5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Galician Language in Spain

galician language

5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Galician Language in Spain

5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Galician Language in Spain

(Last Updated On: April 23, 2024)

Galician Langugage

The Galician language is one of the official languages of Spain and one of the significant minority languages in a European country, with more than 3 million speakers in the Spanish region of Galicia and parts of Northern Portugal. However, there are millions more Spanish speakers worldwide who can understand it without having to know how to speak it. While the language has some similarities with Portuguese, it also has its unique characteristics and distinctions that set it apart from other languages spoken in Spain, much like Catalan and Basque. Here are five facts about the Galician language that you may not have known before

1) What is Galician?

Galician is a minority language spoken in several locations throughout northwestern Spain. Of Europe’s minority languages, it is one of just three official regional languages (with other regions including Catalonia and Euskadi) but with Spanish as its national tongue. The language is distinct from Spanish while still mutually intelligible.

The Kingdom of Galicia, historically significant in Atlantic Europe, holds a rich linguistic heritage in its common language, Galician. Recognized by UNESCO and the Council of Europe as an endangered language, Galician faces challenges despite its presence in the archive of records. Most speakers reside in Galicia, yet communities in Asturias, Castile-Leon, Cantabria, and Northern Portugal also preserve this cultural gem. Despite limited inclusion in non-Galician schools, initiatives aim to introduce Galician to regional students, nurturing its survival in Atlantic Europe..

Despite these efforts, however, it is estimated that less than 1% of all children speak or understand any form of Galician fluently. To preserve its history and cultural identity, supporters of Galician are working toward making it an official language of education in Spain. In addition to UNESCO’s recognition as an endangered language, Galician has recently gained recognition for being a Celtic language, sharing commonalities with Welsh and Breton. This raises interesting questions about what defines a Celtic language versus another branch of Indo-European languages like Latin or Germanic ones like English.

The Galician language boasts a rich tapestry of history and cultural significance, spanning centuries from the 9th to the 20th. Emerging as a literary language in the 12th century, it found its voice through luminaries like Rosalía de Castro and Alfonso X. Over time, Galician became intertwined with the cultural heritage of Santiago de Compostela, a city steeped in medieval splendor and pilgrimage. Throughout the centuries, it has been nurtured by institutions such as the Xunta de Galicia and the Academia Galega da Lingua, safeguarding its unique identity. From the administrative powers of the Consello da Antiguas to the scholarly endeavors of the Universidade de Santiago de Compostela, efforts to preserve and promote Galician have been steadfast. Today, cultural associations like the Associaçom Galega da Língua and observatories such as the Observatorio da Lingua Galega continue to ensure its vitality in a rapidly changing world. Galician, with its roots deeply embedded in the past and branches reaching into the present, remains a testament to the enduring legacy of language and culture in the Galician region.



2) Where it is Spoken

Galician is a Romance language related to Spanish, Portuguese, and French. It’s spoken mainly in northwestern Spain and has its distinct dialect (also called Galician). The main thing that sets it apart from these languages is that it’s currently an official language of around 3 million people. That’s about 8% of Spaniards! There are also quite a few native speakers in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. So if you’re ever traveling through those countries, you’ll be able to communicate with some locals! Just don’t expect everyone to understand you; many do not know how to speak English or any other foreign language.

Galician is primarily spoken in the autonomous community of Galicia, nestled in the lush green landscapes of northwestern Spain. Galicia, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Cantabrian Sea to the north, is characterized by its rugged coastline, rolling hills, and fertile plains. Within Galicia, major cities such as A Coruna, Santiago de Compostela, and Vigo serve as hubs of Galician language and culture.

The history of Galician is intertwined with the broader historical narratives of the Iberian Peninsula. Emerging from Latin during the medieval period, Galician developed alongside its sister language, Portuguese, with which it shares significant linguistic similarities. Throughout history, Galicia experienced waves of cultural and linguistic influence from Celtic peoples, Germanic tribes, and later, the Castilian rulers of Spain. Despite periods of suppression and marginalization, Galician persisted as a distinct language, nurtured by the resilience of its speakers and the richness of its literary tradition.

Galician holds a special place in the hearts and minds of its speakers, serving as a symbol of regional identity and cultural pride. Beyond its linguistic function, Galician is a vehicle for the expression of Galician history, folklore, and artistic endeavors. The Galician literary tradition, spanning from medieval troubadours to contemporary authors, has produced an impressive body of work that celebrates the unique spirit of the Galician people. Additionally, Galician is recognized as an official language alongside Spanish in the autonomous community of Galicia, reflecting its importance in the realms of education, administration, and media.

In contemporary times, Galician continues to thrive as a living language, evolving to meet the demands of a changing society. While Spanish remains the dominant language of communication in many spheres, efforts to promote and preserve Galician have led to initiatives such as bilingual education programs, cultural festivals, and the use of Galician in digital media platforms. Moreover, the Galician government has implemented language planning policies aimed at ensuring the vitality and sustainability of Galician for future generations.

The linguistic landscape of Galician is a testament to the enduring power of language to shape identity, foster community, and preserve cultural heritage. From its origins in the ancient Celtic tribes of northwest Iberia to its contemporary status as an official language of Galicia, Galician embodies the spirit of resilience and cultural richness that defines the region. As we continue to navigate an increasingly interconnected world, the preservation and promotion of languages like Galician serve as reminders of the importance of linguistic diversity and the unique voices that enrich our global tapestry.

3) Is It a Dialect or Not?

The question of whether Galician is a dialect or a distinct language is a complex and nuanced one that has sparked debate among linguists, scholars, and speakers alike. At its core, Galician is a Romance language with its origins in the Latin spoken in the region during the Middle Ages. It shares many linguistic features and vocabulary with Portuguese, its closest linguistic relative, leading some to argue that Galician is simply a dialect of Portuguese.

However, Galician also exhibits unique phonological, morphological, and syntactic characteristics that set it apart from Portuguese and align it more closely with the linguistic landscape of Spain. These distinct features, along with the historical and cultural context of Galicia as a region with its own identity and traditions, bolster the argument for Galician as a separate language in its own right.

Furthermore, Galician has a rich literary tradition dating back to the Middle Ages, with notable works such as the Cantigas de Santa Maria and the poetry of Rosalía de Castro. This literary heritage, along with the efforts to standardize Galician orthography and promote its use in education and official contexts, contributes to the perception of Galician as a distinct language with its own linguistic norms and conventions.

Galicia is a region on Spain’s northwest coast that, like Catalonia, has its language. Whether or not it’s considered a dialect of Spanish or its language has caused controversy and even riots (it was officially declared one of Spain’s official languages in 2007). But don’t worry—you don’t need to know anything about regional politics to understand that there are some fundamental differences between Spanish and Galician.

Gallego is an Indo-European language with Celtic influences; as such, it shares similarities with other Romance languages such as French and Italian. It also shares many commonalities with Portuguese, spoken across Portugal and Brazil. This means that if you learn Gallego, you can also speak Portuguese! Learning Gallego might be easier than learning Portuguese because most speakers of Brazilian Portuguese speak Spanish as well!

while the classification of Galician as a dialect or a language may vary depending on one’s perspective and criteria, its unique linguistic features, historical development, and cultural significance make a compelling case for recognizing it as a distinct language deserving of its own recognition and appreciation.

galician people

4) Galician was banned by Franco in the 1930s and only allowed to be used for official purposes.

As with all other languages spoken in Spain that were not Castilian, Galician was banned during the dictatorship of Franco from 1939 to 1975. Despite the ban on written and public Galician, however, material in Galician started to be published again on a tiny scale in the 1950s.

During the Francoist regime in Spain, which began in the late 1930s and lasted until the dictator’s death in 1975, the Galician language faced severe repression and marginalization. Francisco Franco’s regime promoted a centralizing and homogenizing vision of Spain, seeking to suppress regional identities and languages perceived as threats to national unity. As part of this policy, Galician, along with other regional languages such as Catalan and Basque, was banned from public use and relegated to the status of a language of the home and informal communication.

The banning of Galician had profound consequences for its speakers and for the preservation of Galician culture and identity. Public use of the language was strictly controlled, and those who dared to speak or promote Galician faced censorship, persecution, and even imprisonment. Schools were prohibited from teaching in Galician, and official documents and media were exclusively in Spanish.

However, despite the efforts of the Franco regime to suppress Galician, the language persisted in the private sphere and in the hearts of its speakers. Families continued to pass down the language to their children, and clandestine cultural organizations and publications kept the flame of Galician culture alive in the face of adversity.

It wasn’t until after Franco’s death and the subsequent transition to democracy in Spain that Galician began to regain its rightful place in public life. With the establishment of the autonomous community of Galicia in 1981, efforts to promote and protect the Galician language intensified. Galician was officially recognized as one of the co-official languages of Galicia alongside Spanish, and measures were put in place to promote its use in education, administration, and the media.

Today, Galician enjoys a revitalized status as a vibrant and dynamic language, cherished by its speakers as an integral part of their cultural identity. While the scars of Francoist repression still linger, the resilience of the Galician people and their commitment to their language and heritage have ensured that Galician continues to thrive and evolve in the modern world.

5) How it Came to Be

While most Europeans speak an Indo-European language, Galicians are unique because they speak a romance language. Only some 12 million people around Europe speak a romance language, which makes up 8% of all Europeans. Romance languages are derived from Latin, or vulgate, an ancient version of Latin spoken by soldiers spread throughout the Roman Empire during its height. Because many of these soldiers were locals and not Romans (who spoke only classical Latin), their variation became known as vulgar Latin and eventually evolved into modern romance languages. These include Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.


The first written record of Vulgar Latin dates back to 98 AD in Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy). Over time, it split off into separate dialects that would later become individual languages. By 500 AD, there were three main dialects: Western Romance (which includes French and Occitan); Ibero-Romance (Castilian Spanish and Catalan); and Eastern Romance (Romanian). However, it wasn’t until 1100 that these dialects began to evolve into individual languages with distinct grammar rules.

The origins of Galician can be traced back to the pre-Roman inhabitants of northwest Iberia, who spoke Celtic languages that flourished in the region. These ancient Celtic tribes, including the Gallaeci and the Bracari, left their mark on the linguistic landscape of Galicia, contributing phonological, lexical, and cultural elements that would shape the development of the Galician language.

With the Roman conquest of the Iberian Peninsula in the 2nd century BCE, Latin became the dominant language of administration, trade, and culture in the region. The Celtic languages of northwest Iberia, including the ancestor of Galician, gradually assimilated with Latin, giving rise to a distinct Romance language

During the medieval period, Galician-Latin emerged as a literary language of considerable prestige and influence in the Kingdom of Galicia, which encompassed much of modern-day Galicia and northern Portugal. The troubadours of medieval Galicia, known as the trovadores, composed poetry and songs in Galician-Latin that celebrated love, chivalry, and the natural beauty of the region.

As the medieval period progressed, the Galician-Portuguese linguistic unity began to diverge, with Portuguese gradually asserting its own distinct identity. While Galician and Portuguese remained closely related, they developed distinct phonological, morphological, and lexical features that reflected the unique historical and cultural trajectories of each region.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, efforts to standardize Galician orthography and promote its use in education and literature gained momentum. The Galician Renaissance, or Rexurdimento, saw a resurgence of interest in Galician language and culture, culminating in the publication of important literary works and the establishment of institutions dedicated to the study and preservation of the language.

The evolution of the Galician language is a testament to the dynamic interplay of historical, cultural, and linguistic forces that have shaped the identity of the Galician people. From its Celtic origins to its status as a distinct Romance language with its own literary tradition and cultural heritage, Galician continues to thrive as a vibrant expression of the rich diversity of the Iberian Peninsula. As we continue to navigate the complexities of the modern world, the story of Galician serves as a reminder of the enduring power of language to reflect and preserve the unique spirit of a people and their history.

Castilian Spanish

Castilian Spanish was so different from other versions of Vulgar Latin that for a long time, it was considered its language entirely. As for how the Galician came about, scholars believe it originated in the Celtic territory near France sometime between 400 and 600 BC. It is believed to have been brought over by Celts fleeing Britain after being invaded by Anglo-Saxons. This theory is supported by linguistic studies on Celtic languages and early Galician writings.

In the vast tapestry of Castilian Spanish, the echoes of centuries past resonate with cultural and linguistic significance. From the dawn of the 9th century to the tumultuous epochs of the 16th and 18th centuries, Castilian Spanish has evolved, influenced by diverse historical forces. The 20th century ushered in new dimensions with the advent of institutions like Radio Galega and the Government of Galicia, which played pivotal roles in shaping linguistic discourse. Esteemed scholars such as D. Fletcher Valls and Ana Isabel Boullon Agrelo delved into the depths of language through the Instituto da Celas y Estudios de Lenguas y Epigrafia, enriching our understanding of its nuances.

The Parlamento de Galicia, alongside figures like Sotelo Blanco, anchored Castilian Spanish within the framework of governance, ensuring its prominence in public discourse. Amidst the cultural tapestry, places like Castro Caldelas stand as testament to the enduring legacy of Castilian Spanish, where the language intertwines seamlessly with the fabric of heritage and identity. Through the endeavors of scholars, institutions, and the enduring spirit of its speakers, Castilian Spanish continues to thrive as a cornerstone of cultural expression and linguistic heritage.

Galician is not a mixture of Spanish.

Galician is not a mixture of Spanish. Several South American countries, Mexico, Cuba, and, of course, Spain, speak Spanish as their primary language. But Galician is not a mixture of Spanish. Galician is a beautiful modern language as it is, with its unique history and development. There are three main reasons for this: first, Galician has its distinct dialect, separate from Spanish; second, Galician has its own literary tradition dating back to the 19th century; and third, Galician boasts its unique cultural identity rooted in the 15th and 14th centuries in Central Europe. According to the Galician Council of Culture, Castilian Spanish was the dominant language before formally recognized, while Galician was marginalized among Spanish speakers.

Galician is a language with deep roots, influenced by both Celtas Y and ancient linguistic traditions. Contrary to common misconceptions, Galician is not merely a mixture of Spanish; rather, it has its own distinct identity shaped by centuries of cultural exchange and historical development. The Celtic heritage of Galicia is evident in its phonology, vocabulary, and even in the landscape itself, while the echoes of ancient languages resonate through its syntax and grammatical structures. Galician stands as a testament to the rich tapestry of languages that have flourished in the Iberian Peninsula, embodying a unique linguistic tradition that deserves recognition and appreciation in its own right.

Galician has its distinct dialect. While it is true that Galician shares some similarities with Spanish, the two languages are not mutually intelligible. This is because Galician has its own unique phonetic, grammatical, and lexical features. For example, Galician has a different pronunciation of certain consonants, a separate word order, and a different vocabulary.

Galician has its literary tradition. While there are some similarities between Galician and Spanish literature, the two are not the same. Galician literature has its unique themes, style, and form. For example, Galician literature often focuses on nature and rural life, while Spanish literature often focuses on the themes of city life and urbanization.

Galician has its own unique cultural identity. This is reflected in the arts, music, and cuisine of Galicia. For example, Galician music often has a Celtic influence, and Galician cuisine often includes seafood dishes.

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spanish galician

The Galician Alphabets

The Galician alphabets are a set of three alphabets used to write the Galician language. The three alphabets are the Latin alphabet, the Mirandese alphabet, and the Asturian alphabet. The Latin alphabet is the most common alphabet used to write Galician. It is used by the vast majority of Galician speakers. The Mirandese alphabet is operated by a small minority of Galician speakers who live in the Miranda do Douro region of Portugal. The Asturian alphabet is used by a small minority of Galician speakers who live in the Asturias region of Spain.

The three alphabets have some similarities and some differences. The Latin alphabet is the alphabet most similar to the Galician alphabet. The Mirandese and Asturian alphabets both have some letters that are not found in the Latin alphabet. The three alphabets are all used to write the Galician language. However, each alphabet is operated by a different group of Galician speakers.

The Latin alphabet is used by the vast majority of Galician speakers, the Mirandese alphabet is operated by a small minority of Galician speakers who live in the Miranda do Douro region of Portugal, and the Asturian alphabet is used by a small minority of Galician speakers who live in the Asturias region of Spain.


What is the difference between Galician and Spanish?

The differences between Galician and Spanish are very similar to those between Catalan and Castilian. The two languages share a common origin, but they have developed differently over time. They both belong to the Ibero-Romance family of languages. Both Galician and Spanish are closely related to Portuguese. Many linguists believe that Galician and Portuguese are one single language.

How do you pronounce "Gallegos"?

The correct pronunciation is /ˈɡaːlɪŋ.koʊ/ (IPA: ).

What are some fun facts about the Spanish language?

The Spanish language, spoken widely across Atlantic Europe, traces its roots back to the Celtic peoples. In recent times, it has undergone significant linguistic normalization laws that have standardized its usage. Interestingly, the Galician-English-Spanish dictionary, a valuable resource, has contributed immensely to linguistic harmonization across these regions.

Spanish holds the title of being the second most spoken language globally, after Mandarin Chinese. It’s renowned for its simplicity in grammar and vocabulary, making it an accessible language to learn.

Officially recognized in various countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and many more, Spanish stands as a linguistic bridge across diverse cultures. In Europe, it ranks as the third most spoken language, following English and German. With over 400 million native speakers worldwide, it’s not only prevalent but also holds the distinction of being the fifth most popular foreign language used on the Internet.

In educational settings, Spanish takes precedence, being the sixth most commonly taught foreign language in high schools globally. It also ranks seventh among the most studied languages in U.S. universities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics

What is Galicia in Spain known for?

Galicia, the northwestern province of Spain, has a rich history and culture. The region is home to many unique festivals and events celebrated throughout the year.

Galicia is famous for its food! The cuisine of Galicia includes traditional dishes like paella, gazpacho, empanadas, and chorizo. The region is also well known for its wines, such as red wine from Rías Baixas and white wine from Ribeira Sacra.

How old is the Gallego language?

The Gallego language has been spoken in Spain since the early Middle Ages. It was first recorded by the Spanish chronicler Pedro de Luna (13th century), who described it as a dialect of Castilian. The earliest written records of the Gallego language date back to 1320.

The Gallego language, with its rich and diverse heritage, traces its origins back through the corridors of time, spanning centuries of cultural evolution and linguistic development. Rooted in the intricate tapestry of the 12th century, Gallego emerged as a distinct linguistic entity, shaped by influences from Celtic heritage and interactions with neighboring cultures.

Its journey through the centuries, from the cultural exchanges of the 13th century to the Renaissance splendor of the 15th centuries, has left an indelible mark on its character and expression. Institutions like  Antiguas – ELEA(9 have played a crucial role in nurturing Gallego’s identity, while cultural associations and advocates such as Sotelo Blanco have championed its preservation and promotion. From its ancient roots intertwined with Celtic heritage to its vibrant presence in contemporary discourse, the Gallego language stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of linguistic diversity and cultural heritage

Where does the Galician language come from?

The Galician language is a Romance language spoken in Spain and Portugal. It belongs to the Ibero-Romance family of languages, including Catalan, Asturian, Leonese, Aragonese and Valencian. These languages all have their roots in Latin.

The name “Galicia” comes from the Roman Empire. When the Romans conquered the area, they called it Gallia. Over time, this became Galatia. This word eventually evolved into Galicia.

The roots of the Galician language delve deep into the annals of history, spanning centuries of cultural evolution and linguistic amalgamation. Emerging from the cultural mosaic of the 9th century, Galician traces its origins to the rich tapestry of minority languages that flourished in the Iberian Peninsula. Throughout the 12th, 13th, and 15th centuries, it evolved alongside other regional tongues, sculpted by influences from Celtic heritage and interactions with neighboring cultures.

In the 16th centuries, Galician found expression as a literary language, solidifying its place within the cultural heritage of Santiago de Compostela and beyond. Institutions such as Radio Galega and cultural associations like ELEA have played vital roles in nurturing and preserving Galician, ensuring its continued vitality in contemporary discourse. Figures like Sotelo Blanco have championed its cause, while Radio Galega has provided a platform for its dissemination and celebration. From its humble beginnings to its present-day prominence, the journey of the Galician language is a testament to the enduring resilience of linguistic diversity and cultural identity.


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