Five things to know about the Galician language

You may have visited Galicia, but what do you know about the Spanish region's unique language? Here are five things to know about Galician or Galego.

Santiago de Compostela
Santiago Cathedral in Galicia. Photo: javier alamo / Pixabay

It’s a language, not a dialect

Many may assume that Galician or Galego is just a dialect of Spanish, but in fact, like Catalan and Basque, Galician is in fact a separate language. In 1978 the language was officially recognised as one of the five official regional languages of Spain.

According to Galician’s Council of Culture, before it was officially recongised, Castilian Spanish was the dominant language, socially and culturally, while Galician was marginalised. However, today it is taught in schools, there are media outlets written in Galician and it is more integrated into the society.  

It’s more closely associated with Portuguese than it is with Spanish

Both Galician and Portuguese are said to have derived from the same Romance language spoken around the 9th century called Galician-Portuguese, however around the 14th century these languages began to diverge slightly as borders were established. 

“Despite a divergent historical evolution since the Middle Ages, today Galician and Portuguese are mutually understandable almost effortlessly,” says the Galician Council of Culture. Today, Galician and Portuguese still have similar grammar and vocabulary, however there are differences in the way they sound and in the spelling of the words. 

READ ALSO: Ten unique Basque words you need to learn right now

It’s spoken by around 2.8 million people

According to the Galician government, Galego is spoken by 2.8 million people. It is spoken mostly in Galicia, but there are also Galician speakers in Asturias, León and Zamora, as well as three small places in Extremadura. 

Galician’s Council of Culture also says that it is spoken by immigrant communities in South America, particularly in Argentina and Uruguay; in Europe mostly in Germany, Switzerland and France. It also states that the majority of the inhabitants of Galicia speak Galician as their first language and use it on a daily basis. 

Galician has its own public holiday

Galician even has its own public holiday, known as Galician Literature Day or El Día de las Letras Galegas. It has been celebrated every May 17th since 1963 by the Royal Galician Academy as a tribute to writers of Galician literature.

Each year, the festival is dedicated to a different Galician literary figure, in 2021 it was the poet Xela Arias and this year, it will be dedicated to the poet Florencio Delgado Gurriarán, who was exiled to Mexico. 

READ ALSO: Five reasons why Galicia is Spain’s version of Ireland

Galician has over 70 words to describe rain

It is said that Arabic has many different words for ‘camel’ and according to language experts Galician has around 70 words to describe rain. It’s no wonder, as Galicia is known as the wettest region in Spain. 

The language has different words depending on whether the rain is light, heavy, if there are lots of clouds or if it’s sunny and raining at the same time. For example, ‘Battuere‘ is used when the rain is intense and ‘Torbón‘ describes rain accompanied by thunder and lightning. While ‘Sarabiada‘ means the rain that falls on ice and snow. 

Useful words and phrases in Galician: 

Next time you’re in Galicia, why not try speaking some Galician for yourself? Here are a few useful words and phrases to get you started. 

Bos días – Good morning 

¿Como te chamas? – What’s your name?

¿Falas galego? – Do you speak Galician?

Saúde! – Cheers 

Bo proveito! – Bon appetit or Enjoy your meal 

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Spanish legalese is so wordy most Spaniards don’t understand it, study reveals

If you thought that not being a native Spanish speaker was preventing you from fully understanding official texts in Spain you’d be wrong, as a new study reveals that 78 percent of 'Spanish legalese' isn't clear to Spaniards either.

Spanish legalese is so wordy most Spaniards don't understand it, study reveals

If you live in Spain, you’ve no doubt developed quite a few headaches whilst squinting at your computer screen, re-reading 100-word long sentences on government websites, incapable of making head or tail of what it is they’re trying to say exactly.

It’s no secret that Spain loves bureaucracy, but when it comes to administrative texts, it almost seems as if the civil servants charged with writing them wished to convey that what’s being said is official and important by making any explanation overly wordy and complicated. Either that, or they’re deliberately trying to making it hard to understand.

And while it’s true that written Spanish does tend use more long-winded flowery language than English for example, it isn’t just a case of foreigners getting ‘lost in translation’.

A new study by Spanish consulting firm Prodigioso Volcán revealed that 78 percent of official texts are not clear and therefore are not well understood by the Spanish population. 

After analysing 760 administrative texts linked to ministries, regional governments, municipalities, state agencies and universities, they concluded that 78 percent of these official documents are not written in a way which is easy to understand.  

Of all of them, the most comprehensible are those related to gender-based violence, while the most complex are those that explain how to apply for a grant or scholarship (98 percent of these are not easy to understand). 

One of the most convoluted texts they found was the 22-page document on Social Security and Minimum Vital Income (Ingreso Mínimo Vital), which was written in such an overly formal and twisted language they estimated that an overwhelming majority of native Spanish speakers would be confused by it.  

Even those who write the texts agree they’re too complicated

As part of their investigation, Prodigioso Volcán also interviewed 20 experts whose job it is to write these texts. These professionals admitted that these texts were not actually aimed at everyday citizens, but at other administrative technicians instead. 

They acknowledged that many of these documents “use the passive voice, uncommon words, bad punctuation, spelling errors, too many words per sentence and an absence of connectors”.  

Spaniards are fighting back

Spanish citizens are beginning to fight back against this overly complicated language, demanding that it be written more clearly so that everyone can understand.  

Estrella Montolío, a professor of Spanish Language, is part of a group of activists calling for change, saying that everyone has the right to understand.  

As well as writing articles, texts, creating a podcast, and giving talks on the subject, she has also written a manifesto demanding clear and simple language in administrative texts, which has been sent to heads of different institutions and entities, including the Minister of Education, the President of Congress and to the president of the General Council of the Judiciary.

“We demand an administrative communication that is easier to understand (clearer), closer (less impersonal and less pompous) and friendlier (less hierarchical and threatening)”, part of the manifesto states. 

Marc Bayés, who has a PhD in Spanish Language and is a professor at the University of Barcelona has also been trying to combat the use of this type of overly flowery language and even dedicated his thesis to it.

He says that this lack of clarity carries many risks; for example, it can prevent a citizen from finding the information they need or complicate the management of a fundamental procedure.

There is “a large well of obscure texts which, at times, are directly opaque,” he said with regard, particularly to notifications from the Hacienda (Spanish tax authorities).  

“A clear text reduces inequality because there are many people who do not have a great ability in the language,” he continued.  

A petition has even been set up on calling for clear and simple language in administrative documents, which you can sign here

This isn’t the first time that Spanish citizens have been complaining about overly complicated language.

After a series of complaints, in 2009 Spain set up a Commission for the Modernisation of Legal Language, which issued a report that spoke of the need to turn towards simpler language and argued that improving clarity “strengthens the rule of law”.