Galician phonology

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This article is about the phonology and phonetics of the Galician language.


The vowel phonemes of Galician, from Regueira (1996:120)

Galician has seven vowel phonemes. These same ones are found under stress in standard Italian, standard Catalan, and Brazilian Portuguese (when counting its "nasal vowels" as diphthongs). It is likely that this 7-vowel system was even more widespread in the early stages of Romance languages.

Phoneme (IPA) Grapheme Examples
/a/ a nada
/e/ e tres
/ɛ/ e ferro
/i/ i min
/o/ o bonito
/ɔ/ o home
/u/ u rúa

Some characteristics of the vocalic system:

  • In Galician the vocalic system is reduced to five vowels in post-tonic syllables, and to just three in final unstressed position: [ɐ], [ʊ], [ɪ].[1][2] So, unstressed close-mid vowels and open-mid vowels (/e ~ ɛ/ and /o ~ ɔ/) can occur in complementary distribution (e.g. ovella [oˈβeʎa] 'sheep' / omitir [ɔmiˈtiɾ] 'to omit' and pequeno [peˈkeno] 'little, small' / emitir [ɛmiˈtiɾ] 'to emit'), with few minimal pairs like botar [boˈtaɾ] 'to throw' vs. botar [bɔˈtaɾ] 'to jump'.[3] In pretonic syllables, close-/open-mid vowels are kept in derived words and compounds (e.g. c[ɔ]rd- > corda [ˈkɔɾða] 'string' → cordeiro [kɔɾˈðejɾo] 'string-maker'—which contrasts with cordeiro [koɾˈðejɾo] 'lamb').[3]
  • Of the seven vocalic phonemes of the tonic and pretonic syllables, only /a/ has a set of different renderings (allophones), forced by its context:[4]
    • [ä] (short central): normal realization of the phoneme.
    • [äː] (long central): due to contraction, as in ra [ˈraː] 'frog' < rãa < Latin rāna.[5]
    • [ɑ̟] (short advanced back): when next to an /l/, /ŋ/, /w/, /k/ or /ɡ/.
    • [] (short retracted front): before a palatal consonant.
  • All dialectal forms of Galician but Ancarese, spoken in the Ancares valley in León, have lost the phonemic quality of mediaeval nasal vowels. Nevertheless, any vowel is nasalized in contact with a nasal consonant.[6]
  • The vocalic system of Galician language is heavily influences by metaphony. Regressive metaphony is produced either by a final /a/, which tend to open medium vowels, or by a final /o/, which can have the reverse effect. As a result, metaphony affects most notably words with gender opposition: sogro [ˈsoɣɾo] ('father-in-law') vs. sogra [ˈsɔɣɾa] ('mother-in-law').[7] On the other hand, vowel harmony, triggered by /i/ or /u/, has had a large part in the evolution and dialectal diversification of the language.

Galician language possesses a large set of falling diphthongs:

Galician diphthongs
[aj] caixa 'box'
[aw] autor 'author'
[ɛj] papeis 'papers' [ɛw] deu 'He/She gave'
[ej] queixo 'cheese' [ew] bateu 'He/She hit'
[ɔj] bocoi 'barrel'
[oj] loita 'fight' [ow] pouco 'little'

There are also a certain number of rising diphthongs, but they are not characteristic of the language and tend to be pronounced as hiatus.[8]


Phoneme (IPA) Main allophones[9] Graphemes Example
/b/ [b], [β̞] b/v bebo [ˈbeβ̞o] '(I) drink', alba [ˈalβ̞a] 'sunrise', vaca [ˈbaka] 'cow', cova [ˈkɔβ̞a] 'cave'
/θ/ [θ] (dialectal [s]) z/c macio [ˈmaθjo] 'soft', cruz [ˈkɾuθ] 'cross'
/tʃ/ [tʃ] ch chamar [tʃaˈmaɾ] 'to call', achar [aˈtʃaɾ] 'to find'
/d/ [d], [ð̞] d vida [ˈbið̞a] 'life', cadro [ˈkað̞ɾo] 'frame'
/f/ [f] f feltro [ˈfɛltɾo] 'filter', freixo [ˈfɾejʃo] 'ash-tree'
/ɡ/ [ɡ], [ɣ] (dialectal [ħ]) g/gu fungo [ˈfuŋɡo] 'fungus', guerra [ˈɡɛra] 'war', o gato [o ˈɣato] 'the cat'
/k/ [k] c/qu casa [ˈkasa] 'house', querer [keˈɾeɾ] 'to want'
/l/ [l] l lua [ˈlua] 'moon', algo [ˈalɣo] 'something', mel [ˈmɛl] 'honey'
/ʎ/ [ʎ] (or [ʝ]) ll mollado [moˈʎað̞o] 'wet'
/m/ [m], [ŋ][10] m memoria [meˈmɔɾja] 'memory', campo [ˈkampo] 'field', álbum [ˈalβuŋ]
/n/ [n], [m], [ŋ][10] n niño [ˈniɲo] 'nest', onte [ˈɔnte] 'yesterday', conversar [kombeɾˈsaɾ] 'to talk', irmán [iɾˈmaŋ] 'brother'
/ɲ/ [ɲ][10] ñ mañá [maˈɲa] 'morning'
/ŋ/ [ŋ][10] nh algunha [alˈɣuŋa] 'some'
/p/ [p] p carpa [ˈkaɾpa] 'carp'
/ɾ/ [ɾ] r hora [ˈɔɾa] 'hour', coller [koˈʎeɾ] 'to grab'
/r/ [r] r/rr rato [ˈrato] 'mouse', carro [ˈkaro] 'cart'
/s̺/ [s̺] (dialectal [s̻]),[11] [z̺] s selo [ˈs̺elo] 'seal, stamp', cousa [ˈkows̺a] 'thing', mesmo [ˈmɛz̺mo] 'same'
/t/ [t] t trato [ˈtɾato] 'deal'
/ʃ/ [ʃ] x[12] xente [ˈʃente] 'people', muxica [muˈʃika] 'ash-fly'

Voiced plosives (/ɡ/, /d/ and /b/) are lenited (weakened) to approximants or fricatives in all instances, except after a pause or a nasal consonant; e.g. un gato 'a cat' is pronounced [uŋ ˈɡato], whilst o gato 'the cat' is pronounced [o ˈɣato].

During the modern period, Galician consonants have undergone significant sound changes that closely parallel the evolution of Spanish consonants, including the following changes that neutralized the opposition of voiced fricatives / voiceless fricatives:

  • /z/ > /s/;
  • /dz/ > /ts/ > [s] in western dialects, or [θ] in eastern and central dialects;
  • /ʒ/ > /ʃ/;

For a comparison, see Differences between Spanish and Portuguese: Sibilants. Additionally, during the 17th and 18th centuries the western and central dialects of Galician developed a voiceless fricative pronunciation of /ɡ/ (a phenomenon called gheada). This may be glottal [h], pharyngeal [ħ], uvular [χ], or velar [x].[13]

Spanish has been experiencing a centuries-long consonant shift in which the lateral consonant /ʎ/ comes to be pronounced as a fricative /ʝ/ (see yeísmo). This merger, which is almost complete for Spanish in Spain, has somewhat influenced other varieties spoken in Spain, including some Galician ones, but it is rejected by Galician language institutions. In this respect, it can be said that Portuguese is phonologically more conservative than Galician.


  1. Regueira (2010:14)
  2. Freixeiro Mato (2006:112)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Freixeiro Mato (2006:94–98)
  4. Freixeiro Mato (2006:72–73)
  5. "Dicionario de pronuncia da lingua galega: á". Retrieved 2012-06-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Sampson (1999:207–214)
  7. Freixeiro Mato (2006:87)
  8. Freixeiro Mato (2006:123)
  9. Freixeiro Mato (2006:136–188)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 The phonemes /m/, /n/, /ɲ/ and /ŋ/ coalesce in implosive position in the archiphoneme /N/, usually rendered as [ŋ]. Cf. Freixeiro Mato (2006:175–176)
  11. Regueira (1996:82)
  12. x can stand also for [ks]
  13. Regueira (1996:120)


  • Freixeiro Mato, Xosé Ramón (2006), Gramática da lingua galega (I). Fonética e fonoloxía (in galego), Vigo: A Nosa Terra, ISBN 978-84-8341-060-8<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Regueira, Xosé Luís (1996), "Galician", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 26 (2): 119–122, doi:10.1017/s0025100300006162<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Regueira, Xosé Luís (2010), Dicionario de pronuncia da lingua galega, A Coruña: Real Academia Galega, ISBN 978-84-87987-77-9<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sampson, Rodney (1999), Nasal vowel evolution in Romance, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, ISBN 978-0-19-823848-5<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>  – via Questia (subscription required)