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Portuguese vs. Galician languages: What's the difference?

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Galician is a Romance language, close to Portuguese and spoken in northwestern Spain in Galicia, part of the province of León and part of the Province of Zamora.

Standard Portuguese and Galician descend from the same Galaic-Portuguese language. The proximity of the latter two to standard Portuguese is the subject of a debate with strong identity issues. As a result, Galician, depending on the criteria, can be considered a variant of a Portuguese set. Standard Portuguese itself would be a variant or a language belonging to a Galaic-Portuguese branch of the Romance languages.


Galician was a language of culture, including outside Galicia and Portugal. Galician-Portuguese had an official status for almost seven centuries, but the Galician nobility took the losing side in the power struggles of the late 13th and early 14th centuries. It was supplanted by a nobility of Castilian origin. Galician gradually ceased to be used in public, replaced by Castilian, while Portuguese continued to develop in the only state of the peninsula not subject to Castilian rule.

Galaïco-Portuguese (or galaico-português) is a Romance language derived from Latin, which was spoken around the 9th century in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula. Throughout the Middle Ages, the same language was spoken in North Galicia (now Galicia) and South Galicia (now Portugal). The Minho River, which separates North Galicia and South Galicia, was at the centre of the area of the common Galaic-Portuguese language. This common language is characterized by Celtic and Germanic borrowings, which were transported to the south of Portugal during the Spanish Reconquest of the Arabs.

From a historical point of view, the inhabitants of the county of Portugal (in 1095) and, later, of the kingdom of Portugal (1143), shared the same language, Proto-Portuguese (or Galaïco-Portuguese), with the Galicians settled in the north (Galicia).

In 1230, under the reign of Ferdinand III, also called Saint Ferdinand of Castile, king of Castile from 1217 to 1230, then the king of Castile and León from 1230 to 1252, the kingdom of Galicia was definitively integrated into the kingdom of Castile and Leon. Previously, part of South Galicia (the north of present-day Portugal) had become independent, and then the kingdom of Portugal was definitively constituted in 1139 with its current borders. The incorporation of the kingdom of Galicia into the crown of Castile and León would permanently modify the linguistic situation between the north of Portugal (Galicia) and the south (Portugal). Political separation was inevitable to be accompanied by linguistic autonomy on both sides, that is to say between Galicia and Portugal: while Portuguese, cut off from its Galician roots, was to incorporate Arabic elements, Galician was to be influenced by the Castilian and Leonese languages.

Later, as the region came under the dynasty of the Dukes of Burgundy and the influence of the monks of Cluny (a famous abbey located in Cluny, Burgundy), Southern Galician borrowed part of its vocabulary from French. In the end, Castile would impose Castilian as the official language in Galicia. From 1500, the Portuguese term (português) definitively replaced that of Galician (galego) to designate the language spoken by the Portuguese, which sealed the fragmentation of Galician-Portuguese into two languages: Galician and Portuguese. In the centuries that followed, the Galicians in the north were increasingly influenced by Castilian which massively permeated their language. However, Galician has remained very close to modern Portuguese, as it is the origin of the Portuguese language.

It is estimated that around 85% of the vocabulary of the two languages ​​is common, although the two languages ​​evolved more or less differently between Portugal and Spain. Portuguese is the result of a distinct evolution from Galician; but since Portuguese was the official language of a sovereign state, it spread faster and is now spoken on several continents (Europe, South America, Africa and Asia). Even today, Portuguese and Galicians speaking their language can easily understand each other, despite the phonetic, grammatical and above all lexical differences. In writing, Galician and Portuguese remain fairly similar, with the exception, of course, of sometimes significant lexical differences.

Comparison of languages

Vocabulary examples

The words are very often similar in Portuguese, Galician and Spanish

The Galégo-Portuguese controversy

In addition, the use of the expression Galégo-Portuguese (in Galician: galego-portugués) is controversial in Galicia. Indeed, it is associated with the “historical Galician” advocated by the Galician nationalists, in particular by the Galician Nationalist Bloc (“Bloque Nacionalista Galego”: BNG), very “pro-Portugal”. The Galician Nationalist Bloc defends the autonomy of Galicia, but in the longer term, it would also propose self-determination as well as the absorption of Galician by Portuguese. The partisans of historical Galician, called lusitas (“Lusists”) or reintegracionesitas (“reintegrationists”), propose a complete reintegration of Galician through Portuguese, hence the expression “reintegrated Galician”. The recommended standard is based on a return to the Galician of the Middle Ages (Galaïco-Portugués) when the Galician was identical to the Portuguese. The language advocated by the “reintegrationists” (even closer to Portuguese) would never be recognized by true speakers of Galician as their own language, but rather as a “foreign language”.

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