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Galician-Portuguese (also known as galego-português or galaico-português in Portuguese and as galego-portugués or galaico-portugués in Galician) was a West Iberian Romance language spoken in the Middle Ages, in the northwest area of the Iberian Peninsula. It was spoken at first from the Bay of Biscay to the Douro River, but it expanded South with the Christian Reconquest. It is the common ancestor of modern Galician, Portuguese, and Fala languages.

The term "Galician-Portuguese" also designates the subdivision of the modern West Iberian group which is composed by Galician, Portuguese, and the Fala language. Galician-Portuguese is also how the Portuguese language is officially called in Galicia.


Origins and history

Galician-Portuguese developed in Roman Gallaecia from the Vulgar Latin taken by Roman soldiers, colonists and magistrates. Although the process may have been slower than in other regions, the contact with Vulgar Latin tended, after a period of bilingualism, to displace the local native languages, leading to the development of a new variety of Latin with Gallaecian features. A Celtic/Lusitanian (also Galaico-Lusitanian) substratum was thus incorporated into Vulgar Latin, and this can be detected in some Portuguese-Galician words as well as in place-names of Celtic or Iberian origin (e.g. Bolso). In general, the more cultivated variety of Latin spoken in Roman Hispania by the elite of educated Hispano-Romans already seems to have had a peculiar regional accent, referred to as Hispano ore and agrestius pronuntians. The more cultivated variety of Latin coexisted with the popular variety. It is assumed that the Pre-Roman languages spoken by the native people, each used in a different region of Roman Hispania, contributed to the development of several different dialects of Vulgar Latin and that these diverged increasingly over time, eventually evolving into the early Romance Languages of the Iberian Peninsula. It is believed that by the year 600 Vulgar Latin was no longer spoken in the Iberian Peninsula. A Romance form of Galician-Portuguese was already spoken in the Suebic Kingdom of Galicia (later split politically into Galicia and Portugal) and by the year 800 Galician-Portuguese was the spoken language of the northwestern part of the peninsula. The first known phonetic changes in Vulgar Latin which are reflected in the lexicon took place during the Germanic rule of the Suevi (411-585) and Visigoths (585-711). And the Galician-Portuguese nasal vowels may have evolved under the influence of local Celtic languages (as in Old French). They would thus be a phonologic characteristic of the Vulgar Latin spoken in Roman Gallaecia, but they are only attested in writing after the VI-VII centuries.

The oldest known document with words in Galician-Portuguese (found in Portugal), though otherwise composed in Late Latin, is called Doação à Igreja de Sozello and was written in the year 870. Another document from 882 also written with some words in Galician-Portuguese is the Carta de dotação e fundação da Igreja de S. Miguel de Lardosa. In fact, many Latin documents written in Portuguese territory contain Romance forms. The Notícia de fiadores, written in 1175, is thought by some to be the oldest known document written in Galician-Portuguese. The Pacto dos irmãos Pais, recently discovered (and possibly dating from before 1173), has been said to be even older. But despite the enthusiasm of some scholars, it has been argued that neither of these documents is really written in Galician-Portuguese; they are in a mixture of Late Latin and Galician-Portuguese phonology, morphology and syntax. The Notícia de Torto, of uncertain date (c. 1214?), and the Testamento de D. Afonso II (27 June 1214) are most certainly Galician-Portuguese. The earliest poetic texts (though not the manuscripts in which they are found) date from c. 1195 to c. 1225. Thus by the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th there are documents in prose and verse written in the local Romance vernacular.


Galician-Portuguese had a special cultural role in the literature of the Christian kingdoms of medieval Iberia, comparable to that of Occitan in France and Italy during the same historical period. The main extant sources of Galician-Portuguese lyric poetry are:

The language was used for literary purposes from the final years of the 12th century until roughly the middle of the 14th century in what are now Spain and Portugal and was, almost without exception, the only language used for the composition of lyric poetry. Over 160 poets are recorded, of whom one might mention a few in particular: Bernal de Bonaval, Pero da Ponte, Johan Garcia de Guilhade, Johan Airas de Santiago, and Pedr'Amigo de Sevilha. The main secular poetic genres were the cantigas d'amor (male-voiced love lyric), the cantigas d'amigo (female-voiced love lyric) and the cantigas d'escarnho e de mal dizer (including a variety of genres from personal invective to social satire, poetic parody and literary debate). All told, nearly 1,700 poems survive in these three genres. And there is a corpus of over 400 cantigas de Santa Maria (narrative poems about miracles and hymns in honor of the Holy Virgin). The Castilian king Alfonso X composed his cantigas de Santa Maria and his cantigas de escárnio e maldizer in Galician-Portuguese, even though he used Castilian for prose.

King Dinis of Portugal, who also contributed (with 137 extant texts, more than any other author) to the secular poetic genres, made the language official in Portugal in 1290. Until then, Latin had been the official (written) language for royal documents; the spoken language did not have a name, being simply known as lingua vulgar ("ordinary language", that is Vulgar Latin) until it was named "Portuguese" in King Dinis' reign. "Galician-Portuguese" and português arcaico ("Old Portuguese"), are modern terms for the common ancestor of modern Portuguese and modern Galician. Compared to the differences in Ancient Greek dialects, the alleged differences between 13th century Portuguese and Galician are trivial.


As a result of political isolation, Galician-Portuguese lost its unity when Portugal and Galicia found themselves under different ruling dynasties. The Galician version of the language followed an independent evolution and became influenced by Castilian, as still happens today. Two of the most important cities at the time, Braga and Porto, lie in Portuguese territory, while Santiago de Compostela was already a separate entity before the independence of Portugal. Galician was preserved in Galicia because those who spoke it were rural or "uneducated", while Spanish was taught as the only "correct" language. Galician was only officially recognized in Spain in the late 20th century, after the end of Franco's regime.

The linguistic classification of Galician and Portuguese is still discussed today; there are those, mostly a minority among Galician nationalist groups, who demand their reunification, as well as Portuguese and Galician philologists who believe that both are dialects of a common language. See Reintegrationism, for further information.

The Fala language, spoken in a small region of the Spanish autonomous community of Extremadura, underwent a similar development to Galician.

Galician is the national language of Galicia (sharing co-officiality with Spanish), and it is spoken by the majority of its population, while Portuguese continues to grow in use, and today is the 5th most spoken language in the world.


Consonant phonemes of Galician-Portuguese
Bilabial Labio-
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive p b t d k g
Fricative β1 f s z ʃ
Affricates ts dz 2
Lateral l ʎ
Trill r
Flap ɾ
1 Eventually shifted to /v/ in central and southern Portugal, and merged with /b/ in northern Portugal and Galicia.
2 Probably in complementary distribution with [ʒ].

Galician-Portuguese lyric

Proençaes soen mui ben trobar e dizen eles que e con amor, mays os que broban no tempo da frol e non en outro, sey eu ben que non am tam gran coyta no seu coraçon qual m'eu por mia senhor vejo levar The Provençals can make very good songs and they say that they do it with love, but of people who make songs at the time of flowers and not at other times, I know very well that they have no such great care in their hearts as I feel in mine for my lord.

Culture and Oral Traditions

The Galician-Portuguese region encompasses Galicia and Northern Portugal, an area where many forms of common culture and folklore can be found. In 2005 the governments of Portugal and Spain jointly proposed that Galician-Portuguese oral traditions be made part of the Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The work of documenting and transmitting that common culture involves several universities and other organizations.

Galician-Portuguese folklore is rich in oral traditions. These include the cantigas ao desafio or regueifas, duels of improvised songs, many legends, stories, poems, romances, folk songs, sayings and riddles, and ways of speech that still retain a lexical, phonetic, morphological and syntactic similarity.

Also part of the common heritage of oral traditions are the markets and festivals of patron saints and processions, religious celebrations such as the magusto, entrudo or Corpus Christi, with ancient dances and tradition — like the one where Coca the dragon fights with Saint George; and also traditional clothing and adornments, crafts and skills, work-tools, carved vegetable lanterns, superstitions, traditional knowledge about plants and animals. All these are part of a common heritage considered in danger of extinction as the traditional way of living is replaced by modern life, and the jargon of fisherman, the names of tools in traditional crafts, and the oral traditions which form part of celebrations are slowly forgotten.

See also

About the Galician-Portuguese language

About Galician-Portuguese culture



Manuscripts containing Galician-Portuguese ('secular') lyric (cited from Cohen 2003 [see below under critical editions]):

  • A = “Cancioneiro da Ajuda”, Palácio Real da Ajuda (Lisbon).
  • B = Biblioteca Nacional (Lisbon), cod. 10991.
  • Ba = Bancroft Library (University of California, Berkeley) 2 MS DP3 F3 (MS UCB 143)
  • N = Pierpont Morgan Library (New York), MS 979 (= PV).
  • S = Arquivo Nacional da Torre do Tombo (Lisbon), Capa do Cart. Not. de Lisboa, N.º 7-A, Caixa 1, Maço 1, Livro 3.
  • V = Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, cod. lat. 4803.
  • Va = Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, cod. lat. 7182, ff. 276rº - 278rº

Manuscripts containing the Cantigas de Santa Maria:

  • E = Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo (El Escorial), MS B. I. 2.
  • F = Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale (Florence), Banco Rari 20.
  • T = Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo (El Escorial), MS T. I. 1.
  • To = Biblioteca Nacional (Madrid), cod. 10.069 (“El Toledano”)

Critical editions of individual genres of Galician-Portuguese poetry (note that the cantigas d'amor are split between Michaëlis 1904 and Nunes 1932):

  • Cohen, Rip (2003). 500 Cantigas d’ Amigo: Edição Crítica / Critical Edition(Porto: Campo das Letras).
  • Lapa, Manuel Rodrigues (1970). Cantigas d’escarnho e de mal dizer dos cancioneiros medievais galego-portugueses. Edição crítica pelo prof. –. 2nd ed. Vigo: Editorial Galaxia [1st. ed. Coimbra, Editorial Galaxia, 1965] with “Vocabulário”).
  • Mettmann, Walter (1959-1972). Afonso X, o Sabio. Cantigas de Santa Maria. 4 vols [“Glossário”, in vol. 4]. Coimbra: Por ordem da Universidade (rpt. 2 vols. [“Glossário” in vol. 2] Vigo: Edicións Xerais de Galicia, 1981; 2nd ed.: Alfonso X, el Sabio, Cantigas de Santa Maria, Edición, introducción y notas de –. 3 vols. Madrid: Clásicos Castália, 1986-1989).
  • Michaëlis de Vasconcellos, Carolina (1904). Cancioneiro da Ajuda. Edição critica e commentada por –. 2 vols. Halle a.S., Max Niemeyer (rpt. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional - Casa de Moeda, 1990).
  • Nunes, José Joaquim (1932). Cantigas d’amor dos trovadores galego-portugueses. Edição crítica acompanhada de introdução, comentário, variantes, e glossário por –. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade (Biblioteca de escritores portugueses) (rpt. Lisboa: Centro do Livro Brasileiro, 1972).

On the biography and chronology of the poets and the courts they frequented, the relation of these matters to the internal structure of the manuscript tradition, and myriad relevant questions in the field, please see:

  • Oliveira, António Resende de (1987). “A cultura trovadoresca no ocidente peninsular: trovadores e jograis galegos”, Biblos LXIII: 1-22.
  • ____ (1988). “Do Cancioneiro da Ajuda ao Livro das Cantigas do Conde D. Pedro. Análise do acrescento à secção das cantigas de amigo de O”, Revista de História das Ideias 10: 691-751.
  • ____ (1989). “A Galiza e a cultura trovadoresca peninsular”, Revista de História das Ideias 11: 7-36.
  • ____ (1993). “A caminho de Galiza. Sobre as primeiras composições em galego-português”, in O Cantar dos Trobadores. Santiago de Compostela: Xunta de Galicia, pp. 249-260 (rpt. in Oliveira 2001b: 65-78).
  • ____ (1994). Depois do Espectáculo Trovadoresco. a estrutura dos cancioneiros peninsulares e as recolhas dos séculos XIII e XIV. Lisboa: Edições Colibri (Colecção: Autores Portugueses).
  • ____(1995). Trobadores e Xograres. Contexto histórico. (tr. Valentín Arias) Vigo: Edicións Xerais de Galicia (Universitaria / Historia crítica da literatura medieval).
  • ____ (1997a). “Arqueologia do mecenato trovadoresco em Portugal”, in Actas do 2º Congresso Histórico de Guimarães, 319-327 (rpt. in Oliveira 2001b: 51-62).
  • ____ (1997b). “História de uma despossessão. A nobreza e os primeiros textos em galego-português”, in Revista de História das Ideias 19: 105-136.
  • ____ (1998a). “Le surgissement de la culture troubadouresque dans l’occident de la Péninsule Ibérique (I). Compositeurs et cours”, in (Anton Touber, ed.) Le Rayonnement des Troubadours, Amsterdam, pp. 85-95 (Internationale Forschungen zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft) (Port. version in Oliveira 2001b: 141-170).
  • ____ (1998b). “Galicia trobadoresca”, in Anuario de Estudios Literarios Galegos 1998: 207-229 (Port. Version in Oliveira 2001b: 97-110).
  • ____ (2001a). Aventures i Desventures del Joglar Gallegoportouguès (tr. Jordi Cerdà). Barcelona: Columna (La Flor Inversa, 6).
  • ____ (2001b). O Trovador galego-português e o seu mundo. Lisboa: Notícias Editorial (Colecção Poliedro da História).

For Galician-Portuguese prose, the reader might begin with:

  • Cintra, Luís F. Lindley (1951-1990). Crónica Geral de Espanha de 1344. Edição crítica do texto português pelo –. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional-Casa de Moeda (vol. I 1951 [1952; rpt. 1983]; vol II 1954 [rpt. 1984]; vol. III 1961 [rpt. 1984], vol. IV 1990) (Academia Portuguesa da História. Fontes Narrativas da História Portuguesa).
  • Lorenzo, Ramón (1977). La traduccion gallego de la Cronica General y de la Cronica de Castilla. Edición crítica anotada, con introduccion, índice onomástico e glosario. 2 vols. Orense: Instituto de Estudios Orensanos ‘Padre Feijoo’.

There is no up-to-date historical grammar of medieval Galician-Portuguese. But see:

  • Huber, Joseph (1933). Altportugiesisches Elementarbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter (Sammlung romanischer Elementar- und Händbucher, I, 8) (Port tr. [by Maria Manuela Gouveia Delille] Gramática do Português Antigo. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1986).

A recent work centered on Galician containing information on medieval Galician-Portuguese is:

  • Ferreiro, Manuel. (2001). Gramática Histórica Galega, 2 vols. [2nd ed.], Santiago de Compostela: Laiovento.
  • An old reference work centered on Portuguese is:
  • Williams, Edwin B. (1962). From Latin to Portuguese. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press (1st ed. Philadelphia, 1938).

Latin Lexica:

  • Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus. Lexique Latin Médiévale-Francais/Anglais. A Medieval Latin-French/English Dictionary. composuit J. F. Niermeyer, perficiendum curavit C. van de Kieft. Abbreviationes et index fontium composuit C. van de Kieft, adiuvante G. S. M. M. Lake-Schoonebeek. Leiden-New York-Köln: E. J. Brill 1993 (1st ed. 1976).
  • Oxford Latin Dictionary. ed. P. G. W. Glare. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1983.

Historical and Comparative Grammar of Latin:

  • Michael Weiss, Outline of the Comparative Grammar of Latin (forthcoming). Ann Arbor, MI: Beechstave Press.

On the early documents cited from late 12th century please see Ivo Castro, Introdução à História do Português. Geografia da Língua. Português Antigo. (Lisbon: Colibri, 2004), pp. 121-125 (with references).

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