We’re not going to learn Spanish today. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the Galician language. More specifically, I’m telling you about the Galician language you’re more likely to see on the Camino de Santiago.
Yes. I know this page is called Spanish for the Camino and (almost) every post includes a few Spanish words or phrases you can use on the Camino, or elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world. But Spanish is not the only language spoken in Spain. It’s not the only language you’ll encounter on the Camino either, as we discussed in previous posts.
For instance, you will come across Basque as you walk through País Vasco and Navarra. Oihana teaches us some basic words in this post.
Also, once you enter Galicia you’ll start seeing and hearing galego (Galician). Rest assured. Everyone can and will speak Spanish. But it can be nice and even helpful at times to be familiar with some common words you’re likely to see often.
I wrote another post about the Galician language before. In it, I gave you a very summarised history of the language, and your first basic words (greetings, please, thank you…). You can read that post here.
In this post, I thought I’d focus on things you will see around you, like names of towns or signs.
But first, let me give you some more background, so you understand the sometimes difficult linguistic situation we have over here.
Some more history of Galician
As I told you in a previous post, Galician was banished from public life in the 15th century, and it remained so until the 19th century. During this period, the upper classes spoke Spanish, while Galician remained the language of the lower classes. Add to this the fact that Galicia became impoverished during this time and many had to emigrate. In many cases, these people were ridiculed and made fun of because of their language.
These 2 facts contributed to create the belief, that many still hold today, that Galician is an inferior language, that if you want to do well in life, you must speak Spanish and not Galician. This explains why during that period many names of towns (and family names too) were changed to make them sound more Spanish.
Today, the official name of every Galician town is in galego, but there are still remnants of those old beliefs. To use an exampled I’ve mentioned before, Fisterra is the official name of the town where many end their Camino, but you’re likely to see Finisterre too.
Not every town has 2 names, but there are several well-known Camino towns where this happens. Wikipedia, for instance, tends to favour the Spanish name. Certain apps will only display the Spanish name too.
Muxía is an example of this. The Spanish-sounding version is becoming less and less common, but you may still see Mugía in places. Melide may sometimes appear as Mellid and Tui is still frequently spelled as Tuy (no change of pronunciation in this case).
Galician on the Camino
The use of galego varies across the region, so how much of it you see or hear will depend on where you are. But there are common words you’re likely to see.
Rúa (calle in Spanish): street
Praza (plaza in Spanish): square
Igrexa (iglesia in Spanish): church
Mosteiro (monasterio in Spanish): monastery
Concello (ayuntamiento in Spanish): town council
Castelo (castillo in Spanish)
What is your experience? Has this ever caused confusion for you? Share your anecdotes!
For the pronunciation of calle, iglesia and monasterio, check Camino Inglés: de Ferrol a Neda.
For the pronunciation of plaza, check Santiago de Compostela.
For the pronunciation of castillo, check Finisterre.
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