Monday, July 7, 2014

Language Profile: Galician

Today we're taking a look at Galician, a Romance language spoken by approximately 3 million people in Spain. It shares official language status with Spanish in the autonomous community of Galicia, located in the northwest corner of the country, directly north of Portugal.

Ponte Vella footbridge in Ourense, Galicia, Spain
Galician is a member of the same branch of the Romance language family as Portuguese. The two languages are very closely related since they first began to evolve separately from a common ancestor sometime around the 13th century. Some linguists consider Galician and Portuguese to be part of a dialect continuum as distinct varieties of the same language. This view is shared by several different Galician language associations, who state that Galician is a variety of Portuguese in the same manner as Brazilian Portuguese is. However, they are generally regarded as separate languages for political and historical reasons since Galicia is part of Spain, and not Portugal. The Royal Galician Academy, which regulates the language, says it is independent from Portuguese, and many of the language's speakers agree. 

Whether or not Galician is a variety of Portuguese, the two languages do share many common characteristics, and are largely mutually intelligible. That said, there are numerous phonological and lexical differences between the two languages, and mutual intelligibility is not as good with Portuguese speakers from the southern part of Portugal.

The language has a rich cultural history, and was once famous for its tradition of songs, called cantigas, and poetry. Galician is the primary language of the Galician government. It is also used in primary and secondary schools throughout the region, with children taught in a bilingual environment involving both Galician and Spanish. In recent years, Spanish has surpassed Galician to become the most used language in Galicia's biggest cities, but Galician continues to be the primary language spoken in rural areas.