Galician is a language similar to Portuguese that is spoken in Spain by about 3.5 million speakers. Speakers are located in the far northwest of Spain in the region of Galicia. Galicia is one of four languages other than Castilian that are recognized by Spain. The other three are Basque, Catalan and Aranese (Occitan). Galician is having problems lately, as a lot of speakers in urban areas are not speaking it anymore, and much of the speaker base is located in rural areas.
Nevertheless, it is still widely spoken outside of large cities, even by young people. There have been some problems setting up Galician-medium schools, as the Spanish state doesn’t seem to want to pay for it. The state of Galicia has not done a very good job of preserving the language. For instance, most of the Galician TV stations are in Castillian.
Despite all of this, Galician is still doing pretty well and should be secure for the remainder of the 21st Century.
Galician is related to Portuguese, but Portuguese speakers are very ethnocentric and crazy about their language, and they have adopted the notion that all dialects of Portuguese can understand each other. This is not the case, as there are several languages under the Portuguese rubric, and even saying that Brazilian and European Portuguese are the same language is getting harder and harder of a case to make.
A group called “Reintegrationists” insists that Galician is a dialect of Portuguese, but this does not seem to be the case. For one thing, Portuguese and Galician are not really fully intelligible. So it looks like the best case is to split Galician off as a separate language closely related to Portuguese.
As long as we are talking about dialects, it really ought to be the other way around – Portuguese as a dialect of Galician. Galician is actually the original language of the area and it preserves the old form of Portuguese-Galician best of all. Portuguese is best seen as a Galician dialect that drifted further and further away from the original Galician language. Galicia has been a part of Spain for a good 600 years or so, and in this period, Galician and Portuguese have drifted further apart.
Galician is now properly seen as a language closely related to Portuguese that has been heavily influenced by Castillian. If you will, a language partway between Portuguese and Castillian. So if you speak Spanish, Galician should be more accessible to you than Portuguese. What is interesting is that Galician and Portuguese have drifted so far apart that Spanish speakers say that they understand Galician better than Portuguese speakers do. This is doubtless due to the heavy Spanish influence on Galician.
In recent times, the Castillian influence has only increased. A Galician group based in Spain has formed to oppose the influence of the Reintegrationists, who are proposing a common writing system for both Galician and Portuguese. The Galician purists propose a purified Galician written language that emphasizes Galician’s differences with Portuguese. They have their work cut out for them.
The video above is from Galician TV. On Galician TV a new form of Galician has emerged that is closer to Castillian than the form typically spoken on the Galician street. Many Castillian speakers say they can understand Galician TV pretty well, but even they have a hard time understanding street Galician. In the video, the female broadcaster in particular is speaking a heavily Castillianized form of Galician. The male broadcaster’s dialect is less so.
They are interviewing a man who represents the Reintegrationist group in Galicia. He is speaking a much more “street” form of Galician and was harder for me to understand. I understood the woman best of all, then the male broadcaster and last the man being interviewed. I understand Spanish pretty well.
If you understand Spanish, you should be able to understand some of the video above, but you probably won’t fully understand it.