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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.

Pronunciation [ɡaˈleɣo]
Region Galicia and adjacent areas inAsturias and Castile and León
Native speakers
unknown (3.2 million cited 1986)
58% of the population of Galicia are L1 speakers (2007)
Language family

  • Italic
    • Romance
      • Western
        • Ibero-Romance
          • West-Iberian
            • Galician-Portuguese
              • Galician
Early forms
Medieval Galician

  • Galician
Writing system
Galician alphabet (Latin script)
Galician Braille
Official status
Official language in
Galicia, Spain
Regulated by Royal Galician Academy
Language codes
ISO 639-1 gl
ISO 639-2 glg
ISO 639-3 glg
Glottolog gali1258
Linguasphere 51-AAA-ab
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols.Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbolsinstead of Unicode characters.

Classification and relation with Portuguese

Map showing the historical retreat and expansion of Galician

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.

Opposing views

Vindel’s parchment, containing music and lyrics of several 13th-centurycantigas

Vindel’s parchment, containing music and lyrics of several 13th-centurycantigas by Martin Codax

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.

Political implications

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.


One of the oldest legal charters written in Galician

One of the oldest legal charters written in Galician, the constitutional charter of the Bo Burgo (Good Burg) ofCastro Caldelas, 1228

Excerpt of medieval Galician poetry (with English translation)

Porque no mundo mengou a verdade,
punhei un día de a ir buscar;
e, u por ela fui a preguntar,
disseron todos: «Alhur la buscade,
ca de tal guisa se foi a perder,
que non podemos én novas haver
nen ja non anda na irmaidade.»

Because in the world the truth has faded,
I decided to go a-searching for it
and wherever I went asking for it
everybody said: ‘Search elsewhere
because truth is lost in such a way
such as we can have no news of it
nor it’s no longer around here.’

Airas Nunes (B 871, V 455. 13th century)

Mediaeval Galician inscription in a 14th-century house, in Noia

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.

Cantigas de Santa Maria, 13th century

Cantigas de Santa Maria, 13th century

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.

14th-century inscription, in Galician language

14th-century inscription, in Galician language: ‘ESTA : IMAGEE : HE : AQVI : POSTA : POR: ALMA : D(E) : I(O)HA(N) : TVORUM’ ‘This image is here in exposition for the soul of Joham Tuorum’.

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

Martin Sarmiento

Martín Sarmiento

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.

Rexurdimento (Renaissance)

The 19th-century author,Eduardo Pondal

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.

Speakers of Galician as first language in 2001, Galician Institute of Statistics

Speakers of Galician as first language in 2001, Galician Institute of Statistics

Galician linguistic areas

Galician linguistic areas

Galician-speaking areas outside of Galicia (yellow)

Galician-speaking areas outside of Galicia (yellow)

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

Real use of Galician language (2001)
Total Always Sometimes Never
Total 2,587,407 1,470,836 56.84% 783,780 30.29% 332,791 12.86%
From 5 to 9 years 101,840 38,329 37.63% 48,651 47.77% 14,860 14.50%
From 10 to 14 years 122,747 50,891 41.46% 60,430 49.23% 11,426 9.30%
From 15 to 19 years 156,950 69,760 44.44% 66,343 42.27% 20,847 13.28%
From 20 to 24 years 207,341 95,008 45.82% 77,044 37.15% 35,289 17.01%
From 25 to 29 years 213,402 96,059 45.01% 79,586 37.29% 37,757 17.69%
From 30 to 34 years 201,392 94,785 47.06% 72,506 36.00% 34,101 16.93%
From 35 to 39 years 193,342 96,992 50.16% 65,641 33.95% 30,709 15.88%
From 40 to 44 years 191,180 104,074 54.43% 60,615 31.70% 26,491 13.85%
From 45 to 49 years 174,056 100,166 57.54% 51,965 29.85% 21,925 12.59%
From 50 to 54 years 168,473 102,227 60.67% 46,607 27.66% 19,639 11.65%
From 55 to 59 years 163,029 106,103 65.08% 39,920 24.48% 17,006 10.43%
From 60 to 64 years 135,040 94,459 69.94% 27,844 20.61% 12,737 9.43%
More than 65 years 558,615 421,983 75.54% 86,628 15.50% 50,004 8.95%

Galician language proficiency (evolucion)
Date Understand Speak Read Write
1991 Census 96.96% 91.39% 49.30% 34.85%
2001 Census 99.16% 91.04% 68.65% 57.64%

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:

  • The resolution of medieval nasalized vowels and hiatus: these sometimes turned into diphthongs in the east, whilst in the center and west the vowels in the hiatus were sometimes assimilated. Later, in the eastern—except Ancarese Galician—and central blocks, the nasal trait was lost, whilst in the west the nasal trait usually developed into an implosive nasal consonant /ŋ/. In general, these led to important dialectal variability in the inflection in genre and number of words ended in a nasal consonant. So, from medieval irmão‘brother’, ladrões ’robbers’, irmãas ’sisters’ we have eastern Galician irmao, ladrois, irmás; central Galician irmao, ladrós, irmás; western Galician irmán, ladróns, irmáns.
An exception to this rule is constituted by the hiatus in which the first vowel was a nasalized i or u. In those cases, a nasal, palatal /ɲ/ or velar /ŋ/ was usually inserted: ũa ’a / one (fem.)’ > unha (Portuguese uma), -ina > -ĩa > -iña (Portuguese -inha). Nevertheless, in Ancarese and Asturian Galician, this process did not take place: A-G vecía, Ancarese vecĩa vs. standard veciña ’(female) neighbor’ (Port. vizinha), A-G úa, Ancarese ũa vs. standard unha (Port. uma).
  • The resolution of hiatus formed by oral vowels had similar developments, most notably those derived from the loss of /l/, which again had important consequences for the declension of words ending in /l/. So, Medieval Galician animaes ’animals’ (sing. animal); central and western Galician animás; eastern Galician animais; Asturian Galiciananimales (/l/ is preserved).
  • In the west, /ɡ/ is rendered as a fricative /ħ/, /h/ or /x/ (gheada), except after a nasal, where it can become a stop /k/.
  • Stressed vowel metaphony is most notable in the west and center, while in the east it is unknown. It is triggered by a final /o/, which tends to close open-mid vowels, or by a final /a/ which tends to open close-mid ones.
  • There are three main sibilant systems, all derived from the medieval Galician one, which were richer and more complex:
    • The common one, extended in the eastern and center regions, presents an opposition /ʃ/ – /s/ – /θ/. In the westernmost parts of this area the opposition of /s/ and /θ/ is lost in postnuclear position, in the coda, both being produced /s/.
    • In the coastal western areas the opposition is /ʃ/ – /s/, /s/ being produced in some regions as a laminal or in some others as an apical. Sometimes this system is even further reduced to just a single /s/. On the other hand, in some areas final /s/ is produced as /ʃ/.
    • In the Limia Baixa region an old six sibilant system is still preserved, with voiced/voiceless opposition: /ʃ/ – /ʒ/; /z/ – /s/ (apical) and /s/ – /z/ (laminal).

Each dialectal area is then further defined by these and other more restricted traits or isoglosses:

  • Eastern Galician: Asturian area (Eonavian), Ancares area, Zamora area and Central-Eastern area.
  • Central Galician: Mindoniense area, Lucu-auriense area, Central Transitional area, and Eastern Transitional area.
  • Western Galician: Bergantiños area, Fisterra area, Pontevedra area and Lower Limia area.

Standard Galician is usually based on Central Galician characteristics, but it also incorporates western and eastern traits and features.


Galician Old Galician (13th–15th c.) Portuguese Spanish Latin English
Western Central Eastern
cans [ˈkaŋs] cas [ˈkas] cais [ˈkajs] cães/cããs cães canes canes dogs
ladróns [laˈðɾoŋs] ladrós [laˈðɾɔs] ladrois [laˈðɾojs] ladrões ladrões ladrones latrones robbers
irmán [iɾˈmaŋ] irmao [iɾˈmao] irmao [iɾˈmao] irmão irmão hermano germanum brother
luz [ˈlus] luz [ˈluθ]/[ˈlus] luz [ˈluθ] luz/lus luz luz lux light
cinco [ˈsiŋko] cinco [ˈθiŋko] cinco [ˈθiŋko] cinco cinco cinco quinque five
ollo [ˈoʎo], hora [ˈɔɾa] ollo [ˈɔʎo], hora [ˈɔɾa]/[ˈoɾa] ollo [ˈɔʎo], hora [ˈoɾa] ollo, hora olho, hora ojo, hora oculum, horam eye, hour
cantaste(s) cantaches cantaste/cantache cantaste cantaste cantaste cantavisti you sang
animás animás animais animaes animais animales animales animals



The vowel phonemes of Galician

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.

Phoneme (IPA) Grapheme Examples
/a/ a nada
/e/ e tres
/ɛ/ e ferro
/i/ i min
/o/ o bonito
/ɔ/ o home
/u/ u rúa

Some characteristics of the vocalic system:

  • In Galician the vocalic system is reduced to five vowels in post-tonic syllables, and to just three in final unstressed position: [ɐ], [ʊ], [ɪ]. So, unstressed close-mid vowels and open-mid vowels (/e ~ ɛ/ and /o ~ ɔ/) can occur in complementary distribution (e.g. ovella [oˈβeʎa] ’sheep’ / omitir [ɔmiˈtiɾ] ’to omit’ and pequeno [peˈkeno] ’little, small’ /emitir [ɛmiˈtiɾ] ’to emit’), with few minimal pairs like botar [boˈtaɾ] ’to throw’ vs. botar [bɔˈtaɾ] ’to jump’. In pretonic syllables, close-/open-mid vowels are kept in derived words and compounds (e.g. c[ɔ]rd- > corda [ˈkɔɾða] ’string’ → cordeiro [kɔɾˈðejɾo] ’string-maker’—which contrasts with cordeiro [koɾˈðejɾo] ’lamb’).
  • Of the seven vocalic phonemes of the tonic and pretonic syllables, just /a/ has a set of different renderings (allophones), forced by its context:
    • [ä] (centralized): normal realization of the phoneme.
    • [ä̠] (retracted): when next to an /l/, /ŋ/, /w/, /k/ or /ɡ/.
    • [ä̟] (advanced): before a palatal consonant, or before a yod.
    • [äː] (lengthened): due to contraction, as in ra [ˈraː] ’frog’ < rãa < Latin rāna.
  • All dialectal forms of Galician, but Ancarese, spoken in the Ancares valley in León, have lost the phonemic quality of mediaeval nasal vowels. Nevertheless, any vowel is nasalized in contact with a nasal consonant.
  • The vocalic system of Galician language is heavily influences by metaphony. Regressive metaphony is produced either by a final /a/, which tend to open medium vowels, or by a final /o/, which can have the reverse effect. As a result, metaphony affects most notably words with genre opposition: sogro [ˈsoɣɾo] (‘father-in-law’) vs. sogra [ˈsɔɣɾa](‘mother-in-law’). On the other hand, vowel harmony, triggered by /i/ or /u/, has had a large part in the evolution and dialectal diversification of the language.

Galician language possesses a large set of falling diphthongs:

Galician diphthongs
[aj] caixa ‘box’
[aw] autor ‘author’
[ɛj] papeis ‘papers’ [ɛw] deu ‘He/She gave’
[ej] queixo ‘cheese’ [ew] bateu ‘He/She hit’
[ɔj] bocoi ‘barrel’
[oj] loita ‘fight’ [ow] pouco ‘little’

There are also a certain number of rising diphthongs, but they are not characteristic of the language and tend to be pronounced as hiatus.


Phoneme (IPA) Main allophones Graphemes Example
/b/ [b], [β̞] b/v bebo [ˈbeβ̞o] ’(I) drink’, alba [ˈalβ̞a] ’sunrise’, vaca [ˈbaka] ’cow’, cova [ˈkɔβ̞a] ’cave’
/θ/ [θ] (dialectal [s]) z/c macio [ˈmaθjo] ’soft’, cruz [ˈkɾuθ] ’cross’
/tʃ/ [tʃ] ch chamar [tʃaˈmaɾ] ’to call’, achar [aˈtʃaɾ] ’to find’
/d/ [d], [ð̞] d vida [ˈbið̞a] ’life’, cadro [ˈkað̞ɾo] ’frame’
/f/ [f] f feltro [ˈfɛltɾo] ’filter’, freixo [ˈfɾejʃo] ’ash-tree’
/ɡ/ [ɡ], [ɣ] (dialectal [ħ]) g/gu fungo [ˈfuŋɡo] ’fungus’, guerra [ˈɡɛra] ’war’, o gato [o ˈɣato] ’the cat’
/k/ [k] c/qu casa [ˈkasa] ’house’, querer [keˈɾeɾ] ’to want’
/l/ [l] l lua [ˈlua] ’moon’, algo [ˈalɣo] ’something’, mel [ˈmɛl] ’honey’
/ʎ/ [ʎ] (or [ʝ]) ll mollado [moˈʎað̞o] ’wet’
/m/ [m], [ŋ] m memoria [meˈmɔɾja] ’memory’, campo [ˈkampo] ’field’, álbum [ˈalβuŋ]
/n/ [n], [m], [ŋ] n niño [ˈniɲo] ’nest’, onte [ˈɔnte] ’yesterday’, conversar [kombeɾˈsaɾ] ’to talk’, irmán [iɾˈmaŋ] ’brother’
/ɲ/ [ɲ] ñ mañá [maˈɲa] ’morning’
/ŋ/ [ŋ] nh algunha [alˈɣuŋa] ’some’
/p/ [p] p carpa [ˈkaɾpa] ’carp’
/ɾ/ [ɾ] r hora [ˈɔɾa] ’hour’, coller [koˈʎeɾ] ’to grab’
/r/ [r] r/rr rato [ˈrato] ’mouse’, carro [ˈkaro] ’cart’
/s̺/ [s̺] (dialectal [s]), [z̺] s selo [ˈs̺elo] ’seal, stamp’, cousa [ˈkows̺a] ’thing’, mesmo [ˈmɛz̺mo] ’same’
/t/ [t] t trato [ˈtɾato] ’deal’
/ʃ/ [ʃ] x xente [ˈʃente] ’people’, muxica [muˈʃika] ’ash-fly’
See also:

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:

  • /z/ > /s/;
  • /dz/ > /ts/ > [s] in western dialects, or [θ] in eastern and central dialects;
  • /ʒ/ > /ʃ/;

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]).

Writing system

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.


English Galician (Official) Galician (Reintegrationist) Portuguese Spanish
Good morning Bo día / Bos días Bom Dia Bom Dia / Bons dias Buenos días
What is your name? Como te chamas? ¿Cómo te llamas?
I love you Quérote / Ámote Amo-te Te quiero / Te amo
Excuse me Desculpe Perdón / Disculpe
Thanks / Thank you Grazas Obrigado Gracias
Welcome Benvido Bem-vido Bem-vindo Bienvenido
Goodbye Adeus* Adiós
Yes Si Sim
No Non Nom Não/i> No
Dog Can Cam Cão Perro (rarely, Can)
Grandfather Avó /aˈbo/ Avô /ɐˈvo/ Abuelo
Newspaper Periódico / Xornal Jornal Periódico
Mirror Espello Espelho Espejo

English Galician official Galician reintegrationist Portuguese Spanish Latin
Our Father who art in heaven, Noso Pai que estás no ceo: Nosso Pai que estás no Céu: Pai Nosso que estais no Céu: Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos: Pater noster qui es in caelis:
hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. santificado sexa o teu nome, veña a nós o teu reino e fágase a túa vontade aquí na terra coma no ceo. santificado seja o Teu nome, venha a nós o Teu reino e seja feita a Tua vontade aqui na terra como nos Céus. santificado seja o vosso nome, venha a nós o vosso reino, seja feita a vossa vontade assim na Terra como no Céu. santificado sea tu Nombre, venga a nosotros tu reino y hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo. sanctificetur nomen tuum, adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua sicut in caelo et in terra.
Give us this day our daily bread, O noso pan de cada día dánolo hoxe; O nosso pam de cada dia dá-no-lo hoje; O pão nosso de cada dia nos dai hoje; Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día; panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie;
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us, e perdóanos as nosas ofensas como tamén perdoamos nós a quen nos ten ofendido; e perdoa-nos as nossas ofensas como também perdoamos nós a quem nos tem ofendido; Perdoai-nos as nossas ofensas assim como nós perdoamos a quem nos tem ofendido; y perdona nuestras ofensas como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden; et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. e non nos deixes caer na tentación, mais líbranos do mal. e nom nos deixes cair na tentaçom, mas livra-nos do mal. e não nos deixeis cair em tentação, mas livrai-nos do mal. no nos dejes caer en tentación, y líbranos del mal. et ne nos inducas in tentationem; sed libera nos a malo.
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amém. Amen. Amen.

Published - August 2014

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