From the Origins to the Renaissance (6th century to 1475)

The Cantigas de Santa María (Songs of Saint Mary), written by King Afonso X, were the pinnacle literary work written in medieval Galician.

Galician literary cultivation was first promoted in Galicia by the lower nobility that was established there, who had contacts all over the north of the peninsula, and then, by the minor nobility with stronger links to the crown of Castile-Leon, to its court and its military enterprises (the conquest of Al-Andalus). The magnificent Galician-Portuguese troubadour school emerged from this impulse. A while later and towards the middle of the 13th century, is when the instrumental cultivation of Galician began. This was bound to the administrative necessities of the nobility, the newly developing urban middle class and the ever-powerful convents and monasteries.
Summary
  1. Origins: Evolution from Latin
  2. Awareness of a Different Language in the Lower Middle Ages
  3. Adoption of the Written Tradition from the Authorities
  4. The Troubadours
  5. Growing Influence of Castilian towards the End of the Middle Ages

Galician is a Romance language and is therefore related to other Romance languages such as Portuguese, Spanish, French and Italian, which are some of the most spoken languages in Europe. There is a close relationship with Portuguese because of their common origin in the Middle Ages and with Spanish because of their close coexistence since the Modern and Contemporary Ages. The development of the Romantic historiography, which claimed the importance of the Celtic element in Galician ethnic composition coincided, in the 19th century, with the claim of the supposed Celtic component of the language, an idea that sank in among Galician scholars of the early 20th century.

1. Origins: Evolution from Latin

Galician is not just a Romance language, as stated above, but rather one of the most faithful representations of Vulgar Latin, that was implanted in the country between the 1st and the 6th centuries of our era. The Celtic or Paraceltic language of indigenous Galician populations left only a few traces in the lexicon but a larger quantity of remnants in place-names. Posterior non-Latin additions, such as Germanic or later Arabic, hardly modified the Romance physiognomy of the Galician language.

Judging by the absence of testimonies, the written form was unknown in Galicia before contact was made with the Roman conquerors. The only language written in Galicia until the end of the 12th century was Latin, which again was a version that was very different from Classical Latin that was constantly evolving. Romance speech experienced a far greater transformation than is expressed by its written counterpart, in Galicia as well as in other areas, from the 5th to the 13th centuries. However, it is unclear as to when the population began to realize that the language they spoke was no longer Latin, but what they called Romance. This moment has been traditionally established around the 12th century.

2. Awareness of a Different Language in the Lower Middle Ages

It is easier to determine when Galician Romance came to be recognized as a distinct language from its Romance neighbors: awareness of this difference was hinted at in the 12th century itself and was consolidated in the 14th century.

Nonetheless, it would be naďve and incorrect to think that Galician played a similar role in the definition of Galician identity in medieval times, as it does nowadays. It would even be misleading to think that medieval group identities had

The Celtic or Paraceltic language of indigenous Galician populations left only a few traces in the lexicon but a larger number of remnants in place-names.
many similar characteristics to those of today. During the European Middle Ages, there were no powerful states with an extensive and centralized administrative apparatus, and with stable, well-defined political borders. They were rather semi-autonomous political entities of varying levels (formed around noble and royal dynasties), which overlapped in many ways, but had discontinuous and changing boundaries. There were therefore no citizens that were loyal to a state, an essential reference for contemporary collective identity. However, there were vassals loyal to various lords, who were bound to him by personal ties of protection and aid. Religion was the strongest cement in the collective identity, which in the case of Christians, was embodied in a powerful, trans-national institution that was almost more hierarchical and centralized in structure than the very feudal states. The Church also held a monopoly on education, which, in any case, was only accessible to a virtually insignificant percentage of the population. The only people who knew how to read and write in the Middle Ages were the clergy. The language of the Church administration, religious services, and educational centers (i.e., the universities) was Latin and continued to be so until very recent times.

3. Adoption of the Written Tradition by the Authorities

There is a clear correlation between the political configuration of the medieval princedoms and the languages that began to be forged on the foundations of the Romance tongues. Apart from Latin, there were no fixed languages with a stable written tradition and form of reference, nor were they clearly defined between themselves. However, there were tongues where there were small, gradual differences with relationships that progressively blurred as one left the territory. It was only with the gradual emergence of a non-clerical culture, firstly with the nobility and later on with the middle classes, that an early literary cultivation of these vulgar tongues began to emerge and the written tradition in the Romance languages emerged. The search for communicative efficiency was similarly decisive in driving the Romance writings into the administrative fields. When this was fostered by a royal court, as was the case in Castile-Leon from the time of Ferdinand III, and above all during the reign of Alfonso X (13th century), it led to the creation of a solid base that stabilized the written tradition and served as a reference in fixing the corresponding Romance tongue.

4. The Troubadours

Galician literary cultivation was first promoted in Galicia by the lower nobility established there, who had contacts all over the north of the peninsula, and then by the minor nobility with stronger links to the crown of Castile-Leon, to its court and its military enterprises (the conquest of Al-Andalus). The magnificent Galician-Portuguese troubadour school emerged from this impulse. A while later, in the middle of the 13th century, the instrumental cultivation of Galician was initiated and was linked to the administrative necessities of the nobility, that of the newly developing urban middle class and the ever-powerful convents and monasteries. What was missing, however, was a royal court that would lay down some guidelines, something that did occur in Portugal. At the beginning of the 17th century, the Portuguese grammarian Duarte Nunes de Leăo keenly

The instrumental cultivation of Galician began around the middle of the 13th century and was bound to the administrative necessities of the upper classes.
observed that the languages of “Galliza e Portugal eraő antigamente quasi hũa mesma” (Galicia and Portugal in ancient times were almost one and the same). He added: “Da qual lingoa Gallega a Portuguesa se auentajou tanto, quăto na copia & na elegăcia della vemos. O que se causou por em Portugal hauer Reis, & corte que he a officina onde os vocabulos se forjaő, & pulem & donde manăo pera os outros homẽs, o que nunqua houue em Galliza” (Portuguese gained a great advantage over Galician both in richness and elegance because, in Portugal, there were kings and a court, which is the place where the vocabulary is forged and polished, and from where it flows for its use by other men, something that never happened in Galicia).

5. Growing Influence of Castilian towards the End of the Middle Ages

In late medieval Galicia, from the 13th to the 15th centuries, there was a vigorous emergence of Romance Galician that was strong enough to shape a concept of “Galician” as a distinct language, and to ensure that the language would always be associated with a hazy identity stereotype and profile that was nonetheless real. However, the written and literary tradition in medieval Galician was not solid enough to resist the attacks of a rival tradition that rose up with an enormous capacity for absorption, which began in the 15th century and reached its zenith in the following centuries. This rival tradition was obviously Castilian Spanish. From the 13th century onwards, the Castilian Romance tongue got solid support as an administrative and literary language from the royal court and also from the courts of the nobility located in the centre of the peninsula. Therefore, Castilian experienced a process of expansion during the following century not only towards the south of the peninsula (in the territories taken from the Muslims, where Arabic reigned as the spoken language and the language of culture) but also towards the east (Aragon) and to the west (Leon).

By the middle of the 16th century, Galician was already a spoken language but with no written system.
The hegemony of Castilian was consolidated during the 15th century and reached a point whereby it had supplanted Galician as the instrumental and literary language (by the end of the century), and even competed in the field of literary production with Catalan in the east and Portuguese in the west. Under the combined pressure of the royal court, the new state apparatus implanted in Galicia by the Catholic Monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabel) and the ever-growing dependence of the Galician Church on Castile, Galician was gradually converted into an oral language by the middle of the 16th century.