Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Galicia, in the far north-west of Spain, consists of four provinces (La Coruña, Lugo, Orense, and Pontevedra). The capital is Santiago de Compostela, a place of pilgrimage for Christians and, in the past, Muslims. Galician is also spoken in the Franxa Exterior, on the border of Asturias and Castilla-León. 2.4 million people of the 2.7 million who live in Galicia can speak Galego (Galician), which is closer to Portuguese than Spanish, though only around 20 per cent of the Galician population speak it more in everyday use than Spanish. Hundreds of thousands of others are located elsewhere, including in neighbouring areas of Spain such as Asturias as well as Latin America and Europe, where significant numbers of Galicians are now based. Galician is an official language and Galician-speakers also speak Castilian Spanish. The present language dates from the tenth century and is a combination of Latin and Celtic languages, with Germanic and Arabic influences. Its recent standardization has caused further change, as it adapts to the modern world. Cultural practices include the playing of bagpipes and a tradition of lyric poetry.
Long one of Spain’s poorest regions, the landowning patterns prevalent in Galicia have resulted in a highly dispersed and impoverished rural population. Agriculture and services are the main occupations. There has been steady emigration since the 1950s, but also migration within the region to the more developed coastal areas of La Coruña and Pontevedra.
Galicia has some Roman and Moorish influences but was too remote to be dominated by these invaders. It was an independent kingdom in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but from the thirteenth century it was ruled by Castile. Until the mid-fourteenth century Galician was the administrative, judicial, social, and business language – but Castilian came to replace it in public life. The region was neglected and impoverished by the system of feudal privileges, the last of which were only abolished in 1973. There was a cultural revival from the nineteenth century and literature flourished. The Real Academia da Lingua Galega was founded in 1904 to standardize the language, but it did not complete its work. Regional political autonomy was approved by the government of the Second Republic in 1931 but was cut short by the Civil War from 1936. The Franco regime, which emerged victorious from the Civil War in 1939, centralized power and heavily suppressed the Galician language.
Industrialization in the 1950s coincided with the expansion of education and of the Castilian media, breaking the hold of Galician on the mainly rural community.
The Galician Autonomy Statute of 1981 established the autonomous region of Galicia with its own policies, laws, judiciary, and supreme court. Galician was recognized as an official language of Galicia together with Castilian. The Galician government guarantees its use in all areas of activity and promotes knowledge of the language. Linguistic standards were published in 1982 and the Language Standardization Act was passed in 1983. The Act specifies that standards will be set by the Real Academia Galega. It also requires the Galician government to take part in the process of linguistic standardization in the Franxa Exterior and in offering cultural and linguistic services to Galician emigrants. However, the autonomy laws of Asturias and Castile-León, the regions which govern Franxa Exterior, make no reference to the Galician language.
Also in 1983 Radio Televisión Galega was set up, and Galician has been taught in schools from the 1983-4 academic year.
The Bloque Nacionalista Galego (Galician Nationalist Party) wants independence for Galicia. It won 17 seats in the Galician Parliament in the 2001 elections, making it the second largest party ahead of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). In the 2005 elections they lost four seats, lagged behind the PSOE but formed a coalition government with the socialists, their first experience in government.
Galician is spoken more in the rural areas, among older and poorer people. Very few town dwellers claim Galician as their mother tongue, although most can understand it and over 90 per cent speak it. Bilingualism has taken over. Galician is required for jobs in the public sector but not in the private sector. However, little is apparently done to ensure that civil servants posted to Galicia from elsewhere are familiar with the Galician language. The majority of Galicians marry other Galician-speakers, which offers hope for the language. Galician taught in schools since 1983 has had an effect on the new generation of young adults, who have contributed to its revival.
Galician and Castilian are compulsory in school, in teacher training and adult education. The three universities of the region offer courses, conduct research and publish in Galician.
Institutional advertising is mostly done in Galician. The commercials broadcast by the Galician government-run media are exclusively in Galician on radio and partly in Galician on television. The advertising broadcast by national state-owned channels and private channels is entirely in Castilian.
The daily press in Galicia is largely in Castilian, the Galician element amounting usually to only a small percentage of the total copy. There are four daily newspapers, La Voz de Galicia, Xornal de Galicia, El Correo Galego and Faro de Vigo. Galician is usually limited to certain types of article – reviews of regional culture, opinion pieces, radio and television programmes, death notices, etc. Under an agreement signed in 1991, the Galician government offers grants to newspapers and Galician press agencies with a view to raising the profile of Galician, but the results have been limited in their success.
There are several weekly, monthly, and quarterly magazines and journals published entirely in Galician on topics including culture, economics, religious life and the environment.
The Galician broadcasting authority’s radio station, Radio Galega, broadcasts 24 hours a day in Galician to over 150,000 listeners. Radio Nacional de España has two stations and commercial radio three stations which broadcast programmes in Galician for a few hours per week. Around ten local radio stations broadcast entirely in Galician while others put out some Galician programmes.
Televisión de Galicia (TVG) transmits programmes almost entirely in Galician for about 100 hours per week. One channel of public broadcaster Televisión Española puts out several hours a week in Galician. One of the three commercial TV channels transmits occasional special reports in Galician. Some local television stations also offer programmes in Galician. The book publishing sector mainly produces school textbooks, children’s books, poetry, stories, and novels. The number of translations of foreign works is on the rise.