Portuguese language

Last updated

português, língua portuguesa
Pronunciation [puɾtuˈɣeʃ] , [poɾtuˈɡes] , [poʁtu′ɡes] , [poɹtu′ɡes] , [poɦtu'gejʃ]
Ethnicity Lusophones
Native speakers
Native: 250 million; [1]
24 million L2 speakers; [1] Total: 274 million
Early forms
Latin (Portuguese alphabet)
Portuguese Braille
Manually coded Portuguese
Official status
Official language in

Recognised minority
language in
Regulated by Portugal:
Lisbon Academy of Sciences (Lisbon Academy Class of Letters)
Academia Brasileira de Letras
Language codes
ISO 639-1 pt
ISO 639-2 por
ISO 639-3 por
Glottolog port1283 [6]
Linguasphere 51-AAA-a
Map of the portuguese language in the world.svg
  Native language
  Official and administrative language
  Cultural or secondary language
  Portuguese-speaking minorities
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Portuguese (português or, in full, língua portuguesa) is a Romance language originating in the Iberian Peninsula of Europe. It is the sole official language of Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, [7] while having co-official language status in East Timor, Equatorial Guinea and Macau. A Portuguese-speaking person or nation is referred to as "Lusophone" (Lusófono). As the result of expansion during colonial times, a cultural presence of Portuguese and Portuguese creole speakers are also found around the world. [8] Portuguese is part of the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several dialects of Vulgar Latin in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia and the County of Portugal, and has kept some Celtic phonology and lexicon. [9] [10]


With approximately 215 to 220 million native speakers and 50 million L2 speakers, Portuguese has approximately 270 million total speakers. It is usually listed as the sixth-most spoken language and the third-most spoken European language in the world in terms of native speakers. [11] Being the most widely spoken language in South America [12] [13] and all of the Southern Hemisphere, [14] it is also the second-most spoken language, after Spanish, in Latin America, one of the 10 most spoken languages in Africa [15] and is an official language of the European Union, Mercosur, the Organization of American States, the Economic Community of West African States, the African Union and the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, an international organization made up of all of the world's officially Lusophone nations. In 1997, a comprehensive academic study ranked Portuguese, specifically the Brazilian variety, as one of the 10 most influential languages in the world. [16] [17]


When the Romans arrived in the Iberian Peninsula in 216 BC, they brought the Latin language with them, from which all Romance languages are descended. The language was spread by Roman soldiers, settlers, and merchants, who built Roman cities mostly near the settlements of previous Celtic civilizations established long before the Roman arrivals. For that reason, the language has kept a relevant substratum of much older, Atlantic European Megalithic Culture [18] and Celtic culture, [19] part of the Hispano-Celtic group of ancient languages. [20]

Between AD 409 and AD 711, as the Roman Empire collapsed in Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Germanic peoples of the Migration Period. The occupiers, mainly Suebi, [21] [22] Visigoths and Buri [23] who originally spoke Germanic languages, quickly adopted late Roman culture and the Vulgar Latin dialects of the peninsula and over the next 300 years totally integrated into the local populations. Some Germanic words from that period, are part of the Portuguese lexicon. After the Moorish invasion beginning in 711, Arabic became the administrative and common language in the conquered regions, but most of the remaining Christian population continued to speak a form of Romance commonly known as Mozarabic, which lasted three centuries longer in Spain. Like other Neo-Latin and European languages, Portuguese has adopted a significant number of loanwords from Greek, [24] mainly in technical and scientific terminology. These borrowings occurred via Latin, and later during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Portuguese evolved from the medieval language, known today by linguists as Galician-Portuguese, Old Portuguese or Old Galician, of the northwestern medieval Kingdom of Galicia and County of Portugal. [25]

Spoken area of Galician-Portuguese (also known as Old Portuguese or Medieval Galician) in the kingdoms of Galicia and Leon around the 10th century, before the separation of Galician and Portuguese Idioma galaicoportugues.png
Spoken area of Galician-Portuguese (also known as Old Portuguese or Medieval Galician) in the kingdoms of Galicia and León around the 10th century, before the separation of Galician and Portuguese

It is in Latin administrative documents of the 9th century that written Galician-Portuguese words and phrases are first recorded. This phase is known as Proto-Portuguese, which lasted from the 9th century until the 12th-century independence of the County of Portugal from the Kingdom of León, which had by then assumed reign over Galicia.

In the first part of the Galician-Portuguese period (from the 12th to the 14th century), the language was increasingly used for documents and other written forms. For some time, it was the language of preference for lyric poetry in Christian Hispania, much as Occitan was the language of the poetry of the troubadours in France. The Occitan digraphs lh and nh, used in its classical orthography, were adopted by the orthography of Portuguese, presumably by Gerald of Braga, [26] a monk from Moissac, who became bishop of Braga in Portugal in 1047, playing a major role in modernizing written Portuguese using classical Occitan norms. [27] Portugal became an independent kingdom in 1139, under King Afonso I of Portugal. In 1290, King Denis of Portugal created the first Portuguese university in Lisbon (the Estudos Gerais, which later moved to Coimbra) and decreed for Portuguese, then simply called the "common language", to be known as the Portuguese language and used officially.

In the second period of Old Portuguese, in the 15th and 16th centuries, with the Portuguese discoveries, the language was taken to many regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. By the mid-16th century, Portuguese 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 creole languages such as that 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 the period from the 16th century to the present day, were characterized by an increase in the number of learned words borrowed from Classical Latin and Classical Greek because of the Renaissance (learned words borrowed from Latin also came from Renaissance Latin, the form of Latin during that time), which greatly enriched the lexicon. Most literate Portuguese speakers were also literate in Latin; and thus they easily adopted Latin words into their writing – and eventually speech – in Portuguese. [28]

Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes once called Portuguese "the sweet and gracious language", while the Brazilian poet Olavo Bilac described it as a última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela ("the last flower of Latium, naive and beautiful"). Portuguese is also termed "the language of Camões", after Luís Vaz de Camões, one of the greatest literary figures in the Portuguese language and author of the Portuguese epic poem The Lusiads . [29] [30] [31]

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 greatest number of Portuguese language speakers in the world. [32] The museum is the first of its kind in the world. [32] In 2015 the museum was partially destroyed in a fire, [33] but restored and reopened in 2020.

Geographic distribution

Sign in Japanese, Portuguese, and English in Oizumi, Japan, which has a large lusophone community due to return immigration of Japanese Brazilians. Multilingual Emergency Assembly Area Sign in Oizumi.JPG
Sign in Japanese, Portuguese, and English in Oizumi, Japan, which has a large lusophone community due to return immigration of Japanese Brazilians.

Portuguese is the native language of the vast majority of the people in Portugal, [35] Brazil [36] and São Tomé and Príncipe (95%). [37] Perhaps 75% of the population of urban Angola speaks Portuguese natively, [38] while approximately 85% fluent; these rates are lower in the countryside. [39] Just over 50% (and rapidly increasing) of the population of Mozambique are native speakers of Portuguese, and 70% are fluent, according to the 2007 census. [40] Portuguese is also spoken natively by 30% of the population in Guinea-Bissau, and a Portuguese-based creole is understood by all. [41] No data is available for Cape Verde, but almost all the population is bilingual, and the monolingual population speaks the Portuguese-based Cape Verdean Creole. Portuguese is mentioned in the Constitution of South Africa as one of the languages spoken by communities within the country for which the Pan South African Language Board was charged with promoting and ensuring respect. [42]

There are also significant Portuguese-speaking immigrant communities in many countries including Andorra (15.4%), [43] Bermuda, [44] Canada (400,275 people in the 2006 census), [45] France (900,000 people), [46] Japan (400,000 people), [47] Jersey, [48] Namibia (about 4–5% of the population, mainly refugees from Angola in the north of the country), [49] Paraguay (10.7% or 636,000 people), [50] Macau (0.6% or 12,000 people), [51] Switzerland (196,000 nationals in 2008), [52] Venezuela (554,000). [53] and the United States (0.35% of the population or 1,228,126 speakers according to the 2007 American Community Survey). [54]

In some parts of former Portuguese India, namely Goa [55] and Daman and Diu, [56] the language is still spoken by about 10,000 people. In 2014, an estimated 1,500 students were learning Portuguese in Goa. [57]

Official status

Countries and regions where Portuguese has official status. Lusophone World.svg
Countries and regions where Portuguese has official status.

The Community of Portuguese Language Countries [7] (in Portuguese Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa, with the Portuguese acronym CPLP) consists of the eight independent countries that have Portuguese as an official language: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe. [7]

Equatorial Guinea made a formal application for full membership to the CPLP in June 2010, a status given only to states with Portuguese as an official language. [58] In 2011, Portuguese became its third official language (besides Spanish and French) [59] and, in July 2014, the country was accepted as a member of the CPLP. [60]

Portuguese is also one of the official languages of the Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China of Macau (alongside Chinese) and of several international organizations, including Mercosur, [61] the Organization of Ibero-American States, [62] the Union of South American Nations, [63] the Organization of American States, [64] the African Union, [65] the Economic Community of West African States, [65] the Southern African Development Community [65] and the European Union. [66]

Lusophone countries

According to The World Factbook country population estimates for 2018, the population of each of the ten jurisdictions is as follows (by descending order):

(July 2018 est.) [67]
More informationNative language
of the majority
Spoken by
Flag of Brazil.svg Brazil 208,846,892 Portuguese in Brazil Green check.svgVast majority as a native language
Flag of Angola.svg Angola 30,355,880 Portuguese in Angola Green check.svgA majority as a native language;
majority as a second language
Flag of Mozambique.svg Mozambique 27,233,789 Portuguese in Mozambique Green check.svgThe majority of the population speaks it
Flag of Portugal.svg Portugal 10,355,493 Portuguese in Portugal Green check.svgVast majority as a native language
Flag of Guinea-Bissau.svg Guinea-Bissau 1,833,247 Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau Green check.svgMajority as a native language
Flag of East Timor.svg East Timor 1,321,929 Portuguese in East Timor Dark Red x.svgA small minority as a second language
Flag of Equatorial Guinea.svg Equatorial Guinea 2797,457 Portuguese in Equatorial Guinea Dark Red x.svgA small minority as a native language alongside Annobonese Creole
Flag of Macau.svg Macau 1606,340 Portuguese in Macau Dark Red x.svgA small minority as a native language
Flag of Cape Verde.svg Cape Verde 568,373 Portuguese in Cape Verde Green check.svgMajority as a native language (creole)
Flag of Sao Tome and Principe.svg São Tomé and Príncipe 204,454 Portuguese in São Tomé and Príncipe Green check.svgVast majority as a native language
Totalc.282 million Community of Portuguese Language Countries


  1. Macau is one of the two autonomous Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China (the other being Anglophone Hong Kong, a former British colony).
  2. Equatorial Guinea adopted Portuguese as one of its official languages in 2007, being admitted to CPLP in 2014. The use of the Portuguese language in this country is limited. However, a Portuguese-based creole language, Annobonese Creole, is used, mainly on the islands of Annobon and Bioko.

The combined population of the entire Lusophone area was estimated at 279 million in July 2017. This number does not include the Lusophone diaspora, estimated at approximately 10 million people (including 4.5 million Portuguese, 3 million Brazilians, and half a million Cape Verdeans, among others), although it is hard to obtain official accurate numbers of diasporic Portuguese speakers because a significant portion of these citizens are naturalized citizens born outside of Lusophone territory or are children of immigrants, and may have only a basic command of the language. Additionally, a large part of the diaspora is a part of the already-counted population of the Portuguese-speaking countries and territories, such as the high number of Brazilian and PALOP emigrant citizens in Portugal or the high number of Portuguese emigrant citizens in the PALOP and Brazil.

The Portuguese language therefore serves more than 250 million people daily, who have direct or indirect legal, juridical and social contact with it, varying from the only language used in any contact, to only education, contact with local or international administration, commerce and services or the simple sight of road signs, public information and advertising in Portuguese.

Portuguese as a foreign language

Portuguese is a mandatory subject in the school curriculum in Uruguay. [68] Other countries where Portuguese is commonly taught in schools or where it has been introduced as an option include Venezuela, [69] Zambia, [70] the Republic of the Congo, [71] Senegal, [71] Namibia, [49] Eswatini (Swaziland), [71] South Africa, [71] Ivory Coast, [72] and Mauritius. [73] In 2017, a project was launched to introduce Portuguese as a school subject in Zimbabwe. [74] [75] Also, according to Portugal's Minister of Foreign Affairs, the language will be part of the school curriculum of a total of 32 countries by 2020. [76] In the countries listed below, Portuguese is spoken either as a native language by minorities due to the Portuguese colonial past or as a lingua franca in bordering and multilingual regions, such as on the border between Brazil and Uruguay, as well as Angola and Namibia. In Sri Lanka, there is still a community of thousands of Portuguese Creole speakers due to Portuguese colonization.

CountryPopulation [77]
(July 2017 est.)
More informationMandatory taughtSpoken by
Flag of Uruguay.svg  Uruguay 3,444,006 Portuguese in Uruguay Green check.svgSignificant minority as a native language
Flag of Argentina.svg  Argentina 43,847,430 Portuguese in Argentina Green check.svgMinority as a second language
Flag of Paraguay.svg  Paraguay 7,052,984 Portuguese in Paraguay Dark Red x.svgSignificant minority as a native language
Flag of Venezuela.svg  Venezuela 31,568,179 Portuguese in Venezuela Green check.svgMinority as a second language
Flag of South Africa.svg  South Africa 57,725,600 Portuguese in South Africa Dark Red x.svgSmall minority as a native language
Flag of Namibia.svg  Namibia 2,606,971 Portuguese in Namibia Dark Red x.svgSmall minority as a native language
Flag of the Republic of the Congo.svg  Congo 5,125,821 Portuguese in Congo Dark Red x.svgSmall minority as a second language
Flag of Zambia.svg  Zambia 16,591,390 Portuguese in Zambia Dark Red x.svgSmall minority as a second language
Flag of Senegal.svg  Senegal 15,411,614 Portuguese in Senegal Dark Red x.svgSmall minority as a second language
Flag of Eswatini.svg  Eswatini 1,343,098 Portuguese in Eswatini Dark Red x.svgSmall minority as a second language


According to estimates by UNESCO, Portuguese is the fastest-growing European language after English and the language has, according to the newspaper The Portugal News publishing data given from UNESCO, the highest potential for growth as an international language in southern Africa and South America. [78] Portuguese is a globalized language spoken officially on five continents, and as a second language by millions worldwide.

Since 1991, when Brazil signed into the economic community of Mercosul with other South American nations, namely Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, Portuguese is either mandatory, or taught, in the schools of those South American countries.

Although early in the 21st century, after Macau was returned to China and Brazilian immigration to Japan slowed down, the use of Portuguese was in decline in Asia, it is once again becoming a language of opportunity there, mostly because of increased diplomatic and financial ties with economically powerful Portuguese-speaking countries (Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, etc.) in the world. [79] [80]


Ethnically diverse East Timor has Portuguese as one of its official languages Sprachen Osttimors-en.png
Ethnically diverse East Timor has Portuguese as one of its official languages

Você, a pronoun meaning "you", is used for educated, formal, and colloquial respectful speech in most Portuguese-speaking regions. In the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, você is virtually absent from the spoken language. Riograndense and European Portuguese normally distinguishes formal from informal speech by verbal conjugation. Informal speech employs tu followed by second person verbs, formal language retains the formal você, followed by the third person conjugation.

Conjugation of verbs in tu has three different forms in Brazil (verb "to see": tu viste?, in the traditional second person, tu viu?, in the third person, and tu visse?, in the innovative second person), the conjugation used in the Brazilian states of Pará, Santa Catarina and Maranhão being generally traditional second person, the kind that is used in other Portuguese-speaking countries and learned in Brazilian schools.

The predominance of Southeastern-based media products has established você as the pronoun of choice for the second person singular in both writing and multimedia communications. However, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, the country's main cultural center, the usage of tu has been expanding ever since the end of the 20th century, [81] being most frequent among youngsters, and a number of studies have also shown an increase in its use in a number of other Brazilian dialects. [82] [83]

The status of second person pronouns in Brazil.
Near exclusive use of voce
(greater than 96%)
Decidedly predominant use of tu
(greater than 80%), but with near exclusive third person (voce
-like) verbal conjugation.
50-50 voce
variation, with tu
being nearly always accompanied by third person (voce
-like) verbal conjugation.
Decidedly predominant to near exclusive use of tu
(76% to 95%) with reasonable frequency of second person (tu
-like) verbal conjugation.
Balanced voce/tu distribution, being tu
exclusively accompanied by third person (voce
-like) verbal conjugation.
Balanced voce
distribution, tu
being predominantly accompanied by third person (voce
-like) verbal conjugation.
No data Uso dos pronomes de segunda pessoa no Brasil.svg
The status of second person pronouns in Brazil.
  Near exclusive use of você (greater than 96%)
  Decidedly predominant use of tu (greater than 80%), but with near exclusive third person (você-like) verbal conjugation.
  50-50 você/tu variation, with tu being nearly always accompanied by third person (você-like) verbal conjugation.
  Decidedly predominant to near exclusive use of tu (76% to 95%) with reasonable frequency of second person (tu-like) verbal conjugation.
  Balanced você/tu distribution, being tu exclusively accompanied by third person (você-like) verbal conjugation.
  Balanced você/tu distribution, tu being predominantly accompanied by third person (você-like) verbal conjugation.
  No data
Written varieties
Before 1990AgreementTranslation
Different pronunciation
anónimo anônimoBoth forms remainanonymous
VénusVênusBoth forms remainVenus
factofatoBoth forms remainfact
Silent consonants
Non-personal and non-geographical names

Portuguese orthography is based on the Latin alphabet and makes use of the acute accent, the circumflex accent, the grave accent, the tilde, and the cedilla to denote stress, vowel height, nasalization, and other sound changes. The diaeresis was abolished by the last Orthography Agreement. Accented letters and digraphs are not counted as separate characters for collation purposes.

The spelling of Portuguese is largely phonemic, but some phonemes can be spelled in more than one way. In ambiguous cases, the correct spelling is determined through a combination of etymology with morphology and tradition; so there is not a perfect one-to-one correspondence between sounds and letters or digraphs. Knowing the main inflectional paradigms of Portuguese and being acquainted with the orthography of other Western European languages can be helpful.

See also

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Phonology, orthography and grammar
Reference dictionaries
Linguistic studies
  • Cook, Manuela. Portuguese Pronouns and Other Forms of Address, from the Past into the Future – Structural, Semantic and Pragmatic Reflections, Ellipsis, vol. 11, APSA, www.portuguese-apsa.com/ellipsis, 2013
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  • Cook, Manuela. On the Portuguese Forms of Address: From Vossa Mercê to Você, Portuguese Studies Review 3.2, Durham: University of New Hampshire, 1995
  • Lindley Cintra, Luís F. Nova Proposta de Classificação dos Dialectos Galego- Portugueses (PDF) Boletim de Filologia, Lisboa, Centro de Estudos Filológicos, 1971.