Today it is one of the world's major languages, ranked 6th according to number of native speakers (approximately 240 million). It is the language of about half of South America, even though Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. It is also a major lingua franca in Portugal's former colonial possessions in Africa. It is the official language of ten countries (see the table on the right), also being co-official with Spanish and French in Equatorial Guinea, with Cantonese Chinese in the Chinese special administrative region of Macau, and with Tetum in East Timor. There are sizeable communities of Portuguese speakers in various regions of North America, notably in the United States (New Jersey, New England, and south Florida) and in Ontario, Canada.
Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes once called Portuguese "the sweet language", while Brazilian writer Olavo Bilac poetically described it as a última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela: "the last flower of Latium, wild and beautiful".
Today, Portuguese is the official language of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe and Mozambique. It is also one of the official languages of Equatorial Guinea (with Spanish and French), the Chinese special administrative region of Macau (with Chinese), and East Timor, (with Tetum). It is a native language of most of the population in Portugal (100%), Brazil (99%), São Tomé and Príncipe (95%) and Angola (60%), and is the most widely spoken language in Mozambique (40%), though only 6.5% are native speakers. No data is available for Cape Verde, but almost all the population is bilingual, and the monolingual population speaks Cape Verdean Creole.
Small Portuguese-speaking communities subsist in former overseas colonies of Portugal such as Macau, where it is spoken as a first language by 0.6% of the population, and East Timor.
Uruguay gave Portuguese an equal status to Spanish in its educational system at the north border with Brazil. In the rest of the country, it's taught as an obligatory subject beginning by the 6th grade.
It is also spoken by substantial immigrant communities, though not official, in Andorra, France, Luxembourg, Jersey (with a statistically significant Portuguese-speaking community of approximately 10,000 people), Paraguay, Namibia, South Africa, Switzerland, Venezuela and in the U.S. states of California, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. In some parts of India, such as Goa and Daman and Diu Portuguese is still spoken. There are also significant populations of Portuguese speakers in Canada (mainly concentrated in and around Toronto) Bermuda and Netherlands Antilles.
Portuguese is an official language of several international organizations. The Community of Portuguese Language Countries (with the Portuguese acronym CPLP) consists of the eight independent countries that have Portuguese as an official language. It is also an official language of the European Union, Mercosul, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Ibero-American States, the Union of South American Nations, and the African Union (one of the working languages) and one of the official languages of other organizations. The Portuguese language is gaining popularity in Africa, Asia, and South America as a second language for study.
Portuguese and Spanish are the fastest-growing European languages, and, according to estimates by UNESCO, Portuguese is the language with the highest potential for growth as an international language in southern Africa and South America. The Portuguese-speaking African countries are expected to have a combined population of 83 million by 2050. Since 1991, when Brazil signed into the economic market of Mercosul with other South American nations, such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, there has been an increase in interest in the study of Portuguese in those South American countries. The demographic weight of Brazil in the continent will continue to strengthen the presence of the language in the region. Although in the early 21st century, after Macau was ceded to China in 1999, the use of Portuguese was in decline in Asia, it is becoming a language of opportunity there; mostly because of East Timor's boost in the number of speakers in the last five years but also because of increased Chinese diplomatic and financial ties with Portuguese-speaking countries.
In July 2007, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema announced his government's decision to make Portuguese Equatorial Guinea's third official language, in order to meet the requirements to apply for full membership of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries. This upgrading from its current Associate Observer condition would result in Equatorial Guinea being able to access several professional and academic exchange programs and the facilitation of cross-border circulation of citizens. Its application is currently being assessed by other CPLP members.
In March 1994 the Bosque de Portugal (Portugal's Woods) was founded in the Brazilian city of Curitiba. The park houses the Portuguese Language Memorial, which honors the Portuguese immigrants and the countries that adopted the Portuguese language. Originally there were seven nations represented with pillars, but the independence of East Timor brought yet another pillar for that nation in 2007.
In March 2006, the Museum of the Portuguese Language, an interactive museum about the Portuguese language, was founded in São Paulo, Brazil, the city with the largest number of Portuguese speakers in the world.
Audio samples of some dialects of Portuguese are available below. There are some differences between the areas but these are the best approximations possible. For example, the caipira dialect has some differences from the one of Minas Gerais, but in general it is very close. A good example of Brazilian Portuguese may be found in the capital city, Brasília, because of the generalized population from all parts of the country.
Differences between dialects are mostly of accent and vocabulary, but between the Brazilian dialects and other dialects, especially in their most coloquial forms, there can also be some grammatical differences. The Portuguese-based creoles spoken in various parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas are independent languages which should not be confused with Portuguese itself.
Arriving in the Iberian Peninsula in 216 BC, the Romans brought with them the Latin language, from which all Romance languages descend. The language was spread by arriving Roman soldiers, settlers and merchants, who built Roman cities mostly near the settlements of previous civilizations.
|Das que vejo|
|outra senhor se vós nom,|
|mataria um leon,|
|senhor do meu coraçom:|
|bela sobre toda fror,|
|nom me meta|
|em tal coita voss'amor!|
|João de Lobeira|
Between AD 409 and 711, as the Roman Empire collapsed in Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Germanic peoples (Migration Period). The occupiers, mainly Suebi and Visigoths, quickly adopted late Roman culture and the Vulgar Latin dialects of the peninsula. After the Moorish invasion of 711, Arabic became the administrative language in the conquered regions, but most of the population continued to speak a form of Romance commonly known as Mozarabic. The influence exerted by Arabic on the Romance dialects spoken in the Christian kingdoms of the north was small, affecting mainly their lexicon.
The earliest surviving records of a distinctively Portuguese language are administrative documents of the 9th century, still interspersed with many Latin phrases. Today this phase is known as Proto-Portuguese (between the 9th and the 12th centuries). In the first period of Old Portuguese — Galician-Portuguese Period (from the 12th to the 14th century) — the language gradually came into general use. For some time, it was the language of preference for lyric poetry in Christian Hispania, much like Occitan was the language of the poetry of the troubadours. Portugal became an independent kingdom from the Kingdom of Leon in 1139, under king Afonso I of Portugal. In 1290, king Denis of Portugal created the first Portuguese university in Lisbon (the Estudos Gerais, later moved to Coimbra) and decreed that Portuguese, then simply called the "common language" should be known as the Portuguese language and used officially.
In the second period of Old Portuguese, from the 14th to the 16th century, with the Portuguese discoveries, the language was taken to many regions of Asia, Africa and the Americas (nowadays, the great majority of Portuguese speakers live in Brazil, in South America). By the 16th century it had become a lingua franca in Asia and Africa, used not only for colonial administration and trade but also for communication between local officials and Europeans of all nationalities. Its spread was helped by mixed marriages between Portuguese and local people, and by its association with Roman Catholic missionary efforts, which led to the formation of a creole language called Kristang in many parts of Asia (from the word cristão, "Christian"). The language continued to be popular in parts of Asia until the 19th century. Some Portuguese-speaking Christian communities in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Indonesia preserved their language even after they were isolated from Portugal.
The end of the Old Portuguese period was marked by the publication of the Cancioneiro Geral by Garcia de Resende, in 1516. The early times of Modern Portuguese, which spans from the 16th century to present day, were characterized by an increase in the number of learned words borrowed from Classical Latin and Classical Greek since the Renaissance, which greatly enriched the lexicon.
When the elided consonant was n, it often nasalized the preceding vowel: cf. Lat. manum, rana, bonum, Port. mão, rãa, bõo (now mão, rã, bom). This process was the source of most of the nasal diphthongs which are typical of Portuguese. In particular, the Latin endings -anem, -anum and -onem became -ão in most cases, cf. Lat. canem, germanum, rationem with Modern Port. cão, irmão, razão, and their plurals -anes, -anos, -ones normally became -ães, -ãos, -ões, cf. cães, irmãos, razões.
In October 2005, during the international Convention of the Elos Club International that took place in Tavira, Portugal a petition was written and unanimously approved whose text can be found on the internet with the title Petição Para Tornar Oficial o Idioma Português na ONU. Romulo Alexandre Soares, president of the Brazil-Portugal Chamber highlights that the positioning of Brazil in the international arena as one of the emergent powers of the 21 century, the size of its population, and the presence of the language around the world provides legitimacy and justifies a petition to the UN to make the Portuguese an official language of the UN.
Several factors detract from this campaign. While Portuguese is an increasingly important language internationally, 4 out of every 5 speakers of the Portuguese-speaking world live in just one country: Brazil. This takes away from the international nature required of an UN official language; German and Japanese are not official UN languages for similar reasons, even though they are the tongues of powerful global economies.
In addition, Portuguese is global in that it is the language of several sovereign countries on 4 continents. However, in each of these parts of the world, it is overshadowed by other powerful languages that are already official languages of the UN. For example, in the Americas, the 180 million Portuguese-speaking Brazilians are overshadowed by the more spoken languages in the Western Hemisphere: Spanish (~360 million speakers) and English (~340 million speakers).
Portuguese is overshadowed to an even greater extent in Europe, the continent in which four of the six UN languages originated (English, French, Spanish, and Russian). In the European context, Portuguese is not even among the ten most spoken languages on the continent, with a number of speakers comparable to that of Czech and Bulgarian.
In Africa, Portuguese is eclipsed as a continental lingua franca by English and French in countries that surround Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea-Bissau, Angola, and Mozambique. Finally in Asia, a continent with several languages that have hundreds of millions of speakers, the only sovereign Portuguese-speaking nation is the small million-person state of East Timor.
Very few Portuguese words can be traced to the pre-Roman inhabitants of Portugal, which included the Gallaeci, Lusitanians, Celtici and Cynetes. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians, briefly present, also left some scarce traces. Some notable examples are abóbora "pumpkin" and bezerro "year-old calf", from the nearby Celtiberian language (probably through the Celtici); cerveja "beer", from Celtic; saco "bag", from Phoenician; and cachorro "dog, puppy", from Basque.
In the 5th century, the Iberian Peninsula (the Roman Hispania) was conquered by the Germanic Suebi and Visigoths. As they adopted the Roman civilization and language, however, these people contributed only a few words to the lexicon, mostly related to warfare — such as espora "spur", estaca "stake", and guerra "war", from Gothic *spaúra, *stakka, and *wirro, respectively.
Between the 9th and 15th centuries Portuguese acquired about 1000 words from Arabic by influence of Moorish Iberia. They are often recognizable by the initial Arabic article a(l)-, and include many common words such as aldeia "village" from الضيعة aldaya, alface "lettuce" from الخس alkhass, armazém "warehouse" from المخزن almahazan, and azeite "olive oil" from زيت azzait. From Arabic came also the grammatically peculiar word oxalá "hopefully". The Mozambican currency name metical was derived from the word مطقال miṭqāl, a unit of weight. The word Mozambique itself is from the Arabic name of sultan Muça Alebique (Musa Alibiki). The name of the Portuguese town of Fátima comes from the name of one of the daughters of the prophet Muhammad.
Starting in the 15th century, the Portuguese maritime explorations led to the introduction of many loanwords from Asian languages. For instance, catana "cutlass" from Japanese katana; corja "rabble" from Malay kórchchu; and chá "tea" from Chinese chá.
From South America came batata "potato", from Taino; ananás and abacaxi, from Tupi-Guarani naná and Tupi ibá cati, respectively (two species of pineapple), and tucano "toucan" from Guarani tucan. See List of Brazil state name etymologies, for some more examples.
From the 16th to the 19th century, the role of Portugal as intermediary in the Atlantic slave trade, with the establishment of large Portuguese colonies in Angola, Mozambique, and Brazil, Portuguese got several words of African and Amerind origin, especially names for most of the animals and plants found in those territories. While those terms are mostly used in the former colonies, many became current in European Portuguese as well. From Kimbundu, for example, came kifumate → cafuné "head caress", kusula → caçula "youngest child", marimbondo "tropical wasp", and kubungula → bungular "to dance like a wizard".
Finally, it has received a steady influx of loanwords from other European languages. For example, melena "hair lock", fiambre "wet-cured ham" (in contrast with presunto "dry-cured ham" from Latin prae-exsuctus "dehydrated"), and castelhano "Castilian", from Spanish; colchete/crochê "bracket"/"crochet", paletó "jacket", batom "lipstick", and filé/filete "steak"/"slice" respectively, from French crochet, paletot, bâton, filet; macarrão "pasta", piloto "pilot", carroça "carriage", and barraca "barrack", from Italian maccherone, pilota, carrozza, baracca; and bife "steak", futebol, revólver, estoque, folclore, from English beef, football, revolver, stock, folklore.
Despite the obvious lexical and grammatical similarities between Portuguese and other Romance languages, it is not mutually intelligible with most of them. Apart from Galician, Portuguese speakers will usually need some formal study of basic grammar and vocabulary, before attaining a reasonable level of comprehension of those languages, and vice-versa.
The Fala language is another descendant of Galician-Portuguese, spoken by a small number of people in the Spanish towns of Valverdi du Fresnu, As Ellas and Sa Martín de Trebellu (autonomous community of Extremadura, near the border with Portugal).
See also List of English words of Portuguese origin, Loan words in Indonesian, Japanese words of Portuguese origin, Borrowed words in Malay, Sinhala words of Portuguese origin, Loan words from Portuguese in Sri Lankan Tamil.
There is a maximum of 9 oral vowels and 19 consonants, though some varieties of the language have fewer phonemes (Brazilian Portuguese has 8 oral vowels phonemes. There are also five nasal vowels, which some linguists regard as allophones of the oral vowels, ten oral diphthongs, and five nasal diphthongs. In Total Brazilian Portuguese has 13 vowel phonemes
To the seven vowels of Vulgar Latin, European Portuguese has added two near central vowels, one of which tends to be elided in rapid speech, like the e caduc of French (represented either as /ɯ̽/, or /ɨ/, or /ə/). The high vowels and the low vowels are four distinct phonemes, and they alternate in various forms of apophony. Like Catalan, Portuguese uses vowel quality to contrast stressed syllables with unstressed syllables: isolated vowels tend to be raised, and in some cases centralized, when unstressed. Nasal diphthongs occur mostly at the end of words.
The consonant inventory of Portuguese is fairly conservative. The medieval affricates /ts/, /dz/, /tʃ/, /dʒ/ merged with the fricatives /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, respectively, but not with each other, and there were no other significant changes to the consonant phonemes since then. However, some remarkable dialectal variants and allophones have appeared, among which:
A particularly interesting aspect of the grammar of Portuguese is the verb. Morphologically, more verbal inflections from classical Latin have been preserved by Portuguese than any other major Romance language. See Romance copula, for a detailed comparison. It has also some innovations not found in other Romance languages (except Galician and the Fala):
There are some minor differences between the orthographies of Brazil and other Portuguese language countries. One of the most pervasive is the use of acute accents in the European/African/Asian orthography in many words such as sinónimo, where the Brazilian orthography has a circumflex accent, sinônimo. Another important difference is that Brazilian spelling often lacks c or p before c, ç, or t, where the European orthography has them; for example, cf. Brazilian fato with European facto, "fact", or Brazilian objeto with European objecto, "object". Some of these spelling differences reflect differences in the pronunciation of the words, but others are merely graphic.
|Original||IPA (European Portuguese)||IPA (Brazilian Portuguese)||Translation|
|Sustentava contra ele Vénus bela,||Against him spoke the lovely Venus|
|Afeiçoada à gente Lusitana,||Favoring the people of Portugal,|
|Por quantas qualidades via nela||For her love of Roman virtue|
|Da antiga tão amada sua Romana;||She saw resurrected in them;|
|Nos fortes corações, |
na grande estrela,
|In their stout hearts, in the star|
|Que mostraram na terra Tingitana,||Which shone bright above Ceuta,|
|E na língua, na qual quando imagina,||In the language which an inventive mind|
|Com pouca corrupção crê que é a Latina.||Could mistake for Latin, passably declined.|