Language Overview: Portuguese

Language Overview  Portuguese

Portuguese is a Romance language that has its roots in Latin, as with all other Romance languages, although it has been heavily influenced by other languages throughout history.

History of Portuguese

Portuguese evolved out of the language of the medieval Kingdom of Galacia, which at its pinnacle occupied the entire northwestern part of the Iberian Peninsula, and area that now belongs to Spain. As with all Romance languages, Portuguese has its roots in Latin, which was brought to the area by the Romans in 216 BC. This form of Portuguese is commonly known as Galician-Portuguese, Old Portuguese, or Old Galician.

Portugal became an independent kingdom in 1139 AD, and in 1290, King Denis of Portugal officially declared that the ‘common language’ was to be called Portuguese from that point on. Modern Portuguese emerged in the 16th century and is distinguished by a marked increase in the number of words borrowed from Classical Latin and Classical Greek.

Portuguese Today

Today there are over 250 million native speakers of the Portuguese language, making it the sixth most widely spoken language in the world. It is an official language in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe.

Modern Portuguese has only two dialects, European and Brazilian, with Modern Standard Portuguese being the dialect spoken in Central Portugal. Some sounds present in Brazilian Portuguese are exclusive to South America and cannot be found in the European dialect.

Learning Portuguese

Portuguese uses the stressed vowels that were common in the non-standard forms of Latin used for everyday speech. Most of the Portuguese vocabulary is derived from the Latin language as well, however due to the many occupations of the area throughout history and Portugal’s participation in the Age of Discovery, the language has incorporated many loan words from other languages across the world. Some of the outside influences on the Portuguese vocabulary include Germanic, Gothic, Arabic, and Chinese, as well as a multitude of European, South American, and African languages.

Portuguese consists of 8 vowels and 19 consonants, and uses the 26 letter alphabet of the Latin script for the written form with five diacritics used to denote sound changes, and stress, etc.

Currently Uruguay and Argentina are offering mandatory Portuguese in their school curricula and it is also being voluntarily taught in schools throughout Venezuela, Zambia, Congo, Senegal, Namibia, Swaziland, Ivory Coast, and South Africa.

Alternative learning methods are available through books, tapes, computer software, and online instruction, for those wishing to learn Portuguese.