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Portuguese language

Portuguese is the second most spoken Romance language in the world (outnumbered only by Spanish - see also Iberian Romance Languages), spoken in Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, East Timor, Cape Verde, Mozambique, and Macau SAR.

Portuguese is also spoken in Goa in India, but by an increasingly small minority, while in Malacca in Malaysia, there is a Portuguese creole known as Cristao (Papiá Kristang) still spoken by some of the Eurasian population.

Total speakers: 206,1 Million
Language codes
ISO 639-1: pt
ISO 639-2: por

Table of contents
1 Portuguese Today and in the Future
2 Origins of the Portuguese language
3 The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries
4 Brazil and Portugal
5 Africa and East Timor
6 Galicia
7 Portuguese Language Territories
8 Phonetics
9 Literature
10 External links

Portuguese Today and in the Future

In a Unesco report from 2000 it is stated that Portuguese is spoken by 176 million people worldwide, but this is seen as very gross statistic data. Today it is spoken by more than 206,1 million (not considering Portuguese creoules). Brazil alone as at least 182 million. In Africa there are 13,7 million portuguese speakers. In Europe there are over 10,1 million just in Portugal (not considering Galicia, France, Luxembourg, among others). In Asia, there are only 0,2 million.

The portuguese is a growing language specially in subsaharan Africa, where is is stated that will be the one of the most spoken within 50 years with the growing importance of Angola and Mozambique. It is also taking importance in South America because of Brazil, it is being taught (and it is popular) in the rest of the South American countries that constitutes Mercosul (mercosur). It is an official language of the European Union and Mercosul, among other organizations.

Origins of the Portuguese language

Roman colonization

Although the Iberian Peninsula was inhabited since very before the Roman colonization, very little traces of the native languages persist in the modern Portuguese. The Portuguese language, that has as origin in the Vulgar Latin, developed in the west coast of the
Iberian Peninsula (current Portugal and region of Galiza, or Galicia) enclosed in the Roman province of Lusitania. The province of Lusitania splitted into two seperated provinces, Lusitania and Galecia. From 218 BC, with the Roman invasion of the peninsula, and until 9th century, the language spoken in the region was the Romance, a variant of Latin that constitutes an intermediate to the modern Latin languages.

Barbarian invasion

During 409 A.D. to 711, peoples of germanic origin, known by the Romans as Barbarians, installed in the Iberian Peninsula. These Barbarians had very few developed culture and they accepted the culture and language of the peninsula. The effect of these migrations in the spoken language of the population was not uniform, initiating a process of regional differentiation, since each barbarian spoak Latin in a different form.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the schools had been closed and the former empire did not have more the unifying elements of the language. The Latin was free to modify itself.

The definitive disruption of the linguistic uniformity in the Peninsula will occur later, leading to the formation of well differentiated languages(Gallego-Portuguese, Castillian and Catalan). Some influences of this Era persist in the vocabulary of modern Portuguese especially in words linked to war and violence.

Barbarian origin words

Moorish invasion

711, with the moorish invasion of the Peninsula, Arabic is adopted as main language in the conquered regions, but the population continues to speak Romance. From the 9th to the 11th century, some Portuguese terms appear in the texts written in Latin, but the Portuguese is essentially only spoken in Portugal and Galicia.

Although barbarians and Arabs remained much time in the peninsula, the influence that they had exerted in the language was small, was restricted to the lexicon, therefore the romanization process was very intense. But one can find an huge number of arabic words in portuguese especially related to food, agriculture and placenames of the south.

Arabic origin words

The Rise of the Portuguese language

Alfonso I establishes the Portuguese Nation that assumed official independence in 1143. The language spoken in this occidental part of the Peninsula was the Gallego-Portuguese who with the time was differentiating itself: in the south, Portuguese, and in the north, Galician, who was suffering more influence from the Castilian for which was annexed. In 1290, king Diniz creates the Escola de Direitos Gerais (School of General Rights) and compels in decree the official use of the Portuguese Language.

The Portuguese discoveries

Between 14th to the 16th centuries, with the Portuguese discoveries, the Portuguese language becomes present in some regions of Asia, Africa and America, suffering local influences.

Asian origin words

Amerindian origin words

Sub-saharan Africa origin words

The Renaissance

With the Renaissance, increases the number of italian origin words and erudite words of Greek origin, incrising the complexity of Portuguese. The end of the archaic Portuguese is marked by the publication of the Cancioneiro Geral de Garcia de Resende, in 1516.

The Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries

CPLP (Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries) is an international organization grouping the eight independent countries which have Portuguese as official language.

Brazil and Portugal

There are some differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese varieties in vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax, especially in popular varieties. Often speakers of the Brazilian variety find it hard to understand the European one. By many, this is seen merely as national pride during the creation of the Brazilian republicanism that denied the Portuguese heritage to whom the Brazilian Emperors where attached and because the northeastern regions of Brazil wanted to return to Portugal. Brazilian immigrants in Portugal see no problem understanding the European variety. However, differences are natural in international languages spoken in far-away territories.

Obviously, Brazilian Portuguese is the same language as in Portugal. However, a few words and expressions are written differently (like 'bus' - "ônibus" (Braz.) = "autocarro" (Port.) ).

Other Languages in Brazil and in Portugal

Portuguese-speaking countries are sometimes divided between those who have Portuguese as national language - Portugal and Brazil - and those for which Portuguese is only an official language, with many others also spoken by the population. In Brazil, there are also some other languages, spoken by Native Americans - however, their importance is quite small. In Portugal, there is another officially recognised language, called Mirandese, spoken by a few thousand people in Northeast Portugal.

Because of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Russian is used for communication between immigrants in Portugal and by portuguese companies to advertize to this specific market. Immigrants from the Ukrain are the most numerous, and the Ukrainian is widly spoken. Alltought these language are less used when the Portuguese is learned. Using another language, if not a tourist, in Portugal is seen as offensive by the portuguese people, because they don't understand it and the Portuguese language is seen as an historical heritage to be preserved. This appends because Portugal is a mono-linguistic country and they are distrustful to new languages in the country.

Africa and East Timor

In the former Portuguese colonies in Africa, known as Paises Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa (PALOP), indigenous African languages are also widely spoken.

Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde

In Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, the most widely-spoken language is a Portuguese creole known as Crioulo.

Tought in Cape Verde, the European Portuguese variety is taking importance, and Portuguese lives alone among its various creoules. But, in Guinea-Bissau, the case is a bit different, Portuguese and its creoules are spoken by 55% of the inhabitants. Portuguese Language itself is only spoken by 11%. Other numerous African languages are the main languages for the rest of the population.

São Tomé and Principe

In São Tome and Principe, Portuguese used by the population is Archaic Portuguese, known as Sao Tomean Portuguese. Politicians and the high society uses the modern European Portuguese variety, much like the other PALOP countries. Portuguese Creoules are also found in São Tomé and Principe.


Portuguese is quickly becoming a national language in Angola, rather than only official or as a cohesion vehicle. In the capital, Luanda, Portuguese is the mother language of 75 % of a population of 2,5 million. In the all country, 60% of 12,5 million inhabitants Portuguese is also the main spoken language. There are also other languages in Angola, such as Umbundu, Kimbundu, Kikongo. Some words of that languages were absorved by the Portuguese people, when the retornados returned to Portugal after Angola's independence. Words like (yes) and bué (many), common in the young and urban Portuguese population has its origin in Angolan languages. Angola recieves several Portuguese and Brazilian televison stations.


Mozambique is between the countries where the Portuguese has the statute of official language, being spoken essentially as second language. In accordance with the Census of 1980, Portuguese was spoken by 25% of the population among 20 other languages (mainly spoken are from the
Bantu group), but only 1% considered Portuguese as main language. Currently, due to prestige associated with this language, this situation changed considerably, and the data of the 1997 Census indicate that the current percentage of Portuguese speakers is already of 39,6%.

East Timor

In East Timor the national language is
Tetum, which is Austronesian, but heavily influenced by Portuguese. The reintroduction of Portuguese as an official language has caused suspicion and resentment among some younger East Timorese who have been educated under the Indonesian system, and do not speak it. Portuguese in East Timor is spoken by less than 20% of its population. Altought it tends to increase.


Galician can be seen as a somewhat castilianized form of Portuguese. Linguists have always recognized the unity of these linguistic varieties (for instance, Corominas, Lindley Cintra, Coseriu, etc), as they were once just the same language and both are relatively conservative varieties. However, in practice, they are treated sometimes as different languages by both populations mainly due to sociolinguistic issues, with works in Galician being translated into Portuguese and vice versa. The current Galician Autonomous Government backs a standard of Galician which distances it from Portuguese and makes it, graphically, more similar to Castilian Spanish. Nevertheless, there is another standard, used in some political circles and universities that basically treats Galician as a Portuguese dialect with minor differences. During the Middle Ages, Galician and Portuguese were undoubtedly the same language, nowadays known as Gallego-Portuguese, a language used for poetic works even in Castille.

Portuguese Language Territories

Territories where Portuguese is spoken throwout the world.

As a national language

As an official language

Living and unrecognized Portuguese (language or creoules) territories

Extinct or endangered Portuguese (language or creoules) territories

New territories where Portuguese is also spoken


The phonetics of Portuguese are rather complicated. In comparison with the related Spanish language, there is no simple rule for the pronunciation of vowels, and some consonants also have multiple values. European and Brazilian Portuguese differ somewhat.

The tilde indicates a nasalized vowel. It occurs over two vowels, ã and õ, and in several diphthongs such as ão and ãe. The nasal sounds may also be indicated by a following m, as in bom ('good').

Unstressed o is normally /u/, and unstressed a is normally an open central vowel.

There are palatal consonants lh and nh (the equivalent of Spanish ll, ñ). The consonants ch, j are postalveolar fricatives, SAMPA /S/, /Z/, or the same sound as in French.

The letter s when final or followed by another voiceless consonant is /S/, or before a voiced consonant /Z/. So the escudo (the previous currency - now Portugal uses the Euro) is /@SkuDu/, plural escudos /@SkuDuS/. This peculiarity is only valid however in Portugal and in the metropolitan area of the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. In other regions of Brazil and other former Portuguese colonies, the s is merely voiced (to /z/) when before a voiced consonant.

Comparison with other languages

Portuguese is similar in many ways to Spanish, but there are enough differences, in both writing and speech, so that a speaker of one may require some practice to effectively understand a speaker of the other. Compare, for example:

Ela fecha sempre a janela antes de jantar (Portuguese)

Ella cierra siempre la ventana antes de cenar. (Spanish)

Almost all words in Spanish or Portuguese have close relatives in both languages if you are cultivated enough to use less common words:

Ela encerra sempre a janela antes de cear (less common Portuguese)

(Which translates as "She always closes the window before having dinner.")

Speakers of other Romance languages may find a peculiarity in the conjugating of certain apparently infinite verbs. In particular, when constructing a future tense or conditional tense expression involving an indirect object pronoun, the pronoun is placed between the verb stem and the verb ending. For example, Dupondt said trazer-vos-emos o vosso ceptro. Translating as literally as possible, this is "bring (stem)-to you (formal)-we (future) the your sceptre". In English we would say, "We will bring you your sceptre." The form Nós vos traremos o vosso ceptro. is also correct, although far less common in Portugal, but more common in Brazil.

Portuguese speakers are generally able to read Spanish Castilian, and Spanish Castilian speakers are generally able to read Portuguese, even if they can't understand the spoken language. Tourists in Portugal should note that trying to communicate with the locals in Spanish may seem offensive.

In some places, Spanish and Portuguese are spoken almost interchangeably. There is a town on the Brazil/Paraguay border, for example, known in Brazil as Ponta Porã and in Paraguay as Pedro Juan Caballero, where conversations regularly switch back and forth between the two languages. (To add to this rich diversity, many people in the region also speak Guarani.).

Basic Conversations in Portuguese

Here are a few examples of portuguese words and phrases.

English Portuguese
hello olá (pronounced as Oh-LAH)
oi (popular)
good-Bye adeus (may seem offensive, sign of good-bye forever)
xau (popular)
thank you obrigado (if you are a man)
obrigada (if you are a woman)
sorry desculpe
that one esse (masculine)
essa (feminine)
this one este (masculine)
esta (feminine)
one um (masculine)
uma (feminine)
two dois (masculine)
duas (feminine)
three três (pronounced as Treh-sh or Treh-j or Treh-ss)
four quatro
five cinco
how much? quanto custa?
yes sim
no não (pronounced as naang)
yes sim
I'm English Sou Inglês
I'm American Sou Americano
Do you speak English? Falas inglês? (to friends)
Fala inglês? (sign of respect in Portugal and to friends in Brasil)
I don't understand Não percebo
what? Como?
what's your name? Como te chamas? (pronounced as COH-muh tee SHAH-mash )
My name is Eu me chamo
Eu chamo-me
what's this? O que é isto? (pronounced as Uh quee heh ISH-tuh?)
this is good Isto é bom
where's the bathroom? Onde fica o banheiro (Brazil) (pronounced as ON-de FIH-ka uh BAH-ng-eh-ruh )
Onde fica o quarto de banho (Portugal)
I will miss you Vou sentir tua falta
Vou sentir sua falta (sign of respect in Portugal and to friends in Brasil)
Vou sentir saudades tuas (portuguese sentimental sense of miss)
Vou sentir saudades suas (portuguese sentimental sense of miss- sign of respect in Portugal and to friend in Brazil)
man homem
wine Vinho (masculine) (pronounced as VIH ng-uh)
car carro (masculine)
monument monumento (masculine)
room quarto (masculine)
a room um quarto (masculine and singular)
two rooms dois quartos (masculine and plural)
woman mulher
shop loja (feminine)
road estrada (feminine)
sand areia (feminine)
food comida (feminine)
a potato uma batata (feminine and singular)
two potatos duas batatas (feminine and plural)


Luís de Camões

To English speakers, the most famous writer in the Portuguese language is the poet Luís Vaz de Camoes or Luís Vaz Camoens (1524-June 10, 1580), author of the epic poem, the Lusiad. (In the Victorian era, he was both sufficiently admired and sufficiently obscure for Elizabeth Barrett Browning to disguise her work by entitling it Sonnets from the Portuguese, a reference to Camões).

The Portuguese national holiday, Portugal's Day or Dia de Portugal, das Comunidades Portuguesas e de Camões (Portugal's, Portuguese Communities' and Camoens' Day), is celebrated on June 10th, the anniversary of Camões death. It is a day of national pride similar to the "independence days" celebrated in other countries.

Eça de Queirós

Eça de Queirós (1845 - 1900) is the most famous Portuguese novelist. His works have been translated into many languages; as of 2003, about twenty of them are in print in English translation. Born in Povoa de Varzim, near Oporto. He traveled throughout the world as a consul. He happily accepted his assignment to the consulate of Paris in 1888 and remained there until his death. The books he wrote in Paris are critical of Portuguese society. Some of his most famous works are The Maias, The Crime of Father Amaro (O crime do Padre Amaro) and Cousin Basílio (Primo Basílio).

In 2002, the Mexican director Carlos Carrera made a motion picture, El Crimen del Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro), adapted from Queirós' novel. One of the most successful Mexican films in history, it was also controversial because of what was thought by some to be an unfair depiction of the Catholic priesthood.

Fernando Pessoa

Fernando Pessoa (1888 - 1935) was a famous portuguese poet, one of the greatest in the Portuguese history. He wrote as if he was different poets. One of his most famous works, was a different and vivid adaptation of The Lusiad, called The Message (A Mensagem).

The Message are seen as impressive by some critics for speaking of the Sebastianism and Portuguese prophecies, that were created and prophecized during the time of Camoens. The Portuguese irrationally wait the return of the dead king in a foggy day - the return of National Me (Eu Nacional) that will take Portugal, once more, to govern the Fifth Empire.

External links