Portuguese Language History

The language that added 3 new letters in 2009

The Portuguese language is ranked seventh in the world’s league table of languages. It’s a Romance language spoken by about 240 million people mainly in Brazil and Portugal, and also in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor and Macau. There are also communities of Portuguese speakers in the US, Canada and a number of other countries. People who speak Portuguese are referred to as Lusophones. Similarly, a community of Portuguese-speakers is referred to as a Lusosphere or Lusophony.

English loanwords are saturating languages worldwide. Until recently, Portuguese did not have the letters k, y and w in their language…and then came “W-Fi”, “workshop” and “whiskey”.

Like other languages, Portuguese has experienced a historical evolution, being influenced by many other languages, as it reached the form known today. It has also provided loanwords to many languages. Today, it is one of the world’s major languages and is also one of the 23 official languages of the European Union. Portuguese is written with 23 or 26 letters of the Latin alphabet.

The official language and lingua franca of a number of countries and territories, including Brazil and Cape Verde, Portuguese is spoken by over 260 million people across four continents. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of Portuguese speakers do not live in Portugal. In fact, the country has lost its status as the epicentre of the Lusophone world, with only about 5% of the speakers of the Portuguese language living in Portugal.

One of the most popular Romance languages, Portuguese is the second most widely spoken language in Latin America and the most popular in South America. Portuguese speakers also have the advantage of understanding the Spanish language, even though the reverse is not true.


Portuguese Language Origin & Roots

Portuguese was originally brought to the Iberian Peninsula by Roman soldiers, settlers and merchants from 218 BC. The Romance languages, derived from Vulgar Latin, really started to emerge during the invasions between the 5th and 8th centuries. The fall of the Roman Empire also played a great role in the proliferation of these languages.

The Arab conquest of the Iberian Peninsula also affected the Portuguese and Spanish languages in a number of ways. The Portuguese language not only has a number of words with Arabic roots, but certain cities and territories in Portugal are also based on Arabic words.

The establishment of the first Lusophone University, in Lisbon in the year 1290, by King Diniz greatly contributed to the popularity of the Portuguese language. Immediately after the university was established, the name ‘Portuguese’ was given to the language and it was decreed that the language would be used instead of Latin in most scenarios.

The peak of the Portuguese Empire during the 15th and 16th centuries was a great time for the Portuguese Language. Not only did explorers and historians become interested in the language during this period, but kings and officials of other countries and regions also started learning the Portuguese Language to maintain strong trade relationships with the Portuguese.

A reformed Portuguese orthography, in which words were spelled more in accordance with their pronunciation, was adopted in Portugal in 1916. A slightly modified form was adopted in Brazil in 1943 and revised in 1970.


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