The Portuguese Language Portuguese language in Brazil_Portuguese language in Portugal      | Home |

Portuguese is the eighth most spoken language and the third most spoken European language in the world (after English and Spanish) and, together with Spanish, French, Italian and Romanian, comprise the five modern Romance languages.

While the Portuguese language has its roots firmly in Europe, most of the world's 210+ million Portuguese speaking people live elsewhere. In fact, non European speakers of the language outnumber their European cousins by over twenty to one. Many are surprised to learn that there are more Portuguese speaking people in South America than those who speak Spanish. But this is understandable when one realizes that Brazil is larger than the continental United States and has the largest population of any country in South America. There are different regional dialects spoken in Brazil.

Because there are some similarities between Spanish and Portuguese–and both are a product of the Iberian peninsula–many erroneously believe that Portuguese is merely a dialect of Spanish. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

History of the Portuguese Language During ... The Portuguese Language in ....
The Roman Period The World
Galician-Portuguese Europe
Archaic Portuguese The Americas
Modern Portuguese Africa
Asia & Oceania
The Roman Period
The Portuguese language evolved from Latin and developed on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, the province the Romans called Lusitania (today, the area comprising Portugal and the Spanish province of Galicia).

Following the Roman conquest of the peninsula in 218 BC, Latin was adopted as the primary language. From then until the ninth century, all spoke either Latin or "Romance", an intermediate linguistic stage between vulgar or common Latin and the modern Latin (Romance) languages.

From 409 AD to 711, as a result of Germanic invasions, the language adopted many new words such as roubar (to steal), guerrear (to war) and branco (white).The overall linguistic effect of these invasions was far from uniform and, consequently, fragmented the, until then, linguistic uniformity of the peninsula. Over a period of time, this fragmentation led to a myriad of regional dialects.

Arabic became the official language when the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula in about 711 but the vast majority of the population continued to speak Latin or Romance. Arabic words that entered the language during the Moorish occupation include arroz (rice), alface (lettuce), alicate (pliers) and refém (hostage).

The period between the 9th and 11th centuries, when Portuguese first appeared in written documents, was a period of linguistic transition. A few Portuguese words appear in local Latin texts, but Galician-Portuguese (the forerunner of modern Portuguese) was only spoken in Lusitania.

With the start of the Christian reconquest in the 11th century, the Moors were increasingly pushed south where the blend of Arabic and Latin created various Mozarabic dialects. As this occurred, Galician-Portuguese developed and became the spoken and written language of Lusitania. During this period, the first documents and literary texts written in Galician-Portuguese began to appear including the Cancioneiros (collections of medieval poems) da Ajuda, da Vaticana and Colocci-Brancutti, now in Lisbon's National Library.

As the Christian reconquest pushed south, the northern dialects gradually blended with the southern Mozarabic dialects, producing a language increasingly different from Galician-Portuguese. The separation of Galician and Portuguese (which began with Portugal's independence in 1185) intensified after the Moors were completely expelled from Portugal in 1249 and the Castilians (who had attempted to conquer Portugal) were defeated in 1385. The first literary prose in Portuguese appeared in the 14th century with Crónica Geral de Espanha (1344) and Livro de Linhagens (Book of Lineages) by Dom Pedro, Count of Barcelona.

Today, some linguists justify the linguistic unity of Galician and Portuguese because both modern Galician and Portuguese share the same historical linguistic branch albeit with different written norms (such as the differences one finds between British and American English or European and Brazilian Portuguese). Officially, however, Portuguese and Galician are separate languages even though they share some common historical and linguistic characteristics.

Archaic Portuguese
Between the 14th and 16th centuries, as Portugal established overseas colonies, the Portuguese language extended to Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Under regional influences, it adopted such words as jangada (raft) [Malay] and chá (tea) [Chinese].

During the Renaissance, the inclusion of Italian and Greek expressions and words made Portuguese a more complex and malleable language. The publication of Cancioneiro Geral de Garcia de Resende in 1516 marked the end of the Archaic period.

Modern Portuguese
Portuguese entered its modern phase in the 16th century when printed grammar books first defined Portuguese morphology and syntax. When Luis de Camões wrote Os Lusíadas in 1572, the language was already nearing its current structure. Since then, linguistic changes have been relatively minor.

During the Spanish domination of Portugal (1580 to 1640), Spanish words such as bobo (fool) and granizo (hail) were adopted by Portuguese. French influence during the 18th century changed the Portuguese spoken in Portugal, making it different from that spoken in the colonies.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Portuguese absorbed new words of Greco-Latin origin reflecting technological advances including such words as automóvel (automobile), rádio (radio) and televisão (television). This was followed by technical English words such as checkup and software.

In 1990, the onrush of new words led to the creation of a commission consisting of representatives of the all Portuguese speaking countries in the world. Its goal was and is to create a uniform technical vocabulary and avoid the confusion that occurred when different words were used to describe the same objects. One could question the success of their efforts as, even today, different words in Portugal and Brazil are used to describe the same thing:

English Brazilian Portuguese European (Luso) Portuguese
mouse (computer) mouse rato
screen (computer) tela ecrã
diskette disquete (masculine noun) disquete (feminine noun)
bus ônibus autocarro

Portuguese Language in the World
Today, as many as 210 million people throughout the world speak Portuguese as their native language. Portuguese is the eighth most spoken language in the world (third most spoken western European language after English and Spanish) and is the official language of seven countries:

Angola (10.3 million)
Brazil (192 million)
Cabo Verde (346,000)
Guinea-Bissau (1 million)
Mozambique (15.3 million)
Portugal (10.1 million)
São Tomé and the Príncipe Islands (126,000)

In 1986, Portuguese became one of the official languages of the European Union (EU) when Portugal was admitted to the organization. As a result of the Mercosul agreements that created the Southern Latin American Common Market (which includes Brazil), Portuguese will be taught as a foreign language in the other Mercosul member countries.

In the non-contiguous areas of the world where Portuguese is spoken, there are significant differences in pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and the use of idiomatic expressions. Although these differences are often profound, they are not sufficient to challenge the fundamentally basic structure of the language. Despite its history, diffusion and diversity, Portuguese continues to maintain considerable cohesion around the world.

_The Portuguese Language in Europe
In the western part of the Iberian Peninsula (where Galician-Portuguese was once spoken) there are three major language groups with well defined phonetic characteristics–mainly involving the manner in which sibilants are pronounced:

Galician Dialects
Northern Portuguese Dialects
Central-southern Portuguese Dialects

The dividing line between the Portuguese and Galician dialects crosses Portugal from the northeast to the southeast. This includes the northern region that takes in part of Minho and the Douro seaside, an extensive area of Beira-Baixa and the Alto-Alentejo (primarily in the central-southern part of the country) and the Algarve in the central-southern area.

The dialects spoken in the Azores and Madeira are an extension of mainland Portuguese dialects and can be included in the central-southern group. However, São Miguel and Madeira are exceptions, which, independent of each other, are moving away from the central southern dialect.

_The Portuguese Language in the Americas
When Portugal first colonized Brazil in 1500, Tupi or Tupinambá (a language of the Tupi-Guarani family spoken by natives living on the Brazilian seacoast) was used along with Portuguese as the general language of the colony.

In 1757, Tupi was banned by royal decree even though it had already been overshadowed by Portuguese. However, the Portuguese language in Brazil adopted numerous geographical names as well as words for plants (including medicinal) and animals from Tupi and other indigenous languages; among these words are abacaxi (pineapple), mandioca (manioc), caju (cashew), tatu (armadillo), piranha (the fish).

The Portuguese language in Brazil received new contributions with the influx of the 3.6+ million African slaves forcibly brought to Brazil from 1500 until 1850. The African influence came primarily from the Lorubá spoken by slaves from Nigeria. Lorubá contributions to the language primarily involved words connected with religion and cuisine. From the Angolan Quimbundo language came such words as caçula (youngest child), moleque (street child) and samba.

During the 18th century, differences between the Brazilian and European Portuguese widened as Brazil became isolated from the linguistic changes occurring in Portugal as a result of French influence. Brazilian Portuguese remained loyal to the pronunciation used at the time of its discovery. However, when Don João (the Portuguese king) took refuge in Brazil in 1808 (following Napoleon's invasion of Portugal), his presence helped to reintroduce the Portuguese spoken in Brazilian cities to the Portuguese of Portugal––especially Rio de Janeiro.

Following Brazilian independence in 1822, Brazilian Portuguese became influenced by Italian and other European immigrants migrating to the central and southern parts of the country. These changes reflect the various nationalities settling in each area.

In the 20th century, the split between European and Brazilian Portuguese widened as the result of new technological words and the Brazilian propensity for using idiomatic expressions. This occurred primarily because European Portuguese lacked a uniform procedure for adopting new words while the Brazilians eagerly embraced almost anything that worked. They still do. As a result, many words took different forms in the two countries. For example, in Portugal it's comboio (train), autocarro (bus), rato (computer mouse) and ecrã (screen) while in Brazil it's trem (train), ônibus (bus), mouse (computer) and tela (screen).

In Portugal, the noun disquete (diskette) is a feminine noun while in Brazil it's masculine. Portuguese spelling such as facto (fact) and baptismo (baptism) become fato and batismo in Brazil. Idiomatic expressions further confuse the issue, for example, the common Brazilian expression bate-boca (noun = argument, quarrel) assumes the literal, confusing and nonsensical translation of the verb form beat mouth in Portugal.

With different spelling, pronouns and idiomatic expressions, some believe that the difference between Brazilian and Luso, Continental or European (whichever you prefer to call it) Portuguese may be in excess of 25%.

The Portuguese Language in Africa
The Portuguese dialects found in Africa, Asia and Oceania can be categorized into Creole and non-Creole forms. The Creole forms were derived from interaction with indigenous languages and are most often considered separate languages because of the important differences between them and the (non-Creole) mother tongue.

Angola–60% of Angolans claim Portuguese as their mother tongue. Portuguese, as the official language, coexists alongside the local Bacongo, Chacue, Ovibundo and Quibundo languages.
Cabo Verde–A Creole dialect is spoken which combines archaic Portuguese with various African languages.
Guinea-Bissau–44% of the population speak a Creole dialect, 11% Portuguese and the remainder one of several African languages.
Mozambique–Portuguese (the official language) is spoken by 25% of the population but only a little over 1% call it their primary language. The majority of the population speak a number of the native languages.
São Tome & Príncipe–The majority of the population speak Forro and Moncó (local languages) as well as Angolan languages.

In Angola and Mozambique, where Portuguese gained ground as a spoken language alongside many indigenous languages, spoken Portuguese is very close to the original although it reflects influences from archaic Portuguese as well as various regional dialects of Portugal. Some dialects are similar to those found in Brazil. The influence of African languages on Portuguese in these two countries was minor and is restricted to local dialects.

In the rest of African (where it is the official language), Portuguese is used in administration, teaching, news media and international relations. There also exist national, Creole languages of Portuguese origin. Proximity with local languages has caused the Portuguese spoken in these countries to become different than the Portuguese spoken in Europe. In many cases, however, it approaches the Portuguese spoken in Brazil.

Portuguese Language in Asia & Oceania
Although Portuguese was spoken extensively in the ports of India and Southeastern Asia during the 16th and 17th centuries, it survives today only in isolated locations:

Macao (under Portuguese administration until 1999)–while Portuguese is one of the official languages (along with Chinese), it is only used by the administration and spoken by a minority of the population.
Goa (a Portuguese possession until 1961)–Portuguese is rapidly being replaced by Konkani (the official language) and English.
East Timor (under Portuguese administration until 1975)–the local language is the Tetum but part of the population speaks Portuguese.

Portuguese-based Creoles in Asia and Oceania are spoken in Damão, Jaipur and Diu (India), Malacca (Malaysia), Macao; Sri Lanka and Timor and Java (Indonesia). In some of these places, Portuguese is also used by minorities.

_ Brazilian Regional Dialects
Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation is more consistent throughout Brazil than the Portuguese spoken in Portugal. This surprises many people considering the fact that Brazil is so much larger in both area and population. Even then, almost all the regional traits and characteristics of European Portuguese are present either in standard Brazilian Portuguese or in one or more of the regional Brazilian dialects.

Because there is a lack of scientific data describing the differences between various regional dialects spoken in Brazil, they cannot be classified in the same manner as the dialects of European Portuguese.

There is a proposal to classify Brazilian Portuguese dialects along pronunciation lines, a method similar to the one used to classify European Portuguese. This method is based on vowel pronunciation and speech cadence. For example, pegar (to take) can be pronounced with an open or closed e. Using this method, it is possible to differentiate somewhat between the two major Brazilian dialects (northern and southern) as well as their respective sub dialects:

Northern Dialects Southern Dialects
Amazonian Bahian (Bahia)
Northeastern Fluminense (Rio de Janeiro)
Mineira (Minas Gerais)
Sulina (southern)
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