Portuguese Language History

The Portuguese language is a Romance language spoken by about 240 million people. It is the official Portugal language and an official language in Brazil. In fact, the Portuguese language has spread worldwide! It is currently spoken on four continents due to colonisation in the 1500s, an integral part of Portuguese history, shaping the distribution of Portuguese language speakers today.

The large community of Portuguese-language countries are known as Lusophone countries. The prefix “Luso-” is derived from the name the Romans gave the area that eventually became Portugal. The Romans called the area “Lusitania,” a term that is still sometimes used today. As a matter of fact, when settlers landed in South America and introduced the Portuguese language in Brazil, they initially called the country “New Lusitania.”

Like other languages, the Portuguese language has evolved throughout its history. It influenced many different languages and vice versa before it reached the form we know and use today. The Portugal language has also provided loanwords to many other languages. It is one of the major world languages, the official language of nine countries, and one of the official languages of the EU.

But how did the Portuguese language gain its prominent position in the world today? Exactly how has Portuguese history impacted the distribution and evolution of the language? And how did the Portugal language wind up becoming the official language in Brazil and many other countries? Here we go back to the origins of the language and follow Portuguese history to the present day to answer these questions and more!

Origins & Roots of the Portuguese Language

The Portuguese language is a Romance language, meaning it evolved from Latin. The Romans initially brought Latin to the Iberian Peninsula in 216 BC. It was used as the primary Portugal language for hundreds of years but began to diverge from other Romance languages in the 9th century when the Roman Empire fell. This marked the beginning of the Old Portuguese era.

Old Portuguese is also known as Medieval Galician or Galician-Portuguese. The language was used for speaking and written communication, used for many historical poems and pieces of literature. However, the turning point in Portuguese history was the establishment of the Lusophone University in 1290 by King Diniz. After the University, the name “Portuguese” became the official language, and the language replaced Latin at this time.

The Old Portuguese language continued to be used throughout the 15th and 16th centuries. During this period, Portugal colonised many countries and established the Portuguese Empire. The Portuguese settlers and explorers took their language with them. It became the lingua franca in Asia and Africa due to trade and colonisation, alongside a dominant language in Brazil.

Modern “Portuguese Language”

The Old Portuguese era ended in 1516 with the publication of the Cancioneiro Geral. This book is a collection of poems from the 15th and 16th centuries written in the Portuguese language. Along with other literature, it helped spread the language and define spelling and syntax. This version of the language is remarkably similar to the current language in Brazil and Portugal.

Nevertheless, some changes have occurred to Modern Portuguese since the 16th century. For example, a considerable number of loanwords from Greek and Latin were added during the Renaissance. Although the Portuguese language had replaced Latin as the Portugal language, most people understood both. This made it easy for Latin words to find their way back into the language.

Moreover, Portuguese history continues to evolve, even in more recent times. For example, a reformed orthography took place several times in the 1900s in an attempt to unify the Portugal and Brazil languages. The most recent agreement was signed in 1990, and the reform took effect in 2009. It changed capitalisation and hyphen usage. After a transitional period, the new orthographies are now official in both countries.

Alphabets & Writing of the Portuguese language

The Portuguese language is written in the Roman alphabet. Given that Portuguese history can be traced back to Latin origins, this is expected. In fact, it is a well-known feature of all Romance languages. Yet unlike the original Latin alphabet, the Portuguese language doesn’t use the letters “k,” “y,” and “w.” These letters simply aren’t found in original Portuguese words.

As time has passed, Portuguese vocabulary has expanded to include many loanwords. This includes English words such as “Wi-Fi,” “yoga,” and “software.” As such, the letters “k,” “y,” and “w” are seen in Portuguese writing today to write foreign loanwords. There were officially added to the alphabet in 2009. If you ever see a word containing these letters, you can instantly tell that it’s been borrowed from another language.

The writing system for the Portugal language is identical to the alphabet for the language in Brazil, and the spelling of Portuguese words is largely phonemic. Both dialects also use the same diacritic marks (ç, á, â, ã, à, é, ê, í, ó, ô, õ, ò, ú) and digraphs (ch, lh, nh, rr, ss, qu, gu). However, the pronunciation of both versions of Portuguese is quite distinct.

Geographical Distribution

As Portuguese history began in Portugal, many assume that most people who speak the Portuguese language live in the country. Portuguese is the official Portugal language, spoken by 99% of the population. However, only around 5% of total Portuguese speakers live in Portugal; the highest prevalence of Portuguese is actually in Brazil.

Approximately 200 million people speak the Portuguese language in Brazil as their mother tongue. There are also large Portuguese-speaking populations in other countries in the world. Some examples of these countries include Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea and Macau. The Portuguese language was brought to these countries through colonisation and still holds official status today.

Don’t forget that there are also communities of Portuguese speakers in the United States, Canada, and several countries in Europe. Examples include France (813,000 speakers; 1.2% of the population), Switzerland (104,000 speakers; 1.2% of the population) and Luxembourg (83,000 speakers, 13% of the population).

Portuguese Translation Services

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When using our agency, you will be partnered with a native Portuguese language speaker. We have an extensive pool of linguists, ensuring accurate translations for the Portugal language or the language in Brazil. Our team also has the skill to provide a wide range of language services, including localisation, proofreading, subtitling, voiceover, transcription, and more.

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