Galician (/ɡəˈlɪʃən/ or /ɡəˈlɪsi.ən/; galego [ɡaˈleɣo]) is an Indo-European language of the Western Ibero-Romance branch. It is spoken by some 3 million people, mainly in Galicia, an autonomous community located in northwestern Spain, where it is official along with Spanish. The language is also spoken in some border zones of the neighbouring Spanish regions of Asturias and Castile and León, as well as by Galician migrant communities in the rest of Spain, in Latin America, the United States, Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.
Galician is part of the same family of languages as the Portuguese language, and both share a relatively recent common origin. The shared Galician-Portuguese lyric (13th–14th centuries) was among the most remarkable literature produced in Europe in the Middle Ages. The standards of Portuguese and Galician dialects started to diverge in the 13th and 14th centuries.
The lexicon of the language is predominantly of Latin extraction, although it also contains an important number of words of Germanicand Celtic origin, among other substrates and adstrates, having also received, mainly through Spanish and Portuguese, a sizeable number of nouns from the Arabs who in the Middle Ages governed southern Iberia.
The language is officially regulated in Galicia by the Royal Galician Academy. However, independent organisations such as theGalician Association of Language and the Galician Academy of the Portuguese Language include Galician as part of the Galician-Portuguese language.
Classification and relation with Portuguese
Map showing the historical retreat and expansion of Galician (Galician and Portuguese) within the context of its linguistic neighbours between the year 1000 and 2000
Modern Galician and its southern sibling, Portuguese, originated from a common mediaeval ancestor designated variously by modern linguists as Galician-Portuguese or Mediaeval Galician or Old Galician or Old Portuguese. This common ancestral stage developed in the territories of the old Kingdom of Galicia, which covered the territories of modern day Galicia and northern Portugal. In the 13th century it became a written and cultivated language. In the past Galician and Portuguese formed a dialect continuum. For many scholars this continuum still exists today at the level of rural dialects. Others point out that modern Galician and Portuguese have diverged to such an extent during the past seven centuries that they now constitute two closely related but separate languages.
Historically, the Galician-Portuguese language originated from Vulgar Latin as a Western Romance language in the lands now in Galicia, Asturias and northern Portugal, which belonged to the mediaeval Kingdom of Galicia, itself comprising approximately the former Roman territory of Gallaecia as modified during the two centuries of the Suevic Kingdom of Galicia. The standards of the language began to diverge in the 14th century, as Portuguese became the official language of the independent kingdom of Portugaland its chancellery, whilst Galician was the language of the scriptoria of the lawyers, noblemen and churchmen of the Kingdom of Galicia, then integrated in the crown of Castile and open to influence from Castilian language, culture, and politics. During the 16th century the Galician language stopped being used in legal documentation, becoming de facto an oral language, with just some use in lyric, theatre and private letters.
The linguistic status of Galician with respect to Portuguese is controversial, and the issue sometimes carries political overtones. There arelinguists who deal with modern Galician and modern Portuguese as norms or varieties of the same language. Some authors, such asLindley Cintra, consider that they are still co-dialects of a common language, in spite of superficial differences in phonology and vocabulary, while others, such as Pilar Vázquez Cuesta, argue that they have become separate languages due to major differences in phonetics and vocabulary usage, and, to a lesser extent, morphology and syntax. Fernández Rei in 1990 stated that the Galician language is, with respect to Portuguese, an ausbau language, a language through elaboration, and not an abstand language, a language through detachment.
With respect to the external and internal perception of this relation, for instance in past editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Galician was defined as a Portuguese dialect spoken in northwestern Spain. However, most Galician speakers do not regard Galician as a variety of Portuguese, but as a different language, as modern Galician evolved without interruption and in situ from Mediaeval Galician.
Mutual intelligibility (estimated at 85% by Robert A. Hall, Jr., 1989) is good between Galicians and northern Portuguese speakers in the Portuguese provinces of Alto-Minho and Trás-os-Montes but is significantly poorer between Galicians and speakers from central and southern Portugal.
The official position of the Galician Language Institute is that Galician and Portuguese should be considered independent languages. The standard orthography is noticeably different from the Portuguese, partly because of the divergent phonological features, and partly due to the use of Spanish (Castilian) orthographic conventions, which ignore many proper Galician features, like open and close vowels, which do not exist in Spanish.
The official institution regulating the Galician language, backed by the Galician government and universities, the Royal Galician Academy, claims that modern Galician must be considered an independent Romance language belonging to the group of Ibero-Romance languages and having strong ties with Portuguese and its northern dialects.
However, the Associaçom Galega da Língua (Galician Association of the Language) and Academia Galega da Língua Portuguesa(Galician Academy of the Portuguese Language), belonging to the Reintegrationist movement, support the idea that differences between Galician and Portuguese speech are not enough to justify considering them as separate languages: Galician is simply one variety of Galician-Portuguese, along with Brazilian Portuguese; African Portuguese; the Galician-Portuguese still spoken in Spanish Extremadura,Fala; and other dialects.
Due to the history of both languages and of both territories, the relationship involving Galician and Portuguese can be compared with that between Macedonian and Bulgarian,Aromanian with Romanian, Occitan and Catalan.
These contrasting attitudes have distinct political implications. Considering Galician as an independent language reduces contact with Portuguese culture, leaving Galician as a minor language with less capacity to counterbalance the influence of Spanish, the only official language between the 18th century and 1975. On the other hand, viewing Galician as a part of the Lusophony, whilst not denying its own characteristics (cf. Swiss German), shifts cultural influence from the Spanish domain to the Portuguese. Although it is difficult to clarify the political positions of those who favour one view or the other, the vindication of Galician as an independent language is generally associated with more conservative political thought linked to certain Spanish political and administrative structures. Some scholar authors describe the situation as properly a continuum, from the Galician variants of Portuguese in one extreme to the Spanish language in the other (which would represent the complete linguistic shift from Galician to Spanish); reintegrationist points of view are closer to the Portuguese extreme, and so-called isolationist ones would be closer to the Spanish one.
Geographic distribution and legal status
Galician is spoken by some three million people, including most of the population of Galicia and the numerous Galician communities established elsewhere, in Spain (Madrid,Barcelona, Biscay), in other European cities (Andorra la Vella, Geneva, London, Paris), and in the Americas (New York, New Jersey, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Havana, Caracas,Mexico City, São Paulo, Managua, Guadalajara, Veracruz City, Panama City).
Galician is today official, together with the Spanish (Castilian) language, in the autonomous community of Galicia, where it is recognized as the autochthonous language (lingua propia), being the first language of the local administrations and governments. It is taught bilingually, alongside Castilian, in both primary and secondary education. It is also used at the three universities established in Galicia, having also the consideration of official language of the three institutions. Galician has also legal recognition in the Bierzo region inLeón, and in four municipalities in Zamora. The other languages with official status elsewhere in Spain are Castilian (also called Spanish), Catalan (or Valencian), Basque andAranese. Galician has also been accepted orally as Portuguese in the European Parliament, having been used by some Galician representatives, among others: José Posada,Camilo Nogueira and Xosé Manuel Beiras.
Controversy exists regarding the inclusion of Eonavian (spoken in the western end of Asturias, bordering Galicia) into the Galician language, as it has some traits in common withWestern Asturian or bable occidental (spoken in the middle west of Asturias). There are those defending these linguistic varieties as dialects of transition to the Astur-Leonese group on the one hand, and those defending it as clearly Galician varieties on the other. The recent edition of the cartularies of Oscos in Eonavia and cartularies of Obona,Cornellana, Corias and Belmonte in middle west of Asturias have shown a huge difference in the medieval speech between both banks of the Navia river. An examination of the old documents of the Eonavian monastery of Oscos, written from the late 12th to early 14th century to 16th century, shows a clear identification of this language with the Galician-Portuguese linguistic group; whilst contemporary parchments elsewhere in Asturias are written in Castilian (i.e. Spanish). The two most important traits of those commonly used to tell apart Galician-Portuguese and Asturian-Leonese varieties are the preservation of the mid-open vowels /ɛ/ and /ɔ/, which became diphthongs in Asturian-Leonese, and the loss of intervocalic /n/, preserved in the latter language.
Porque no mundo mengou a verdade,
Because in the world the truth has faded,
Airas Nunes (B 871, V 455. 13th century)
Mediaeval Galician inscription in a 14th-century house, in Noia: “ESTAS CASAS MANDOU FAZER VASCO DA COSTA, ERA DE MCCCLXXVII” These houses were ordered by Vasco da Costa, era 1377 (1339 AD)
Latinate Galician charters from the 8th century onward show that the local written Latin was heavily influenced by local spoken Romance, yet is not until the 12th century that we find evidences for the identification of the local language as a language different from Latin itself. During this same 12th century we can find full Galician sentences being inadvertently used inside Latin texts, whilst its first reckoned use as a literary language dates to the last years of this same century.
The linguistic stage from the 13th to the 15th centuries is usually known as Galician-Portuguese (or Old Portuguese, or Old Galician) as an acknowledgement of the cultural and linguistic unity of Galicia and Portugal during the Middle Ages, as both linguistic varieties differed only in dialectal minor phenomenons, and were considered by the contemporary as just one language.
This language flourished during the 13th and 14th centuries as a language of culture, developing a rich lyric tradition of which some 2000 compositions (cantigas, meaning ‘songs’) have been preserved—a few hundreds even with their musical score—in a series of collections, and belonging to four main genres: Love songs where a man sings for his love,Cantiga de amigo where a woman sings for her boyfriend, crude, taunting and sexual Songs of Scorn, and religious songs.
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-Portuguese 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.
Its most notable patrons—themselves reputed authors—were king Dom Dinis in Portugal, and king Alfonso X the Learned in Galicia, Castile and León, who was a great promoter of both Galician and Castilian Spanish languages. Not just the kings encouraged literary creation in Galician-Portuguese, but also the noble houses of Galicia and Portugal, as being an author or bringing reputed troubadours into one’s home became a way of promoting social prestige; as a result many noblemen, businessmen and clergymen of the 13th and 14th centuries became notable authors, such as Paio Gomes Charinho, lord of Rianxo, and the aforementioned kings.
Aside from the lyric genres, Galicia developed also a minor tradition on literary prose, most notably in translation of European popular series, as those dealing with king Arthur written by Chretien de Troyes, or those based on the war of Troy, usually paid and commissioned by noblemen who desired to read those romances in their own language. Other genres include history books (either translation of Spanish ones, or original creations like theChronicle of St. Mary of Iria, by Rui Vasques), religious books, legal studies, and a treaty on horse breeding. Prose literary creation in Galician had stopped by the 16th century, when printing press became popular; the first complete translation of the Bible was not printed until the 20th century.
As for other written uses of Galician, legal charters (last wills, hirings, sales, constitutional charters, city council book of acts, guild constitutions, books of possessions, and any type of public or private contracts and inventories) written in Galicia are to be found from 1230 to 1530—the earliest one probably a document from the monastery of Melón, dated in 1231—being Galician by far the most used language during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, in substitution of Latin.
Diglossia and influence of the Castilian language
Galician-Portuguese lost its unity when the County of Portugal obtained its independence from the Kingdom of Leon, a transition initiated in 1139 and completed in 1179, establishing the Kingdom of Portugal. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Galicia was united with the Kingdom of León, and later with the Kingdom of Castile, under kings of the House of Burgundy. The Galician and Portuguese standards of the language diverged over time, following independent evolutionary paths. Portuguese was the official language of the Portuguese chancellery, while Galician was the usual language not only of troubadours and peasants, but also of local noblemen and clergy, and of their officials, so forging and maintaining two slightly different standards.
During the reign of Alfonso X, Castilian Spanish became the official language of the chancellery of the Kingdom of Castile. However, in Galicia and neighboring regions of Asturias and León in 1200-1500, the local languages remained the usual written languages in any type of document, either legal or narrative, public or private. Castilian was progressively introduced through Royal decrees and the edicts of foreign churchmen and officials. This led, from the late 1400s on, to the end of legal documents in Galician; the last ones were issued around 1530. Also, from 1480 on, notaries of the Crown of Castile were required to obtain their licenses in Toledo, where they had to prove their mastery of Spanish.
In spite of Galician being the most spoken language, during the 17th century the elites of the Kingdom began speaking Castilian, most notably in towns and cities. The linguistic situation in Galicia became one of diglossia, with Galician as the low variety and Spanish as the high one. In reaction to the relegation of the autochthonous language, a series of literary and historical works (always written in Spanish) appeared in the 1600s through 1800s, meant to vindicate the history, language, people, and culture of Galicia. The period from the 1500s to early 1800s, when Galician had little literary—and no legal—use, is considered the dark age of Galician language. The Galician spoken and written then is usually referred to as Middle Galician.
Middle Galician is known mostly through popular literature (songs, carols, proverbs, theatrical scripts, personal letters), but also through the frequent apparition of Galician interferences and personal and place names in local works and documents otherwise written in Spanish. Other important sources are a number of sonnets and other lyric poetry, as well as other literate productions, including the forgery of allegedly mediaeval scriptures or chronicles under diverse pretensions—usually to show the ancient nobility of the forger’s family—being these writings elaborated in an archaic looking Galician which nevertheless couldn’t conceal the state of the language during this period.
Middle Galician is characterized by a series of phonetic processes which led to a further separation from Portuguese, and to the apparition of some of the more notorious dialectal features, among other phenomenons: emergence of the gheada or pronunciation of /ɡ/ as a pharyngeal fricative; denasalization of nasal vowels in most of Galicia, becoming oral vowels in the east, or a group formed by an oral vowels plus a nasal in the west; reduction of the sibilant system, with the confluence (except in the Baixa Limia region) of voiced and voiceless fricatives, followed by a process of de-affrication which led to different results in the west and in the east.
The most important author during this period of the language was the enlightened scholar Martín Sarmiento, unconditional defender and the first researcher of Galician language (history, evolution, lexicon, etymology, onomastics). His Elementos etimológicos segun el método de Euclides (1766), written in Spanish but dealing with Galician, was in fact one of the first comprehensive studies on sound change and evolution of any European language.
The 19th-century author,Eduardo Pondal
During the 19th century a thriving literature developed, in what was called the Rexurdimento (Resurgence), of the Galician language. It was headed by three main authors: Rosalia de Castro, an intimist poet; Eduardo Pondal, of nationalist ideology, who championed a Celtic revival; andManuel Curros Enríquez, a liberal and anticlerical author whose ideas and proclamations were scandalous for part of the 19th-century society.
Galician language today
With the advent of democracy, Galician has been brought into the country’s institutions, and it is now co-official with Spanish in Galicia. Galician is taught in schools, and there is a public Galician-language television channel, Televisión de Galicia.
Today, the most common language for everyday use in the largest cities of Galicia is Spanish rather than Galician, as a result of this long process oflanguage shift. Galician is still the main language in the rural areas, though.
The Royal Galician Academy and other Galician institutions celebrate each May 17 as Galician Literature Day (Día das Letras Galegas), dedicated each year to a deceased Galician-language writer chosen by the academy.
Use of Galician language
Source: Plano Xeral de Normalización da lingua galega
Some authors are of the opinion that Galician possesses no real dialects. Despite this, Galician local varieties are collected in three main dialectal blocks, each block comprising a series of areas, being local linguistic varieties that are all mutually intelligible. Some of the main features which distinguish the three blocks are:
Each dialectal area is then further defined by these and other more restricted traits or isoglosses:
Standard Galician is usually based on Central Galician characteristics, but it also incorporates western and eastern traits and features.
The vowel phonemes of Galician
Galician has seven vowel phonemes. These vowels are the same ones found in standard Portuguese, standard Catalan, and standard Italian. It is likely that this 7-vowel system was even more widespread in the early stages of Romance languages.
Some characteristics of the vocalic system:
Galician language possesses a large set of falling diphthongs:
There are also a certain number of rising diphthongs, but they are not characteristic of the language and tend to be pronounced as hiatus.
Voiced plosives (/ɡ/, /d/ and /b/) are lenited (weakened) to approximants or fricatives in all instances, except after a pause or a nasal consonant; e.g. un gato ’a cat’ is pronounced[uŋ ˈɡato], whilst o gato ’the cat’ is pronounced [o ˈɣato].
During the modern period, Galician consonants have undergone significant sound changes that closely parallel the evolution of Spanish consonants, including the following changes that neutralized the opposition of voiced fricatives / voiceless fricatives:
For a comparison, see Differences between Spanish and Portuguese: Sibilants. Additionally, during the 17th and 18th centuries the western and central dialects of Galician developed a voiceless fricative pronunciation of /ɡ/ (a phenomenon called gheada). This may be glottal [h], pharyngeal [ħ], uvular [χ], or velar [x].
Spanish has been experiencing a centuries-long consonant shift in which the lateral consonant /ʎ/ comes to be pronounced as a fricative /ʝ/ (see yeísmo). This merger, which is almost complete for Spanish in Spain, has somewhat influenced other linguistic varieties spoken in Spain, including some Galician ones, but it is rejected by Galician language institutions. In this respect, it can be said that Portuguese is phonologically more conservative than Galician.
Galician allows pronominal clitics to be attached to indicative and subjunctive forms, as does Portuguese, unlike modern Spanish. After many centuries of close contact between the two languages, Galician has also adopted many loan words from Spanish, and some calques of Spanish syntax.
Galician usually makes the difference according to gender and categorizes words as masculine “o rapaz” (the little boy) or feminine “a rapaza” (the little girl). This difference is present in the articles “o / a / os/ as” (the), nouns “o can / a cadela” (the dog / the bitch), pronouns “el / ela”, (he / she) and adjectives “bonitiño / bonitiña” (pretty, beautiful) There is also a neuter set of demonstrative pronouns “isto, iso, aquilo” (this / that). The most typical ending for masculine words is -o, whereas the most typical ending for feminine is -a “o prato / a tixola” (the plate / the frying pan). The difference in the grammatical gender of a word may correspond to a real gender difference in the physical world “xuicioso / xuiciosa” (sensible); the former adjective will qualify a male, and the latter, a female. However, there is no particular reason for objects to be adscribed to a particular grammatical gender or another, it has to do with the gender having been ascribed by tradition and the use of speakers as in the following examples: “o xis / o samba / a mesa / a caricatura” (chalk / the samba / the table / the caricature).
Galician expresses the difference in number with a form for the singular and another for the plural. The most typical suffix to express a plural number is “s”, “cantiga / cantigas”.
There are two different ways of addressing people: one is the most usual informal pronoun “ti” for the second person singular and “vos” for the second person plural. There are formal ways of addressing directly people “vostede” for the singular and “vostedes” for the plural.
The last review of the official grammar has established that the exclamation and question marks will appear only at the end of the sentence if there is no risk of confusion.
The verb is inflected. There are regular and irregular verbs in the language. All verbs will appear listed by means of their infinitive form in dictionaries, and there are three typical endings for verbs “-ar / -er / ir”.
All words have accent in Galician, considering that the accent is the fact of a particular syllable carrying the most stress in a word. The “tilde (´)” is a small line written over some vowels to show in some cases which syllable carries the accent, “paspallás” ([eng scarecrow]), “móbil” ([mobile]) “cárcere” ([eng jail, gaol]).
The tilde has some other functions. Sometimes the tilde is written to show that there is not a diphthong among two vowels which happen to be alongside one another within the same word “aínda” ([eng] yet). If the tilde happens to be necessary in a capitalized letter, it must be written regardless: “Óscar”. Another use is the differentiation of meaning: there are words which can be differentiated by the presence or absence of the tilde: “cómpre” ([eng] it is necessary) versus “compre” ([buy]) as in “Cómpre que compre un reloxio” ([It’s necessary that I buy a clock]).
The current official Galician orthography was introduced in 1982, and made law in 1983, by the Royal Galician Academy (RAG), based on a report by the ILG. It remains a source of contention, however; a minority of citizens would rather have the institutions recognize Galician as a Portuguese variety, and therefore still opt for the use of writing systems that range from adapted medieval Galician-Portuguese writing system or European Portuguese one (see reintegrationism).
In July 2003 the Royal Galician Academy modified the language normative to admit some archaic Galician-Portuguese forms conserved in modern Portuguese. These changes have been considered an attempt to build a consensus among major Galician philology trends and represent, in the words of the Galician Language Academy, “the orthography desired by 95% of Galician people.” The 2003 reform is thought to put an end to the so-called “normative wars” raised by the different points of view of the relationship between the modern Galician and Portuguese languages. This modification has been accepted only by a part of the reintegrationist movement at this point.
The question of the spelling system has very significant political connotations in Galicia. At present there are minor but significant political parties representing points of view that range from greater self-government for Galicia within the Spanish political setup to total political independence from Spain designed to preserve the Galician culture and language from the risk of being inundated by the Castilian culture and language. Since the modern Galician orthography is somewhat influenced by Castilian spelling conventions, some parties wish to remove it.
Since medieval Galician and medieval Portuguese were the same language, modern Portuguese spelling is nearer to medieval Galician than to modern Galician Spanish-style spelling. Language unification would also have the benefit of linking the Galician language to another major language with its own extensive cultural production, which could weaken the links that bind Galicia and Spain and ultimately favor the people’s aspiration toward an independent state. However, although all three concepts are frequently associated, there is no direct interrelation between reintegrationism, independentism and defending Galician and Portuguese linguistic unity, and, in fact, reintegrationism is only a small force within the Galician nationalist movement.
Published - August 2014
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