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If you prefer to first learn more about the Portuguese language and its various dialects, keep reading.

Portugal & Portuguese Language History

The Portuguese language, which evolved from spoken Latin, developed on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula (now Portugal and the Spanish province of Galicia), the province the Romans called Lusitania.

When the Romans invaded the peninsula in 218 B.C., the people living in the region adopted Latin, the Roman’s language. From then until the 9th century, all spoke Romance, a language representing an intermediate stage between vulgar or common Latin and modern Latin languages.

Map of Portugal

From 409 AD to 711, the Portuguese vocabulary adopted many new words used by invading Germanic tribes. The effects of the Germanic migrations on the spoken language was not uniform and broke the linguistic uniformity of the peninsula.

Beginning in 711, when the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula, Arabic became the official language, although the vast majority of the population continued to speak Romance.

When Christians started to re-conquer the peninsula in the 11th century, the Arabs were expelled to the South. Galician-Portuguese became the spoken and written language of Lusitania. The separation between the Galician and Portuguese languages, which began with Portugal’s independence in 1185, was consolidated after the Moors were expelled in 1249.

Between the 14th and 16th centuries, when Portugal established an overseas empire, the Portuguese language was heard in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Portuguese entered its modern phase in the 16th century when early lexicologists defined Portuguese morphology and syntax. When Luis de Camões wrote Os Lusíadas, in 1572, the language was already close to its current structure of phrases and morphology. From then on, linguistic changes have been minor.

French influence during the 18th century changed the Portuguese spoken in the homeland, making it different from the Portuguese spoken in the colonies. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Portuguese vocabulary absorbed new contributions reflecting technological advances.

Portuguese Language in the World

Between 170 and 210 million people speak Portuguese throughout the world today. Portuguese is the eighth most spoken language in the world (third among the Western European languages, after English and Spanish/Castilian) and is the official language of seven countries: Angola (10.3 million inhabitants), Brazil (151 million), Cabo Verde (346,000), Guinea-Bissau (1 million), Mozambique (15.3 million), Portugal (9.9 million), and São Tomé and Príncipe islands (126,000). In 1986, Portuguese became an official language in the European Union (EU).

Portuguese Language in Europe

Portuguese is spoken in the western part of the Iberian Peninsula.  The dialects spoken in the archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira represent an extension of the mainland Portuguese dialects.

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Portuguese Language in Brazil

When Portugal first colonized Brazil, a process that began in 1500, Tupi, one of the languages of the Tupi-Guarani family spoken by indians who lived on the Brazilian seacoast, was used along with Portuguese as the general language of the colony. This was primarily because the Jesuit priests studied and taught the Tupi language. In 1757, Tupi was banned by royal decree. When the Jesuits were expelled in 1759, Portuguese became the language of the country.

Map of Brazil

The Portuguese language in Brazil received a new source of contributions with the influx of African slaves. During the 18th century, other differences between the American and European Portuguese developed. At that time Brazilian Portuguese failed to adopt linguistic changes taking place in Portugal produced by French influence. The Brazilian Portuguese remained loyal to the pronunciation used at the time of its discovery. However, when Don João, the Portuguese king, and the royal entourage took refuge in Brazil in 1808 (when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal), his presence helped to re-approximate the Portuguese spoken in the cities to the Portuguese of Portugal.

After Brazilian independence in 1822, Brazilian Portuguese became influenced by Europeans who had migrated to the central and southern parts of the country.  In the 20th century, the split between the Portuguese and Brazilian variants of Portuguese heightened as the result of new words for technological innovations.

Portuguese Language in Africa

In Angola and Mozambique, where Portuguese was strongly implemented as a spoken language alongside many other indigenous languages, a very “pure” Portuguese is spoken, although with some proper characteristics.  In African countries where Portuguese is the official language, Portuguese is used in administration, teaching, press and international relations. In everyday life are also used other national languages and creoles of Portuguese origin. African countries whose official language is Portuguese are: Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guiné Bissau and São Tomé e Príncipe.

Portuguese Language in Asia

Portuguese was largely used in the 16th and 17th centuries in the ports of India and South East Asia. Today, it survives only in its standard form in isolated regions: in Macau, a Chinese territory under Portuguese rule till 1999; in the Indian state of Goa, a Portuguese colony till 1961; and in East Timor, a former Portuguese colony where Portuguese is today the official language.


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Portuguese Quick Facts

Alternate Names & Spellings: PORTUGUÊS

Language Family: Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Gallo-Iberian, Ibero-Romance, West Iberian, Portuguese-Galician.

Official Language of: Mozambique, Portugal, Sao Tome and Principe, Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau

Spoken by Approximately 176,000,000 people

Also Spoken In: United States

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