Galician people

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Galician people.jpg
Total population
c. 3 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
          Province of A Coruña 991,588[2][3]
          Province of Lugo 300,419[2][3]
          Province of Ourense 272,401[2][3]
          Province of Pontevedra 833,205[2][3]
          Total in Galicia 2,397,613[2][3]
 Spain (rest of the country) 355,063[2][3]
 Argentina 147,062[4]
 Brazil 38,554[4]
 Venezuela 38,440[4]
 Uruguay 35,369[4]
 Cuba 31,077[4]
  Switzerland 30,737[4]
 France 16,075[4]
 United States 14,172[4]
 Germany 13,305[4]
 United Kingdom 10,755[4]
 Mexico 9,895[4]
Galicians inscribed in the electoral census and living abroad (2013/09) 414,650[4]
Galician, Castilian Spanish
Roman Catholicism, Evangelicalism, atheists
Related ethnic groups
Asturians and other Spaniards, Portuguese and Celtic peoples[5]

The Galicians (Galician: Galegos; Spanish: Gallegos) are a nationality, cultural and ethnolinguistic group whose historic homeland is Galicia, in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula.[6] Galician and Castilian are the official languages of the Autonomous Community of Galicia, Spain.[7]

Etymology of the ethnonym[edit]

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.[8] 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 [8] 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)'.[9]



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.[10]

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.[11]

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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

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[edit]

Galician bagpipers in New York.

Ancient peoples of Galicia[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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,[14] 355.406 in Lugo,[15] 336.002 in Ourense,[16] and 953.218 in Pontevedra[17]). 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[18] and about 61% has it as a mother tongue.[7]


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 product of an attempt to distribute land plots in a closed rural system to a growing population by requiring that equal shares be bequeathed to every descendant. After just a few generations, the land had been 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[edit]

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 and Brazil. In northeastern Brazil, people with light hair and eyes tend to be called galegos (Galicians), even if not of Galician descent, because of the large number of Galicians that settled in the region.

In Argentina, the term gallegos was commonly used for all Spaniards because so many Galicians were among them when they arrived in the great migrations of the first half of the 20th century. Today, Buenos Aires is the city with the second highest number of people with Galician ancestry, although most share the mixed origins of other Argentinians.






Cinema and TV[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Some of the inhabitants of Spain were born in Galicia, plus Spaniards living abroad and inscribed in the electoral census (CERA) as electors in one of the four Galician circumscriptions.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Not including Galicians born outside Galicia
  3. ^ a b c d e f INE
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l INE: CERA (2013)
  5. ^ Alberro, Manuel (2005). "Celtic Legacy in Galicia". E-Keltoi: Journal of Interdisciplinary Celtic Studies 6: 1005–1035. 
  6. ^ Recalde, Montserrat (1997). La vitalidad etnolingüística gallega. València: Centro de Estudios sobre Comunicación Interlingüistíca e Intercultural. ISBN 9788437028958. 
  7. ^ a b Use of Galician language 2003
  8. ^ a b Moralejo, Juan J. (2008). Callaica nomina : estudios de onomástica gallega. A Coruña: Fundación Pedro Barrié de la Maza. pp. 113–148. ISBN 978-84-95892-68-3. 
  9. ^ Curchin, Leonard A. (2008) Estudios GallegosThe toponyms of the Roman Galicia: New Study. CUADERNOS DE ESTUDIOS GALLEGOS LV (121): 111.
  10. ^ Ethnologue
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Mariño Paz, Ramón (1998). Historia da lingua galega (2 ed.). Santiago de Compostela: Sotelo Blanco. pp. 195–205. ISBN 847824333X. 
  13. ^ Mariño Paz, Ramón (1998). Historia da lingua galega (2 ed.). Santiago de Compostela: Sotelo Blanco. pp. 225–230. ISBN 847824333X. 
  14. ^ [1:0];9912:15&S= A Coruña province 2008 census
  15. ^ [1:0];9912:27&S= Lugo province census 2008
  16. ^ [1:0];9912:32&S= Ourense province census 2008
  17. ^ [1:0];9912:36&S= Pontevedra province census 2008
  18. ^ Knowledge of Galician language 2003

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

External links[edit]