, and took part in both meetings. [1]


From the 8th century, Galicia was a political unit within the kingdoms of Asturias and Leon, but was able to reach a degree of autonomy, becoming an independent kingdom at certain times in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries. Galician was the only language in spoken use, and Latin was used, to a decreasing extent, as a written language. This monopoly on spoken language was able to exert such pressure in the 13th century, that it led to a situation of dual official status for Galician and Latin in notarial documents, edicts, lawsuits, etc.; Latin, however, continued to be the universal vehicle for higher culture.

From the 9th century, the language spoken in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula was so different from Latin, that Latin and Galician could be already considered two separate languages. Nevertheless, written texts in Galician have only been found dating from the end of the 12th century, because Latin continued to be the cultured language (not only in Galicia, but also throughout medieval Europe).

The oldest known document is the poem Ora faz ost'o Senhor de Navarra by Joam Soares de Paiva, written around 1200. The first non-literary documents in Galician date from the early 13th century, the Noticia de Torto (1211) and the Testamento of Afonso II of Portugal (1214), both samples of medieval notarial prose.

In the Middle Ages, Galaico-português (or Portuguese-Galician) was a language of culture, poetry, and religion throughout not only Galicia and Portugal, but also Castile (where Castilian was used mainly for prose).

After the separation of Portuguese and Galician, Galician was considered provincial, and it was not widely used for literary or academic purposes until its renaissance in the mid-19th century.

During the rule of General Francisco Franco (himself a Galician) in Spain, the formal or written use of any language but Spanish was officially repressed (although Galician continued to be widely spoken in rural areas). This also included other languages like Basque or Catalan.

With the advent of democracy, Galician has been brought into the institutions, and it is now co-official with Spanish. Galician is taught in schools, and there is a public Galician-language television channel, TVG. However, for the most part there has been no serious attempt on the part of the Spanish and Galician institutions to reverse language assimilation and loss.


English ILG-RAG AGAL/Portuguese
Good day Bos días Bom dia
What's your name? Como se chama? Como é que se chama?
Excuse me Desculpe Desculpe
Thank you Graciñas Obrigado
You're welcome Benvida/o Bem-vinda/o
Goodbye Adeus Adeus
Yes Si Sim
No Non Nom (AGAL)
Não (Portuguese)

See also

External links

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