Galicians - Orientation

Identification. The people of Galicia in Spain ( o pobo galego in Galician) inhabit the northwestern corner of the Iberian Peninsula, directly north of Portugal. They speak Castilian Spanish and Galician, the latter a Romance language that is parent to modern Portuguese. They are predominantly Roman Catholic. The name "Galicia" is derived from the name for the people in the region when the Romans arrived in the second century B.C.E. , the gallatae, but there is disagreement about the ethnic source of the people, with many celebrating a Celtic origin.

Location. Galicia lies between 42° and 44° N and 7° and 9° W. The 29,434 square kilometers in the region take the form of a rough square bounded by the Bay of Biscay (Sea of Cantabria) to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the River Miño separating Galicia from Portugal to the south, and the mountain ranges of León and Asturias to the east. The coasts of Galicia are indented with drowned estuaries ( rías ). About 80 percent of the region lies above 300 meters, with the highest ranges (some with peaks over 1,800 meters) forming an effective eastern barrier between Galicia and the rest of Spain.

Galicia has a mild climate, averaging between 7.2° and 18.9° C through the year. Frequent rain, drizzle ( calabobos ), and heavy mists ( brétemas ) contribute to the 76 to 203 centimeters of rain that falls over an average of 150 days per year.

Galicia's isolation has led to the region's being one of the few in Europe where the original postglacial mammalian fauna remain virtually intact. Of the 500-600 wolves left in Iberia today, for example, most are in Galicia.

Demography. In 1980 the population of Galicia was estimated at approximately 3 million inhabitants (about 424 per square kilometer), with a growth rate of less than 1 percent per year. The urban areas account for about 30 percent of the total population. Galicia is the sixth most populated of the fourteen regions of Spain, with about 7.5 percent of the country's inhabitants.

Linguistic Affiliation. Nearly every Galician uses Castilian Spanish, but about 80 percent of the population also speaks Galician ( galego ), which, along with Castilian, is taught in the grade schools and studied in the university. The use of Galician has rapidly expanded since the region became autonomous. Historically, Galician was one of the principal and mutually comprehensible Hispano-Romance dialects spoken in the northern third of the Iberian Peninsula. When the Christian reconquest of Spain began (by the tenth century), speakers of each of these dialects gradually moved south. The central Castilian-dominated swath gradually grew broader, cutting off the southward expansion of the dialects of Leonese, Navarro-Aragonese, and Catalan, with a substantial strip in the west populated by speakers of Galician. In the twelfth and thirteenth century, Portugal began to take shape and finally was separated from Galicia at the River Miño, leaving the two languages to develop independently.

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