Secretaría Xeral de Política Lingüística

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AN OVERVIEW OF THE GALICIAN LANGUAGE

 

GALICIAN-SPEAKING TERRITORY

Galicia has over 2,800,000 inhabitants. The Galician-speaking territory is delimited by the Autonomous Community of Galicia and the farthest western area of Asturias, León and Zamora, as well as three small areas in Extremadura. The distribution of Galician is geographically homogeneous, there being no territorial areas where its use is not verified.
Apart from this, and due to the historical circumstances of the Galician emigration around the world, there are some regions with a large concentration of people of Galician origin. This population preserved its language as communication vehicle -not only in the private field but also in the public field- through periodicals, literary publications or even in the radio in host countries. There are still large Galician-speaking communities in cities such as Barcelona, Zurich, Montevideo or Buenos Aires.

 

LEGAL STATUS

Galicia is -by constitutional recognition- an autonomous community with its own institutions: its Parliament, its own government, security corps, its own public media, flag, etc.
The Statute of Autonomy of Galicia -passed in 1981- recognized Galician as the own language of Galicia and the coofficial language of the Community, which “everyone has the right to know and use”, and at the same time made the authorities responsible for the normalization of Galician in all fields. The Linguistic Normalization Act -passed unanimously on June 15th, 1983, by the Galician Parliament- guarantees and regulates citizens’ linguistic rights, particularly those regarding the fields of administration, education and the media.
After the enactment of this act, several orders and decrees were passed to complement the legal framework and ensure the recovery of Galician in the local, judicial and military administration. This legislative framework offers the possibility to communicate in Galician with the different administrations acting in Galicia and recognizes Galician place names as the only official forms. Furthermore, in accordance with the Linguistic Normalization Act, the local and autonomic administrations are obliged to write all of their official documents in Galician; the use of Galician is established in the whole educational system and the promotion of the language is guaranteed in those countries with emigrant Galician communities as well as in Galician-speaking areas bordering the Community.
Along the over twenty years of implementation of the Linguistic Normalization Act, crucial progress has been made in the process of normalization of Galician. The knowledge of Galician is a requirement for entry into public employment, as established in the Act of civil service; likewise, its status has been enhanced through the passing, in 1997, of the Act of local regime and other acts on the linguistic rights of consumers, product labelling, etc. However, full legal equality with Castilian has not been reached yet.

 

ORIGIN AND HISTORY

 

The Galician language –galego- belongs to the family of Romance languages -like French or Catalan- and is the result of the evolution of Latin, which was introduced by the Romans in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. From the 9th century, the language spoken in this area was so different from Latin that the existence of two languages could be considered: Latin and Galician. The oldest literary document known nowadays is the satirical cantiga (song) “Ora faz ost’o senhor de Navarra”, written at the end of the 12th century by Joam Soares de Pavia. This was the most brilliant period of Galician literature. At that time Galician became the language of lyric poetry in the entire Peninsula. This poetry is properly referred to as Galician-Portuguese lyric poetry, as both languages constituted a common linguistic branch until the mid-15th Century.
At the end of the Middle Ages, Galician language and literature entered into a period of decadence. This was mainly due to a socio-political context controlled by a foreign governing class, alien to the cultural and identity interests of Galicia. Despite the survival of the language in the private field and the settings of informal communication, Galician was absent from written uses for a long period of three centuries –16th to 18th century-, called Séculos Escuros (Dark Centuries).
In the 18th century there were voices which –influenced by the illustrated ideas of those times- showed their concern about the underdevelopment of Galician and made new contributions in the economic, social and cultural fields.
Rexurdimento (resurgence) is the name of our cultural renovation movement, which took place throughout the 19th century. Cantares Gallegos -the first work entirely written in Galician, by Rosalía de Castro, and published in 1863- inaugurated the height of the Rexurdimento. The first Galician grammar book and dictionary, crucial for its standardization, also appeared in the 19th century.
The consolidation of Galician did not take place until the 20th century. The recovery of Galician as a language of history, culture and literature was confirmed towards the end of the 20th century with the achievement of the status of official language- together with Castilian- in Galicia, the establishment of spelling and morphological conventions and their use at school, etc. Galician is the language of the public media of Galicia and is now present in everyday trade and leisure settings. However, Galician is also facing difficulties, especially in the business field and even in the family setting of the main Galician towns, where the use of Castilian as the main home language is increasing.

 

Language proficiency in Galician

 

  Comprehension  Speaking Reading Writing
2001 Census 99.16% 91.04% 68.65% 57.64%
1991Census 96.96% 91.39% 49.30% 34.85%

 
Chart taken from the General Plan for the Normalization of the Galician Language. Comparative data from the 1991 Census and provisional data from the 2001 Census. Source: Instituto Galego de Estatística (Galician Institute of Statistics)

 

 

Actual use of the Galician language

 

 

Always

Sometimes

Never

 TOTAL

56.84%

30.29%

12.86%

5 to 9 year olds

37.63%

47.77%

14.50%

10 to 14 year olds

41.46%

49.23%

9.30%

15 to 19 year olds

44.44%

 42.27%

13.28%

20 to 24 year olds

45.82%

37.15%

17.01%

25 to 29 year olds

45.01%

37.29%

 17.69%

30 to 34 year olds

47.06%

36.00%

16.93%

35 to 39 year olds

50.16%

33.95%

15.88%

40 to 44 year olds

54.43%

31.70%

13.85%

45 to 49 year olds

57.54%

29.85%

12.59%

50 to 54 year olds

60.67%

27.66%

11.65%

55 to 59 year olds

65.08%

 24.48%

10.43%

60 to 64 year olds

69.94%

20.61%

9.43%

 Chart taken from the General Plan for the Normalization of the Galician Language. Provisional data from the 2001 Census. Source: Instituto Galego de Estatística (Galician Institute of Statistics)

A historical language

 

Galician is the historical language of Galicia. The oldest document written in Galician and preserved in Galicia dates back from 1228, from the reign of Afonso IX, and it is presently in the Archives of the House of Alba in Madrid.

 

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