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About Galician Language

Galician is a language of the Western Ibero-Romance branch, spoken in Galicia, an autonomous community located in northwestern Spain, as well as in small bordering zones in the neighbouring autonomous communities of Asturias and Castile and León and in Northern Portugal.

Galician and Portuguese were, in medieval times, a single language which linguists call Galician-Portuguese, Medieval Galician, or Old Portuguese, spoken in the territories initially ruled by the medieval Kingdom of Galicia.


Historically, the Galician-Portuguese language originated in Galicia and Northern Portugal in lands belonging to the ancient Kingdom of Galicia (comprising the Roman Gallaecia) and branched out since the 14th century after the Portuguese expansion brought it southwards. There are linguists who consider Modern Galician and Modern Portuguese as dialects or varieties of the same language, but this is a matter of debate. For instance, in past editions of the Encyclopædia Britannica, Galician was termed a Portuguese dialect spoken in northwestern Spain. However, the Galician government does not regard Galician as a variety of Portuguese, but rather as a distinct language. Mutual intelligibility (estimated at 85% by Robert A. Hall, Jr., 1989[1]) is good between Galicians and Northern Portuguese, but poorer between Galicians and speakers of Central-Southern European Portuguese. The dialects of Portuguese most similar to Galician are those of Alto-Minho and Trás-os-Montes in northern Portugal.

Relation to Portuguese

The linguistic status of Galician with respect to Portuguese is controversial as the issue sometimes carries political overtones. Some authors, such as Lindley Cintra, consider that they are still dialects of a common language, in spite of superficial differences in phonology and vocabulary. Others, such as Pilar Vázquez Cuesta, argue that they have become separate languages due to major differences in phonetics and vocabulary usage, and, to a lesser extent, morphology and syntax. The official position of the Galician Language Institute is that Galician and Portuguese should be considered independent languages. The standard orthography is noticeably different from the Portuguese partly because of the divergent phonological features and partly due to the use of Spanish orthographic conventions.

The relationship involving Galician and Portuguese can be compared with that between Macedonian and Bulgarian, Aromanian with Romanian, Occitan and Catalan, or English and Lowland Scots: language proximity conflicts with political interpretation.

The official institution regulating the Galician language, backed by Galician government and universities, is Real Academia Galega, claims that modern Galician must be considered an independent Romance language that belongs to the group of Ibero-Romance languages and has strong ties with Portuguese and its northern dialects.

There is also a minority, unofficial institution, Associaçom Galega da Língua (AGAL, Galician Association of the Language), incribed into the Reintegrationist movement, according to which differences between Galician and Portuguese speech are not enough to consider them separate languages, and Galician is simply one variety of Galician-Portuguese, along with Brazilian Portuguese; African Portuguese; the Galician-Portuguese still spoken in Spanish Extremadura, Fala; and other dialects.

Geographic distribution

Galician is spoken by more than three million people, including most of the population of Galicia, as well as among many people of Galician origin elsewhere in Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Biscay), and Galician immigrants to other European countries Europe (Andorra, Geneva, London and Paris), and Ibero-America (Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Havana, Caracas, Mexico City, São Paulo, Guadalajara, Veracruz City and Panama City).

Controversy exists regarding the inclusion of Eonavian dialects spoken in Asturias into the Galician language, with those defending Eonavian as a dialect continuum of transition to the Astur-Leonese group on the one hand, and those defending it as clearly Galician on the other.

Because of its historical status as a non-official language, for some authors the situation of language domination in Galicia could be called "diglossia," with Galician in the lower part of the dialect continuum, and Spanish at the top; while for others, the conditions for diglossia established by Ferguson are not met.

Official status

Spain has recognized Galician as one of Spain's five "official languages" (lenguas españolas), the others being Castilian (also called Spanish), Catalan (or Valencian), Basque and Aranese. Galician is taught at primary and secondary school and used at the universities in Galicia. Further, it has been accepted orally as Portuguese in the European Parliament and used as such by, among others, the Galician representatives José Posada, Camilo Nogueira and Xosé Manuel Beiras.


Galician has three principal dialects, each of them divided in local areas of mutual intelligibility:

  • Eastern Galician - divided in four areas: Asturian area (Eonavian), Ancares area, Zamora area and Central Western area.
  • Central Galician - divided in four areas; Mindoniensis area, Lucu-auriensis area, Central transitional area and Eastern transitional area.
  • Western Galician - divided in four areas; Bergantiños area, Finisterre area, Pontevedra area and Lower Limia area.


From the 8th century, Galicia was a political unit within the kingdoms of Asturias and León, but was able to reach a degree of autonomy, becoming an independent kingdom at certain times in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries. Galician was the only language in spoken use, and Latin was used, to a decreasing extent, as a written language. This monopoly on spoken language was able to exert such pressure in the 13th century, that it led to a situation of dual official status for Galician and Latin in notarial documents, edicts, lawsuits, etc.; Latin, however, continued to be the universal vehicle for higher culture.

Written texts in Galician have only been found dating from the end of the 12th century, because Latin continued to be the cultured language (not only in Galicia, but also throughout medieval Europe).

The oldest known document is the poem Ora faz ost'o Senhor de Navarra by Joam Soares de Paiva, written around 1200. The first non-literary documents in Galician-Portuguese date from the early 13th century, the Noticia de Torto (1211) and the Testamento of Afonso II of Portugal (1214), both samples of medieval notarial prose.

In the Middle Ages, Galaico-português (or Galician-Portuguese) was a language of culture, poetry, and religion throughout not only Galicia and Portugal, but also Castile (where Castilian was used mainly for prose).

After the separation of Portuguese and Galician, Galician was considered provincial, and it was not widely used for literary or academic purposes until its renaissance in the mid-19th century.

With the advent of democracy, Galician has been brought into the country's institutions, and it is now co-official with Spanish in Galicia. Galician is taught in schools, and there is a public Galician-language television channel, TVG.

The Real Academia Galega and other Galician institutions celebrate each May 17 as "Día das Letras Galegas" ("Galician Literature Day"), dedicated each year to a deceased Galician-language writer chosen by the academy.


Galician allows pronominal clitics to be attached to indicative and subjunctive forms, as does Portuguese, unlike standard Spanish or Castilian. After many centuries of close contact between the two languages, Galician has also adopted many loan words from Spanish, and some calques of Spanish syntax.

Writing system

The current official Galician orthography was introduced in 1982, and made law in 1983, by the Real Academia Galega (RAG), based on a report by the ILG. It remains a source of contention, however; a minority of citizens would rather have the institutions recognize Galician as a Portuguese variety as cited before, and therefore still opt for the use of writing systems that range from adapted medieval Galician-Portuguese writing system or European Portuguese one (see reintegrationism).

In July 2003 the Real Academia Galega (Galician Royal Academy) modified the language normative to admit some archaic Galician-Portuguese forms conserved in modern Portuguese. These changes have been considered an attempt to build a consensus among major Galician philology trends and represent, in the words of the Galician Language Academy, "the orthography desired by 95% of Galician people." The 2003 reform is thought to put an end to the so-called "normative wars" raised by the different points of view of the relationship between the modern Galician and Portuguese languages. This modification has been accepted only by a part of the reintegrationist movement at this point.

The question of the spelling system has very significant political connotations in Galicia. At present there are minor but significant political parties representing points of view that range from greater self-government for Galicia within the Spanish political setup to total political independence from Spain designed to preserve the Galician culture and language from the risk of being inundated by the Castilian culture and language. Since the modern Galician orthography is somewhat influenced by Castilian spelling conventions, some parties wish to remove it. Since medieval Galician and medieval Portuguese were the same language, modern Portuguese spelling is nearer to medieval Galician than to modern Galician Spanish-style spelling. Language unification would also have the benefit of linking the Galician language to another major language with its own extensive cultural production, which would weaken the links that bind Galicia and Spain and ultimately favor the people's aspiration toward an independent state. However, although all three concepts are frequently associated, there is no direct interrelation between reintegrationism, independentism and defending Galician and Portuguese linguistic unity, and in fact reintegrationism has a small force in the whole Galician nationalist movement.


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