The Dark Centuries. Renaissance, Baroque, Enlightenment (16th to 19th centuries)

Oil painting by Antonio Puga, a 17th century Galician painter.

These centuries, called ‘dark’ in negative contrast to the preceding and the following ages, are characterized by an almost complete absence of Galician in formal use and writing. The emergence of the printing press meant the loss of an opportunity for Galician to spread itself using a powerful means of communication. The Church and the State were keen to shape an emerging nation, and chose Castilian as the standard language for documents, processes and offical communications. However, despite the above, we must highlight the sensitivity of an exceptional personality, namely: Martín Sarmiento.
Summary
  1. The Birth of the Printing Press
  2. Bilingual and Trilingual Galicians
  3. The Influence of the Church
  4. The Enlightenment and Martin Sarmiento
  5. The House of Bourbon and Centralization of the State

1. The Birth of the Printing Press

The impulse of Galician as a written language was cut short right at the gates of the Renaissance, and consequently Galician was not only deprived of the opportunity to experience the revitalization that new historical trends brought to Castilian and Portuguese, but it also lost the opportunity to spread itself through a powerful means of communication, the printing press which was nevertheless exploited by the language of the State. The printed copy (when compared to the slow, limited and costly reproduction of manuscripts by hand) was not only a revolution with regard to the capacity for dissemination of the rising languages of sixteenth-century Europe, which from then on became open rivals of Latin, but it also imposed the previously unknown discipline of orthography and linguistics upon languages which until that time had been bereft of not only codification but also of any type of rules.

2. Bilingual and Trilingual Galicians

All Galicians learnt their language within the family and spoke it amongst themselves. However the few privileged people who learnt the basics of writing did so in Castilian, while those who continued their studies, did so in Latin. The Church continued to stick to the Latin language, at least as the language of administration, rites and high culture, although it introduced Romance (Castilian) into Catechism and the more popular prayers that the faithful had to learn by heart, and through which they became familiar with reading. As for the preaching, it was probably done in Galician Romance from an early period. However, we are unsure of when sermons began (perhaps in the middle of the 16th century) to be delivered in Castilian, at least in the main urban churches. The upper levels of the Church and State hierarchies were occupied by foreigners who brought the language of the centre with them. The most learned Galicians were therefore trilingual, that is to say, well versed in three languages (Galician, Castilian and Latin), and were able to write in two of them (the latter two). Those of a certain social standing needed to be bilingual (Galician and Castilian), although

these people would only read and write in Castilian. The rest of the population as a whole remained illiterate and were monolingual Galician speakers. There was a noticeable monolingual minority of Castilian origin. Bilingual speakers of Castilian and Latin were another minority. Another minority population worth mentioning is the francophone minority.

3. The Influence of the Church

Reformation and Counter-Reformation were events that took place in the 16th century with consequences at all levels. Galicia, like the rest of Spain, remained faithful to the Roman and Catholic orthodoxy, and this therefore had a net sociolinguistic effect. Rome promoted a linguistic policy against the vulgarization of texts and rites that the Protestants proposed, and this hindered the expansion of rising “State” languages, such as Castilian, to some extent. For instance, the first complete translation and legal circulation of the Bible in this language was printed towards the end of the 18th century. This aided, albeit indirectly, the maintenance of vernacular languages such as Galician in just the spoken form. Meanwhile, in linguistic domains such as Germany, where Reformation was adopted, the variety used in sacred texts, rites and sermons swept away the prestige of other prominent varieties with other dialectal bases. In still other areas where Catholic hegemony remained intact, such as in Italy, local tongues retained all their vitality as opposed to the “common” language. In short, Galician resisted as the spoken language of the people as a whole, but it continued to lose historic opportunities to evolve and grow: the Renaissance and Humanism of the 15th and 16th centuries, and the Enlightenment and Rationalism of the 18th century.

4. The Enlightenment and Martin Sarmiento

It was common to blame the Age of Enlightenment with points of views that were abstract and universal, and which had a total lack of concern for local circumstances. This is an absurd distortion. In as far as languages are concerned, an interest in non-standard languages flourished in a large part of enlightened Europe and foundations were laid for the future field of dialectology. In this case, Galicia is not only an exception, but also an avant-garde example, thanks above all, to the work of Martín Sarmiento. This wise monk began asking questions about his childhood language, stimulated at first by scholarly concerns. However, his studies of Galician, the linguistic considerations he developed and the proposals

he had the audacity to outline (although not published during his lifetime), were a first call for attention and laid the foundations for the resurgence of a new linguistic awareness, that would only be glimpsed at nearly a century after his death. It is no coincidence then that the new vision of Galician that Martín Sarmiento outlined, coincided with the first steps of a process that would only be guided with determination in the 19th century.

5. The House of Bourbon and Centralization of the State

In reality, the new dynasty of the House of Bourbon that succeeded the Habsburgs to the throne at the beginning of the 18th century set the ball rolling for a process of centralization of the State that attempted to reinforce royal authority as opposed to both the traditional local authority and the Church.

By the middle of the century, Charles III expelled the Jesuits and promoted educational reform through which he attempted to reinforce the role of Spanish with respect to Latin and the other languages of Spain. Despite the challenge, in practice, Latin retained its monopoly of the universities as well as its learned status and its use in ecclesiastical high culture.