[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J20, 1996/1 p24]
[See Spanish and Portuguese.]

The Galician Spelling Problem.

Susana Doval

Susana Doval is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Philology at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain, where she is researching into English spelling reform.

Galicia is an autonomous region in the NW of Spain, where, alongside Castilian (=standard Spanish), the Galego (=Galician) language is spoken. This Romance language formed a linguistic unity with Portuguese ('Galego-Portugués') in the Middle Ages, when a rich literature in that language flourished, especially in the reign of Alfonso X 'El Sabio' ('the wise' 1252-84). After that period (the so-called 'Séculos Escuros'), Castilian colonization relegated Galician to a purely colloquial status, the main posts in church and government being occupied by Castilians. During this period, Galician and Portuguese moved apart, although they were still clearly connected languages. In the 19th century, Galician began to be written again and a rich literature re-emerged.

Today, after the parenthesis of Franco's dictatorship, Galician and Castilian are co-official in this part of Spain. At present, as usually happens with long neglected languages, there is a great deal of controversy concerning the status and corpus planning of Galician, especially regarding orthography. When 19th century writers decided to start writing in Galician again, they found that they lacked a written standard, and the spelling of the resulting texts is somewhat inconsistent. Today there is controversy because some people believe (against the official position) that it might be useful for Galician to move back closer to Portuguese, and write LH instead of LL (eg, lhama instead of llama), NH instead of Ñ (eg, canhon instead of cañon), and G, J instead of X (eg, geología instead of xeoloxîa, and hoje instead of hoxe); that is, they replace Castilian with Portuguese graphemes in order to 'purify' the Galician language of Castilian influence. The problem is that, on the one hand, this proposal also suhstitutes a rather etymological orthography for the more or less phonemic one represented by the official position, which uses Castilian graphemes to represent Galician phonemes. In fact, moving back closer to Portuguese implies using forms which had been long ago abandoned by Galician. In the 20th century Portuguese and Galician differ substantially in their phonological systems. On the other hand, the official orthography fails to represent the difference between open and close vowels, which exists in Galician but not in Castilian, while this difference is correctly represented by the Portuguese spelling system.

From a purely linguistic point of view, the solution seems to be half way between the Castilian and the Portuguese spelling systems. From a sociolinguistic point of view, planners have to cope with the problem of acceptance: due to geographic and cultural rivalry, Galician users are not generally in favour of adopting a system with 'Portuguese connotations', as this is felt as a threat to their national identity.

As can be seen, the question of phonemic spelling gives rise to an interesting debate in this small part of the world. Many years may still have to pass before an appropriate solution for the Galician problem can be found.

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