Portuguese is a Romance language spoken by about 255 million people. It is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe, and is a co-official language in East Timor, Equatorial Guinea and Macau. These Portuguese-speaking countries and regions are known as Lusophone (Lusófono) and are part of Lusofonia or the Lusophone World (Mundo Lusófono). These names originate from Lusitania, the Roman province that covered more or less the same area as modern Portugal.
There are about 212 million Portuguese speakers in Brazil, 18 millioin in Angola, 10 million in Mozambique, 9.9 million in Portugal, 396,450 in Guinea-Bissau, 367,800 in the Cape Verde Islands, 197,000 in São Tomé e Principe, 18,680 in Macau, and 5,600 in East Timor. Other countries with significant numbers of Portuguese speakers include France (1 million), the USA (714,018), Switzerland (309,270), Japan (270,000), Venezuela (254,000), India (250,000), Canada (222,000) and Paraguay (212,000). The language is spoken by smaller numbers of people in many other countries [source].
Portuguese is taught as a foreign language in such countries as South Africa, Argentina, Venezuela, Zambia, Senegal, Paraguay, Congo and Uraguay, where it is a compulsory subject.
Portuguese is a descendent of Latin, which was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by Roman soldiers, settlers and merchants from 216 BC. The Latin in that area was influenced by the Hispano-Celtic languages that were spoken there at the time.
After the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century AD, Germanic peoples, such as the Suebi, Visigoths and Buri invaded and settled in Iberia. The quickly adopted Latin and Roman culture, and integrated with the local population.
In 711 AD, the Moors from North Africa began to invade and occupy southern parts of Iberia. Arabic became the main language in their conquered territory, and some words were borrowed from Arabic into local varieties of languages during this time.
It is thought that by about 600 AD, an early form of Galician-Portuguese was being spoken in the Kingdom of the Suebi in the nortwest corner of Iberia. By 800 AD this language was spoken throught the northwest of Iberia.
The earliest records of a distinctly Portuguese language appear in administrative documents dating from the 9th century AD from the Kingom of Galicia, which corresponds to modern Galicia in Spain, and part of northern Portugal. This language was known as Galician-Portuguese or Proto-Portuguese.
The period between the 12th and 14th centuries is known as the Galician-Portuguese period. Portuguese became the preferred language of lyric poetry in Christian Hispania. There was no standard way to write the language, however one popular orthography, based on Occitan, was probably devised by Gerald of Braga, a monk from Moissac, who became Bishop of Braga in 1047.
Portugal became independent in 1139. In 1290, King Dinis I (1261-1325) decreed that Portuguese, which was called the "common language", should be known as the Portuguese language and should be officially used in Portugal. Poetry and songs were the main form of Portuguese literature at that time, and King Dinis himself wrote quite a few poems.
From the 13th century Portuguese literature included prose works such as chronicles, lives of saints and treatises on genealogy.
From the 15th century the Portuguese began to colonise parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas, taking with them their language. By the mid-16th century, Portuguese was used in Asia and Africa in colonial administration, and as a lingua franca between the Portuguese, other Europeans and local people. Portuguese-based creoles also began to emerge during this time.
Modern Portuguese began to develop in the 16th century. At that time Portuguese speakers who were literate in their own language, were also literate in Latin, and borrowed many words from Classical and Renaissance Latin, and from Classical Greek.
A reformed Portuguese orthography (nova ortografia), in which words were spelled more in accordance with their pronunciation, was adopted is Portugal in 1916. A slightly modified form was adopted in Brazil in 1943 and revised in 1970. A new orthography which aims to unify the written Portuguese of all the lusophone countries was adopted in Brazil in 2009. Dates have yet to be set for its adoption in the other Portuguese-speaking countries
The letters K, W and Y are used only in foreign loan words.
The letters K, W and Y are used only in foreign loan words.
Todos os seres humanos nascem livres e iguais em dignidade e em direitos. Dotados de razão e de consciência, devem agir uns para com os outros em espírito de fraternidade.
Todos os seres humanos nascem livres e iguais em dignidade e direitos. São dotados de razão e consciência e devem agir em relação uns aos outros com espírito de fraternidade.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
Contributors to this page: Marcelo Manschein, Mário André Coelho da Silva and Heitor de Moraes from Brazil, and Renato Serôdio from Portugal
Information about Portuguese
A Língua Portuguesa (a history of the Portuguese language in Portuguese, English and French): http://www.linguaportuguesa.ufrn.br/
Online Portuguese lessons
- Learn Portuguese online with Portuguese Pod101
- Grammar Hero Portuguese - Internalise Portuguese Grammar
- Portuguese learning software
- Learn Portuguese with Glossika
- Learn Portuguese now at Rocket Languages!
- Find Portuguese Tutors with LanguaTalk
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Page last modified: 02.03.22
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