The decadence of Galician

Comfy sofas, cigars, and port.

As I trawl around the Web looking for new sites to contribute to StumbleUpon, and do something about an apparent lack of breadth in the field of linguistics there, I find a page about Galician on the Xunta de Galicia site. In the section on the history of the language, I can’t help but smile at
At the end of the Middle Ages, Galician language and literature entered into a period of decadence.

Obviously, it was a period of decline rather than decadence. The Spanish version says “A fines del medioevo, la lengua y la literatura gallegas entraron en un período de decadencia…” I find that decadencia does mean “decadence”, but in the phrase “la decadencia del arte renacentista” it means “decline”, which is clearly the intended meaning here. Looks like False Friend Syndrome to me. [Why don’t you remind the people at home just how much Spanish you don’t know? –ed.]

You can also download a copy of the oldest document written in Galician, which dates from 1228. The pdf file contains an image of the document along with a transcription. (I note with a certain amount of irritation – again – that Firefox + Adobe Reader plugin = bloody great pain in the arse.)

A short grammar of Galician is available on this page. Whoever wrote this page almost deserves top marks because the phonemes of the language are set out in a way which I, as a linguist, find instantly informative. For instance, I note that /t, d/ are dental, but /s, n, r, l/ (including flapped-r) are alveolar. However, I’m deducting marks because the table hasn’t been laid out properly according to sonority.

There also appear to be no glides. Of course, there’s no reason why the language ought to have glides, but in my experience, these are sounds that are easy to overlook in languages which, unlike English, don’t use distinct symbols to represent /j/ and /w/. I note words such as lingüista ([1] and caïamos (.ca.i.a.mos.) place a diaeresis mark over the vowel, which suggests that the high vowels in iV and uV sequences are heterosyllabic. Nor does this seem to be a matter of whether the vowel occurs in a stressed or unstressed syllable. On the other hand, the page lists adiante “in front of” (

Related to this is the status of Vi and Vu sequences. The page lists abaixo “below”[2], coitelo “knife”, froita “fruit”, leite “milk”, nai “mother”, noite “night”, pai “father”, and teito “ceiling”, which suggest that ai, ei, oi are diphthongs and phonemic in Galician. I’m not sure whether eu is a diphthong in veu “has arrived”.


1. gu usually represents /g/ in writing when it is followed by a front vowel (e.g. guitarra, guerra). Is lingüista a recent arrival in Galician? Why doesn’t it follow the obvious pattern of lingua? Later. I think the answer is right in front of me. Lingüista prevents the word from being read as lin[g]ista. I would assume, therefore, that gu + a back vowel is /gw/. What’s the phonemic status of this one?

2. Presumably the -i- isn’t a diacritic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s