Humanities grad helps revitalize Galician language

Ildara Enriquez

One could say that humanities graduate student Ildara Enríquez was born for her role as a linguistics researcher.

Growing up on the Iberian Peninsula in the northwest region of Spain, Enríquez spoke her native language of Galician at home. At school, she conversed in Spanish. Both were official languages, but as a teenager, Enríquez made a decision.

"I started speaking Galician everywhere. I have a choice, and I choose to speak Galician, which is my language," she says.

Some 2.5 million people speak Galician, a language that dates back to the 10th century and was at one time banned under General Franco’s dictatorship. That repression, combined with the continued dominance of Castilian Spanish today, has resulted in a decline of Galician speakers. “Fewer younger people speak Galician,” she says. “They tend to want to use Spanish only.”

Although Spanish and Galician are similar, there are important grammatical differences. Galician’s use of seven vowels, instead of the five found in standard Spanish, help set Galician apart, says Enríquez.

In recent years, Galician has enjoyed a resurgence among older Spanish speakers who want to learn their native tongue. But their use of Galician has prompted controversy about the purity of the language and whether Spanish is influencing how it’s being spoken.

As part of her research for a master’s in linguistics, Enríquez decided to test these criticisms. She interviewed 15 new speakers of Galician, gauging their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.

Read the full story in The Ring