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Galician people

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Galician people

The Galicians (Galician: Galegos; Spanish: Gallegos) are a national, cultural and ethnolinguistic group whose historic homeland is Galicia, in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula.[1] Two Romance languages are widely spoken and official in Galicia: the native Galician, and Castilian.[2]

Etymology of the ethnonym

The ethnonym Galicians or Galegos, derives from the Latin Gallaecos or Callaeci, itself an adaptation of the name of a local Celtic tribe known to the Greeks as καλλαικoι (Kallaikoi), who lived in what is now northern Portugal and who were conquered by the Roman General Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus in the 2nd century BCE.[3] The Romans later applied this name to all the people who shared the same culture and language in the north-west, from the Douro river valley in the south to the Cantabrian Sea in the north and west to the Navia river.

The etymology of the name has been studied since the 7th century by authors such as Isidore of Seville, who wrote that "Galicians are called so, because of their fair skin, as the Gauls", relating the name to the Greek word for milk, but today scholars [3] derive the name of the ancient Callaeci either from Proto-Indo-European *kal-n-eH2 'hill', through a local relational suffix -aik-, so meaning 'the highlanders'; or either from Proto-Celtic *kallī- 'forest', so meaning 'the forest (people)'.[4]



A map of Galicia showing speakers of Galician as first language in 2001, Galician Institute of Statistics.

Galician is a Romance language belonging to the Western Ibero-Romance branch; as such, it derives from Latin. It has official status in Galicia. Galician is also spoken in the neighbouring autonomous communities of Asturias and Castile and León, near theirs borders with Galicia.[5]

Medieval or Old Galician, also known by linguists as Galician-Portuguese, developed locally in the Northwest of the Iberian Peninsula from Vulgar Latin, becoming the language spoken and written in the medieval kingdoms of Galicia (from 1230 united with the kingdoms of Leon and Castille under the same sovereign) and Portugal. The Galician-Portuguese language developed a rich literary tradition from the last years of the 12th century. During the 13th century it gradually substituted Latin as the language used in public and private charters, deeds, and legal documents, in Galicia, Portugal, and in the neighbouring regions in Asturias and Leon.[6]

Galician-Portuguese diverged into the two modern languages - Galician and Portuguese - from the 15th century on. Galician became a regional language open to the influence of Castilian Spanish, while Portuguese became an international one, as language of the Portuguese Empire. The two languages are still close together, and in particular northern Portuguese dialects share an important number of similarities with Galician.[6]

Nowadays, despite the positive effects of official recognition of the Galician language, Galicia's socio-linguistic development has experienced the growing influence of Spanish, a major world language. The drift toward Spanish is ascribed to the growth of urban centres, the emergence of a Galician middle class, and the worldly influences of education and the media.

Galicia also boasts a rich oral tradition, in the form of songs, tales, and sayings, which has made a vital contribution to the spread and development of the Galician language. Still flourishing today, this tradition shares much with that of Portugal.


Many Galician surnames have become Castilianized over the centuries, most notably after the forced submission of the Galician nobility obtained by the Catholic Monarchs in the last years of the 15th century.[7] This reflected the gradual spread of Spanish language, through the cities, in Santiago de Compostela, Lugo, A Coruña, Vigo and Ferrol, in the last case due to the establishment of an important base of the Spanish navy there in the 18th century.[8]

For example, surnames like Orxás, Veiga, Outeiro, became Orjales, Vega, Otero. Toponyms like Ourense, A Coruña, Fisterra became Orense, La Coruña, Finisterre. In many cases this linguistic assimilation created confusion, for example Niño da Aguia (Galician: Eagle's Nest) was translated into Spanish as Niño de la Guía (Spanish: the Guide's child) and Mesón do Bento (Galician: Benedict's house) was translated as Mesón del Viento (Spanish: House of Wind).

Geography and demographics

Galician bagpipers in New York.

Ancient peoples of Galicia

In pre-historic times Galicia was dominated by a megalithic culture, common to other areas of Atlantic Europe. Galician cultural elements can be traced back to the Bronze Age Celtic civilization known as the Castro Culture. Later, it was taken over by the Roman Republic and Empire. It was at this time that Latin, which is the ancestor of modern Galician, replaced the old Gallaecian language.

The decline of the Roman Empire was followed by the rule of two Germanic tribes, the Suevic, who settled in considerable numbers, and the Visigoths, in the Middle Ages. In 718 the region briefly came under the control of the Moors after their conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom but the Galicians successfully rebelled against Moorish rule in 739 and Galicia joined their Christian neighbour the Kingdom of Asturias.

Political and administrative divisions

The autonomous community (a concept established in the Spanish constitution of 1978) that is known as (a) Comunidade Autónoma Galega in Galician, and as (la) Comunidad Autónoma Gallega in Spanish (in English: Galician Autonomous Community), is composed of the four Spanish provinces of A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense, and Pontevedra.

Population, main cities and languages

The official Statistical body of Galicia is the Instituto Galego de Estatística (IGE). According to the IGE, Galicia's total population in 2008 was 2,783,100 (1,138,474 in A Coruña,[9] 355.406 in Lugo,[10] 336.002 in Ourense,[11] and 953.218 in Pontevedra[12]). The most important cities in this region, which serve as the provinces' administrative centres, are Vigo, Pontevedra (in Pontevedra), Santiago de Compostela, A Coruña, Ferrol (in A Coruña), Lugo (in Lugo), and Ourense (in Ourense). The official languages are Galician and Spanish. Knowledge of Spanish is compulsory according to the Spanish constitution and virtually universal. Knowledge of Galician, after declining for many years owing to the pressure of Spanish and official persecution, is again on the rise due to favorable official language policies and popular support. Currently about 82% of Galicia's population can speak Galician[13] and about 61% has it as a mother tongue.[2]


More than any other Iberian region in modern times, Galicia's history has been affected by emigration. There was significant Galician emigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to other parts of Spain, other parts of Europe and to the American continents.

Unlike the Basque and the Catalan regions which began to industrialize in the 19th century and were urbanized and rich, Galicia was a relatively isolated village society whose main sources of income were subsistence agriculture and fishing. Its agricultural sector continued to be among the most backward in Spain and farm productivity was severely hampered by the tiny size of the individual farmsteads known as minifundios.

The minifundio was the result of a system of inheritance that distributed land plots in a closed rural system to a growing population by requiring that equal shares be bequeathed to every descendant. The land had became subdivided so much that most of the plots were too small to support a family or to be economically viable. The rich seas and large fishing industry provided an alternative to agriculture.

For these reasons, Galicia was a net exporter of population to the rest of Spain. Between 1900 and 1981, the net outflow of people from Galicia was more than 825,000. During the Franco years, there was a new wave of emigration out of Galicia to other European countries, most notably to France, Switzerland, Germany and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom.

South America

South America has the largest number of people of Galician descent outside of Spain. Several million South Americans are descendants of Galician immigrants, mostly in Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil. In northeastern Brazil, people with light or blue eyes or light colored hair are often called galegos (Galicians), even if not of Galician descent, because of the large number of Galicians that settled in the region in the early 20th century.

In Argentina, the term gallegos was often used for all Spaniards because a large part of them were Galicians when they arrived in the first half of the 20th century. Today, Buenos Aires is the city with the second largest number of people with Galician ancestry, although most share the mixed origins of most Argentinians.


Celtic revival and Celtic identity

In the 19th century a group of Romantic and Nationalist writers and scholars, among them Eduardo Pondal and Manuel Murguía, [14] led a "Celtic revival" initially based on the historical testimonies of ancient Roman and Greek authors (Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder, Strabo and Ptolemy), who wrote about the Celtic peoples who inhabited Galicia; but they also based this revival in linguistic and onomastic data, [15] and in the similarity of some aspects of the culture and the geography of Galicia with that of the Celtic countries in Ireland, Brittany and Britain.[16][17] The similarities include legends and traditions, decorative and popular arts and music.[18] It also included the green hilly landscape or the ubiquity of Iron Age hill-forts, Neolithic megaliths and Bronze Age cup and ring marks.

During the late 19th and early 20th century this revival permeated Galician society: in 1916 Os Pinos, a poem by Eduardo Pondal, was chosen as the lyrics for the new Galician hymn. One of the strophes of the poem says: Galicians, be strong / ready to great deeds / align your breast / for a glorious end / sons of the noble Celts / strong and traveler / fight for the fate / of the homeland of Breogán.[19] The Celtic past became an integral part of the self-perceived Galician identity:[20] as a result a important number of cultural association and sport clubs received names related to the Celts, among them Celta de Vigo, Céltiga FC, or Fillos de Breogán. From the 70's a series of Celtic music and cultural festivals were also popularized, being the most notable the Festival Internacional do Mundo Celta de Ortigueira, at the same time that Galician folk musical bands and interpreters became usual participants in Celtic festivals elsewhere, as in the Interceltic festival of Lorient, where Galicia sent its first delegation already in 1976. [21]





Cinema and TV

People of Galician origin

See also


  1. ^ Recalde, Montserrat (1997). La vitalidad etnolingüística gallega. València: Centro de Estudios sobre Comunicación Interlingüistíca e Intercultural.  
  2. ^ a b Use of Galician language 2003
  3. ^ a b Moralejo, Juan J. (2008). Callaica nomina : estudios de onomástica gallega. A Coruña: Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza. pp. 113–148.  
  4. ^ Curchin, Leonard A. (2008) The toponyms of the Roman Galicia: New StudyEstudios Gallegos. CUADERNOS DE ESTUDIOS GALLEGOS LV (121): 111.
  5. ^ Ethnologue
  6. ^ a b de Azevedo Maia, Clarinda (1986). História do Galego-Português. Estado linguistico da Galiza e do Noroeste de Portugal desde o século XIII ao século XVI. Coimbra: Instituto Nacional de Investigação Científica. 
  7. ^ Mariño Paz, Ramón (1998). Historia da lingua galega (2 ed.). Santiago de Compostela: Sotelo Blanco. pp. 195–205.  
  8. ^ Mariño Paz, Ramón (1998). Historia da lingua galega (2 ed.). Santiago de Compostela: Sotelo Blanco. pp. 225–230.  
  9. ^ 1:0];9912:15&S= A Coruña province 2008 census
  10. ^ 1:0];9912:27&S= Lugo province census 2008
  11. ^ 1:0];9912:32&S= Ourense province census 2008
  12. ^ 1:0];9912:36&S= Pontevedra province census 2008
  13. ^ Knowledge of Galician language 2003
  14. ^ González García, F. J. (coord.) (2007). Los pueblos de la Galicia céltica. Madrid: Ediciones Akal. pp. 19–49.  
  15. ^ editor, John T. Koch, (2006). Celtic culture a historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 788–791.  
  16. ^ González-Ruibal, Alfredo (December 20, 2004). "Artistic Expression and Material Culture in Celtic Gallaecia". e-Keltoi 6: 113–166. 
  17. ^ García Quintela, Marco V. (August 10, 2005). "Celtic Elements in Northwestern Spain in Pre-Roman times". e-Keltoi 6: 497–569. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  18. ^ Alberro, Manuel (January 6, 2008). "Celtic Legacy in Galicia". e-Keltoi 6: 1005–1034. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  19. ^ "Galegos, sede fortes / prontos a grandes feitos / aparellade os peitos / a glorioso afán / fillos dos nobres celtas / fortes e peregrinos / luitade plos destinos / dos eidos de Breogán" Cf. "Himno Gallego". Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  20. ^ González García, F. J. (coord.) (2007). Los pueblos de la Galicia céltica. Madrid: Ediciones Akal. p. 9.  
  21. ^ Cabon, Alain (2010). Le Festival Interceltique de Lorient : quarante ans au coeur du monde celte. Rennes: Éditions Ouest-France. p. 28.  
  22. ^ Koch (editor), John T. (2006). Celtic culture a historical encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 788–791.  
  24. ^ Cf. Brenan, Gerald (1976). The literature of the Spanish people : from Roman times to the present day (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 359–361.  

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Library of Congress Country Studies.

External links

  • Galician Portal
  • A collaborative study of the EDNAP group regarding Y-chromosome binary polymorphism analysis
  • Galician language portal
  • Galician Music, Culture and History
  • Galician Government
  • Galician History and Language
  • Santiago Tourism
  • Page about The Way of St James
  • Official page about The Way of St James
  • Arquivo do Galego Oral - An archive of records of Galician speakers.
  • A Nosa Fala - Sound recordings of the different dialects of the Galician language.
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