Portuguese language

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Portuguese (Português)
Spoken in: Angola, Andorra, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Luxembourg, Macao S.A.R. of China,Mozambique, Namibia, Paraguay, Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe and other countries.
Region: see below
Total speakers: 208 million–218 million1
Ranking: 5-7 (native); close to a tie with Arabic and Bengali
Genetic classification: Indo-European


Official status
Official language of: Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, European Union, Guinea Bissau, Macao S.A.R. of China, Mozambique, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe
Regulated by: International Portuguese Language Institute; CPLP
Language codes
ISO 639-1 pt
ISO 639-2 por
See also: LanguageList of languages

Portuguese (Português) is a Romance language predominantly spoken in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Macao Special Administrative Region of China, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Many linguists consider that Portuguese and Galician (the native language of Galicia, Spain) are actually varieties of the same language, but with Galician being strongly influenced by Spanish. With more than 200 million native speakers, Portuguese is one of the few languages spoken in such widely-distributed parts of the world, and is the fifth or sixth most-spoken first language in the world. Because Brazil, with 184 million inhabitants, constitutes about 51% of South America's population, Portuguese is the most widely spoken language in South America and it is also one of the key languages in Africa.

The language was spread worldwide in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as Portugal created the first and the longest lived modern-world colonial and commercial empire (14151975), spanning from Brazil in the Americas to Macao in China. As a result, Portuguese is now the official language of several independent countries and is widely spoken or studied as a second language in many others. There are also various Portuguese Creole languages spread all over the world. It is an important minority language in Andorra, Luxembourg, Namibia, and Paraguay.

The Portuguese language is nicknamed A língua de Camões ("The language of Camões", after Luís de Camões, the author of The Lusiads); A última flor do Lácio ("The last flower of Latium", by Olavo Bilac) or The sweet language (by Cervantes). Portuguese language speakers are known as a Lusophone, after the Roman name for the province of Lusitania.



Main article: History of Portuguese

Portuguese developed in the Western Iberian Peninsula from the spoken Latin language brought there by Roman soldiers and colonists starting in the 3rd century BC. The language began to differentiate itself from other Romance languages after the fall of the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions in the 5th century. It started to be used in written documents around the 9th century, and by the 15th century it had become a mature language with a rich literature.

Arriving on the Iberian Peninsula in 218 BC, the Romans brought with them the Roman people's language, Vulgar Latin, from which all Romance languages (also known as "New Latin Languages") descend. Already in the 2nd century BC southern Lusitania was Romanized. Strabo, a 1st-century Greek geographer, comments in one of the books of his Geographia "encyclopedia": "they have adopted the Roman customs, and they no longer remember their own language." The language was spread by arriving Roman soldiers, settlers and merchants, who built Roman cities mostly near previous civilizations' settlements.

Between 409 A.D. and 711, as the Roman Empire was collapsing, the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by peoples of Germanic origin, known to the Romans as Barbarians. The Barbarians (mainly Suevi and Visigoths) largely absorbed the Roman culture and language of the peninsula; however, Lusitania's language and culture were free to evolve on their own during the Early Middle Ages, due to the lack of Roman schools and administration, Lusitania's relative isolation from the rest of Europe, and changes in the political boundaries of the Iberian peninsula. These changes led to the formation of what is now called "Lusitanian Romance". From 711, with the Moorish invasion of the Peninsula, Arabic was adopted as the administrative language in the conquered regions. However, the population continued to speak their Romance dialects so that when the Moors were overthrown, the influence that they had exerted on the language was small. Its main effect was in the lexicon.

The earliest surviving records of a distinctively Portuguese language are administrative documents from the ninth century, still interspersed with many phrases in Latin. Today this phase is known as "Proto-Portuguese" (spoken in the period between the 9th to the 12th century).

Extract of medieval
Portuguese poetry
Das que vejo
non desejo
outra senhor se vós non,
e desejo
tan sobejo,
mataria um leon,
senhor do meu coraçon:
fin roseta,
bela sobre toda fror,
fin roseta,
non me meta
en tal coita voss'amor!
João de Lobeira

Portugal was formally recognized by the Kingdom of Leon as an independent country in 1143, with King Afonso Henriques. In the first period of "Old Portuguese" - Portuguese-Galician Period (from the 12th to the 14th century) - the language gradually came into general use. Previously it had mostly been used on the Christian Iberian Peninsula as a language for poetry. In 1290, king Denis created the first Portuguese University in Lisbon (the Estudo Geral) and decreed that Portuguese, then simply called the "Vulgar language" should be known as the Portuguese language and should be officially used.

In the second period of "Old Portuguese", from the 14th to the 16th century, with the Portuguese discoveries, the Portuguese language spread to many regions of Asia, Africa and The Americas (nowadays, most of the Portuguese speakers live in Brazil, in South America). By the 16th century it 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. The spreading of the language was helped by mixed marriages between Portuguese and local people (also very common in other areas of the world) and its association with the Catholic missionary efforts, which led to it being called Cristão ("Christian") in many places in Asia. The Nippo jisho, a Japanese-Portuguese dictionary written in 1603, was a product of Jesuit missionary activity in Japan. 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 language has largely changed in these communities and has evolved through the centuries into several Portuguese creoles, some still existing today, after hundreds of years of isolation. A considerable number of words of Portuguese origin are also found in Tetum. Portuguese words entered the lexicons of many other languages, such as Japanese, Indonesian, Malay, or Swahili.

The end of "Old Portuguese" was marked by the publication of the Cancioneiro Geral de Garcia de Resende, in 1516. The period of "Modern Portuguese" (spanning from the 16th century to present day) saw an increase in the number of words of Classical Latin origin and erudite words of Greek origin borrowed into Portuguese during the Renaissance, which augmented the complexity of the language.

Classification and related languages

Indo-European - Italic - Romance - Italo-Western - Western - Gallo-Iberian - Ibero-Romance - West-Iberian - Portuguese-Galician

Portuguese is orthographically similar in many ways to Spanish, but it has a very distinctive phonology. A speaker of one of these languages may require some practice to effectively understand a speaker of the other (although generally it is easier for a Portuguese native speaker to understand Spanish than the other way around). Compare, for example:

Ela fecha sempre a janela antes de jantar. (Portuguese)
Ella cierra siempre la ventana antes de cenar. (Spanish)

Some less common phrasings and word choices have closer cognates in Spanish because Portuguese has managed to retain a much larger vocabulary, with stronger Latin heritage:

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

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

In some places, Spanish and Portuguese are spoken almost interchangeably. Portuguese speakers are generally able to read Spanish, and Spanish speakers are generally able to read Portuguese, even if they cannot understand the spoken language.

Portuguese also has significant similarities with Mirandese, Catalan, Italian, French and with other Romance languages. Phonetically, Portuguese sometimes appears closer to French and Catalan than Spanish does. The sound set of Portuguese is very similar to the French one, due to the occurrence of nasalization and some palatalization in both languages, and due to certain sound changes (for example, diphthongization of low-mid stressed vowels, aspiration of /f/, devoicing of sibilants, and change of intervocalic [ʎ] to [ʒ]) that set off Spanish from the others. In lexicon, Portuguese bom (masculine word for good) and French or Catalan bon are very similar, while Spanish bueno is somewhat different, and Portuguese filha, French fille and Catalan filla are opposed to Spanish hija. European Portuguese came under additional French influence as a result of the Napoleonic dominion in Lisbon from 1807-1812, and cultural influences after that.

Speakers of other Romance languages may find a peculiarity in the conjugating of certain apparently infinitive verbs and of some real infinitives. When constructing a future tense or conditional tense clause involving an indirect object pronoun, the pronoun can be placed between the verb stem and the verb ending. This phenomenon is called mesoclisis, because the clitic is neither before nor after, but in the middle. 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 scepter". In English we would say, "We will bring you your scepter." The form Nós vos traremos o vosso ceptro. is a regionalism used in most Portuguese speaking countries, as well as Portugal.

Geographic distribution

Main article: Geographic distribution of the Portuguese language
The International Institute for the Portuguese Language logo depicts Portuguese as a language spoken in the eight corners of the world (the eight independent nations where it has official status).
The International Institute for the Portuguese Language logo depicts Portuguese as a language spoken in the eight corners of the world (the eight independent nations where it has official status).
Portuguese language territories
Country/Region Speakers
Speakers Population
Angola1 7 60% ND 11,190,786
Cape Verde5 4% 72% 418,224
Guinea-Bissau2 6 ND 14% 1,416,027
Mozambique1 9% 40% 19,406,703
São Tomé and Príncipe2 5 50% 95% 187,410
not official:
Namibia2 3 20% 20% 2,030,692
South Africa3 2% 2% 44,344,136
East Timor2 ND 25% 1,040,880
Macao S.A.R., China2 5% ND 449,198
not official:
Daman, India2 10% 10% 113,949
Goa, India 4% 4% 1,400,000
Portugal 100% 100% 10,566,212
not official:
Luxembourg3 14% 14% 468,571
Andorra4 4-13% 4-13% 70,549
France4 2% 2% 60,656,178
Switzerland4 2% 2% 7,489,370
The Americas
Brazil 99% 100% 186,112,794
not official:
Paraguay4 7% 7% 6,347,884
Bermuda4 4% 4% 65,365
Venezuela4 1-2% 1-2% 25,375,281
Canada4 1-2% 1-2% 32,805,041
Netherlands Antilles4 6 1% 1% 219,958

1 Official data, Mozambique - 1997; Angola - 1983
2 Projection made by government, Catholic church or association
3 Official teaching of Portuguese
4 Based on emigration numbers
5 The remaining population speaks a Portuguese Creole
6 A substantial part of the population speaks a Portuguese Creole
7 A Portuguese Pidgin/ Simple Portuguese is used has lingua franca for communication between different tribes.

Portuguese is the first language in Angola, Brazil, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe, and the most widely used language in Mozambique.

Portuguese is also one of the official languages of East Timor (with Tetum) and Macao S.A.R. of China (with Chinese). It is widely spoken, but not official, in Andorra, Luxembourg, Namibia and Paraguay. Portuguese Creoles are the mother tongue of Cape Verde and part of Guinea-Bissau's population. In Cape Verde most also speak standard Portuguese and have a native level language usage.

Large Portuguese-speaking immigrant communities exist in many cities around the world, including Montreal, Toronto in Canada, Paris in France and Boston, New Bedford, Cape Cod, Providence, Newark, New York City, Miami, and Houston in the United States.

Portuguese is spoken by about 187 million people in South America, 17 million Africans, 12 million Europeans, two million in North America and 0.34 million in Asia.

The CPLP or Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries is an international organization consisting of the eight independent countries which have Portuguese as an official language. Portuguese is also an official language of the European Union, Mercosul and the African Union (one of the working languages) and one of the official languages of other organizations. The Portuguese language is gaining popularity in Africa, Asia, and South America as a second language for study.

Portuguese is with Spanish the fastest growing western language, and, following estimates by UNESCO it is the language with the higher potentiality of growth as an international communication language in Africa (south) and South America. The Portuguese speaking African countries are expected to have a combined population of 83 million by 2050. The language is also starting to gain popularity in Asia, mostly due to East Timor's boost in the number of speakers in the last five years, and Macau is becoming the Chinese Mecca for learning Portuguese, where in early 21st century, the language use was in decline, today it is growing as it became a language for opportunity due to Chinese strategical cooperation with the Portuguese speaking countries.


Main article: Portuguese dialects

Portuguese is a very rich language in terms of dialects, each with its particularity. Most of the differentiation between them are the pronunciation of certain vowels. Between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese, there are differences in vocabulary, pronunciation and syntax, especially in popular varieties. The dialect of Piauí, in northeastern Brazil is the closest dialect to European Portuguese in Brazil. Other very close dialects are the ones of Belém and Rio de Janeiro. There are several similarities in pronunciation, syntax and simplification in grammar use between vernacular Brazilian Portuguese and vernacular Angolan Portuguese. But there are no differences between standard European and Angolan Portuguese. Coimbra Portuguese is considered the most standardized Portuguese dialect.

Some apparent differences between the two varieties in lexicon are not really differences. In Brazil, the common term for carpet is tapete, while in Portugal it's alcatifa. However, many dialectal zones in Portugal use tapete and other areas in Brazil use alcatifa. This applies in several such apparent differences, except in the new terms, such as ônibus in Brazil, which is autocarro in Portugal. A conversation between an Angolan, a Brazilian and a Portuguese from very rural areas flows very easily. The most exotic Portuguese dialect is vernacular São Tomean Portuguese, because of the interaction with local Portuguese Creoles, but even with this one there are no difficulties when talking to a person from another country.

Examples of words that are different in Portuguese dialects from three different continents Angola (Africa), Portugal (Europe) and Brazil (South America).


  • Angola: machimbombo
  • Brazil: ônibus
  • Portugal: autocarro

slum quarter

  • Angola: musseque
  • Brazil: favela
  • Portugal: bairro de lata or ilha

Go away

  • Angola: bazar, ir embora
  • Brazil: ir embora, (or vazar as a slang - Portuguese "to leak");
  • Portugal: ir embora, (or bazar as a slang - from Kimbundu kubaza - to break, leave with rush);

Major Portuguese dialects:

Portuguese dialects of Brazil
Portuguese dialects of Brazil


  1. Caipira — Countryside of São Paulo ( Piraquara — caipira from Vale do Paraíba - São Paulo (state) / Minas Gerais)
  2. Cearense — Ceará
  3. Baiano — Region of Bahia
  4. image:Loudspeaker.png FluminenseStates of Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo (the city of Rio de Janeiro has a particular way of speaking)
  5. Gaúcho — Rio Grande do Sul
  6. MineiroMinas Gerais
  7. image:Loudspeaker.png Nordestinonortheastern states of Brazil (the countryside and Recife have particular ways of speaking)
  8. Nortista — Amazon Basin states
  9. Paulistano — city of São Paulo
  10. Sertanejo — States of Goiás and Mato Grosso
  11. Sulista — south of Brazil (the city of Curitiba has a particular way of speaking)
Portuguese dialects of Portugal
Portuguese dialects of Portugal


  1. image:Loudspeaker.png AçoreanoAzores (São Miguel Island and Terceira Island have particular ways of speaking)
  2. image:Loudspeaker.png AlentejanoAlentejo
  3. image:Loudspeaker.png AlgarvioAlgarve (there is a particular small dialect in the western area)
  4. image:Loudspeaker.png Alto-MinhotoNorth of Braga (interior)
  5. image:Loudspeaker.png Baixo-Beirão; Alto-AlentejanoCentral Portugal (interior)
  6. image:Loudspeaker.png Beirãocentral Portugal
  7. image:Loudspeaker.png EstremenhoRegions of Coimbra and Lisbon (can be subdivided in Lisbon Portuguese and Coimbra Portuguese)
  8. image:Loudspeaker.png MadeirenseMadeira
  9. image:Loudspeaker.png NortenhoRegions of Braga and Porto
  10. image:Loudspeaker.png TransmontanoTrás-os-Montes


  1. Benguelense — Benguela province
  2. image:Loudspeaker.png LuandenseLuanda province
  3. Sulista — South of Angola
Portuguese dialects of Angola
Portuguese dialects of Angola

Other areas


Main article: Portuguese Creole

Portugal in the period of discoveries and colonization created a linguistic contact with native languages and people of the discovered lands and thus pidgins were formed. Until the 18th century, these Portuguese pidgins were used as Lingua Franca in Asia and Africa. Later, the Portuguese pidgins were expanded grammatically and lexically, as it became a native language. About three million people worldwide speak a Portuguese Creole. These creoles are spoken, mostly, by inter-racial communities (Portuguese people with natives).

In the past, Portuguese creoles were also spoken in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, possibly in Brazil and in other areas in India, Malaysia and China.


Main article: Portuguese phonology

As with French, Portuguese is often noted for its contrastive use of nasal vowels and the large number of dipthongs. Most dialects, including the standard languages of Portugal and Brazil, have several vowel phonemes that are distinguished by nasality. Most dialects have 14 vowel phonemes, five of which are nasals which combine to form 10 oral and 4 nasal diphtongs. There are 19 consonant phonemes, none of which are unique to the language.

European Portuguese differs from the dialects spoken in Brazil and the former Portuguese colonies by a marked velarization that affects vowels as well as consonants. The vowels are generally lowered and centralized (approaching a schwa) and gives pronunciation a distinctly lax quality that is present in colloquial as well as formal speech and often results in complete reduction of vowels.


Consonants phonemes of Portuguese
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular
Plosives p b t d k g
Nasals m n ɲ
Fricatives f v s z ʃ ʒ ʁ
Tap ɾ
l ʎ

/b, d, g/ are only pronounced as plosives when they occur at the beginning of the word. Following vowels, they are pronounced as the corresponding fricatives [β, ð, ɣ]. a process which Portuguese shares with Catalan and Spanish. /l/ is markedly velarized, [ɫ], which is very close to the standard American English /l/. In some Brazilian dialects, especially in the dialects spoken in Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Bahia, /d/ and /t/ tend to become affricated before the unstressed phoneme /i/.



/ɯ/ is by tradition transcribed as a high central vowel [ɨ], but it's more accurately described as a somewhat centralized high back unrounded vowel, [ɯ̈]. [ʏ] for some /u/ occurs in the dialects of Portalegre, Castelo Branco, Algarve (Barlavento area) and São Miguel Island. [ø] occurs in São Miguel Island, for example in boi [bø] "ox".


Portuguese features lexical linguistics which often is a distinguishing feature of minimal pairs. Mostly these are of different word classes, such as [ˈduvidɐ] dúvida "doubt (noun)" and [duˈvidɐ] duvida "doubt (verb, third person singular)". Though rarer, there are occasionally words within the same word class that are distinguished only through stress, like [ˈtunel] túnel "tunnel" and [tuˈnel] tonel "wine cask". Stress is usually on the penultimate syllable, though it may vary between any of the three final syllables. A secondary stress falls on syllables with diphtongs when the primary stress is placed elswhere in a word. There are also several different types of intonation in the form of six separate dynamic tones that affect entire phrases, having their nucleus in the stressed syllables. These tones are used to indicate the mood and intention of the speaker such as implication, emphasis, reservation, etc.


Main article: Portuguese grammar

Portuguese makes a clear distinction between the different word classes, that include verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, articles, conjunctions and interjections. There are also some other determiners and particles.

Verbs are divided into three conjugations, which can be identified by looking at the infinitive ending, one of "-ar", "-er", "-ir" and "-or", which is present in a small number of verbs ,like "pôr" (to put). Most verbs end with "-ar", such as cantar (to sing). All verbs with the same ending follow the same pattern.

In Portuguese, verbs appear in distinct moods:

Along with moods, there are non-finite verb forms:

There is no present or active participle in Portuguese, but many adjectives come from Latin present participles and carry more or less the same meaning. Some neologisms are created in the same pattern. Unlike English, these "present participles" are not identical in form with gerund.

Portuguese subjunctive mood has almost as many tenses as the indicative, namely present, perfect, imperfect, pluperfect and future, not mentioning periphrastic structures. In regular verbs, subjunctive future, which is uncommon in Indo-European languages, is identical to personal infinitive, but not in irregular verbs. And its role is obviously very different.

Portuguese conditional mood is often described as a tense, namely the "future of the preterite". It has two forms, that can be rendered as the "future of the (perfect or imperfect) past" (for instance iria, would go) and the "future of the pluperfect" (for instance teria ido, would have gone). Periphrastic structures provide other tenses. Conditional is found more often in formal than in informal speech, where it is commonly replaced by the imperfect tense.

Another interesting feature of Portuguese verbs is the existence of two or three equivalent forms for some past tenses, either in the indicative or in the subjunctive, but something similar happens in French and Spanish perfect tenses. For instance, in the indicative pluperfect it is possible to use either the auxiliary verbs ter (from Latin tenere) and haver (from Latin habere) or a simple form. He had gone could be translated either as Ele tinha ido, Ele havia ido or Ele fora. The two latter options, however, are much less common in oral and informal languages. The simple form (fora) would be sometimes seen as archaic or literary.

All Portuguese nouns have one of two genders: masculine or inclusive and feminine or exclusive. Most adjectives and pronouns, and all articles indicate the gender of the noun they reference. The feminine gender in adjectives is formed in a different way from that in nouns. Most adjectives ending in a consonant remain unchanged: homem superior (superior man), mulher superior (superior woman). This is also true for adjectives ending in "e": homem forte (strong man), mulher forte (strong woman). Except for this, the noun and the adjective must always be in agreement: homem alto (tall man), mulher alta (tall woman).

See also: Portuguese pronouns, Portuguese verb conjugation


Main article: Portuguese vocabulary

The Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa, by Antônio Houaiss (19151999), son of Lebanese immigrants in Brazil and former Brazilian Minister of Culture, was created with the support of almost two hundred lexicographers from several countries and it is the most complete Portuguese dictionary to date (about 228,500 entries, 376,500 acceptations, 415,500 synonyms, 26,400 antonyms and 57,000 historical words) it includes all variations of the Portuguese language (African, Asian, Brazilian and of Portugal). Dedicating his life to the language, Houaiss started his work in 1986, and died one year before the dictionary was completed by his colleagues in the year 2000, without seeing his dream come true. The dictionary is quickly becoming a reference to the language, some classified it as a "monument to the language".

Portuguese, both in morphology and syntax, represents an organic transformation of Latin without the direct intervention of any foreign language. The sounds, grammatical forms, and syntactical types, with a few exceptions, are derived from Latin. And almost 90% of the vocabulary is still derived from the language of Rome. Some of the changes began during the Empire, others took place later. In Late Middle Ages, Portuguese was eroding as much as French, but a conservative policy re-approached it to Latin.

  • Nasalization — A vowel before [m] and [n] has a tendency to become a nasal vowel. In the case of Portuguese, it happened between the sixth and seventh centuries, possibly influenced by previously spoken Celtic languages. LVNA → l[ũ]a — Lua (moon). In the Latin example, we used all-capitals so as to be in line with how the ancient language was actually written. Note also that the letter V was the vowel we know today as U.
  • Progressive Nasalization — Spread of nasalization forward from a nasal consonant, especially [m]. MADRE → made → mae → mãe mother; HAC NOCTE → ãnoite → ãõte → ontem /õtẽĩ/ (yesterday).
  • Elision — Vulgar Latin [l], [n], [d] and [g] were deleted between vowels; the vowels then coalesced. DOLORE → door → dor (pain) BONV → bõo → bom (good).
  • Palatalization — Another assimilation occurs before the front vowels [i] and [e], or near the palatal semi-vowel [j]. CENTV → [tj]ento → [ts]ento → cento, (hundred) FACERE → fa[tj]ere → fa[ts]er → fa[dz]er → fazer, (to do). A more ancient evolution was FORTIA → for[ts]a → força (strength).
  • Voicing — voiceless stops became voiced stops between vowels (and [b] became [v]):
MVTV → mudo (dumb) LACV → lago (lake) FABA → fava (broadbean).
  • Simplification of consonant clusters, especially doubled consonants, occurred: GVTTA → gota (drop); PECCARE → pecar (to sin)
  • Dissimilation — similar sounds in a word have a tendency to become different over time, so as to ease pronunciation. Vowels: LOCVSTA → lagosta (lobster). Consonants: ANIMA → alma (soul) LOCALE → logar → lugar (place).
  • metathesis — a sound change that alters the order of phonemes in a word. Semi-vowel metathesis: PRIMARIV → primeiro (first); Consonant metathesis in [l] and [r]: TENEBRAS → teevras → trevas (darkness); these last ones are rare in Portuguese. Vowel metathesis: GENUCULUM → genoclo → gẽo[lj]o → joelho (knee).
  • epenthesis, insertion of a sound to break up a difficult-to-pronounce combination of vowels: GALLINA → Gali~a → Galinha (Chicken); VINO → Vi~o → Vinho (wine)

Another specially relevant shift was the loss of the intervocalic /l/ in a very large set of words, already described in the list above as an example of "elision" → e.g: SALIRE → sair; COLARE → coar; NOTVLA → nódoa, with the typical portuguese voicing of /t/ in /d/ (AMATVS → amado). Fewer words remained unchanged, or reevolved to the original word, such as taberna (tavern) or coxa (thigh). Since the Renaissance, Portuguese became subject to the influence of Literary Latin, other than the spoken form from which Portuguese evolved, due to authors love for antiquity. Thus many adjectives in Portuguese have literary origin and the respective substantive has the popular form: ouro (gold) and áureo (golden) both from Latin, AVRV. Other words have popular and erudite synonyms: The Latin LOCALE (place) which evolved to the people's lugar has local as an erudite synonym.

Very few traces of the native or pre-Roman settlers like the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Iberians, or Celts lexicon persist in the language, but there are some exceptions, such as Abóbora (pumpkin) and Bezerro (year-old calf) from Iberian languages or Cerveja (beer) and Saco (bag) from Celtic and Phoenician, respectively.

Post-Roman influences, before the Discovery age, were also small. The Germanic influence in Portuguese was restricted to warfare and related topics, such has Barão (baron) from Germanic baro or Guerra (war) from Gothic *𐍅𐌹𐍂𐍂𐍉 (*wirro). Projections indicate 1000 Arabic loan words, including: Aldeia (village) from التجارية (aldaya), Alface (lettuce) from الخس (alkhass), Armazém (warehouse) from المخزن (almahazan), Azeite (olive oil) from زيت (azzait) and most words starting with "al".

With the Portuguese discoveries linguistic contact was made, and the Portuguese language became influenced by other languages other than European or Arabic. In Asia, the language gained words such as catana (cutlass) from Japanese (katana), Corja (rabble) from Malay Kórchchu or chá (tea) from Mandarin Chinese (cha). In South America, the language gained words such as Ananás, from Tupi-Guarani naná and Abacaxi from Tupi ibá cati both relating to different species of pineapple, or even Tucano (toucan) from Guarani tucan. The African influence in lexicon was made in Brazil and Africa (mostly in Angola) include words such has Bungular (to dance like African wizards) from Kimbundu kubungula or Cafuné (affections made in the head) from Kimbundu kifumate. Many names of places and local animals have Amerindian names in Brazil; in Angola and Mozambique, the same occurring with the local Bantu languages. These influences are also small even in the local variations of Portuguese in Brazil and Africa.

Writing system

Main article: Portuguese alphabet

Portuguese is written using the Latin alphabet with 26 letters. Three of them (K, W and Y) are only used for non-Portuguese origin words, in terms like darwinismo (Darwinism, from English "Darwin"). It uses ç and acute, grave, circumflex and tilde accents over vowels, as well as, in some forms and only in Brazil, diaeresis on a U as in lingüística (Linguistics, linguística is used in the rest of the Portuguese speaking nations).

Written varieties and Spelling Reform

As of 2005, Portuguese has two major written forms:

  • European and African Portuguese
  • Brazilian Portuguese
Written varieties
Portugal & Africa Brazil translation
Different pronunciation
António Antônio Anthony
Vénus Vênus Venus
Facto Fato Fact
Deaf consonants
acção ação action
direcção direção direction
eléctrico elétrico electric
óptimo ótimo very good
Frequente Freqüente Frequent
ideia idéia idea

In Brazil most first 'c's in 'cc', 'cç' or 'ct'; and 'p's in 'pc', 'pç' or 'pt' were eliminated from the language, since they are not pronounced in the cultivated spoken language, but are remnants from the language's Latin origin (though some continue to exist in cultivated Brazilian Portuguese, others in European Portuguese). An example is "facto" (in Portugal) and "fato" (in Brazil), both meaning fact -- one of the rare words that will continue to be accepted and is pronounced differently in both countries.

Also, there are differences in accent marks, due to:

  1. Different pronunciation: Brazil uses closed vowels in words such as "Antônio" (Anthony) or "anônimo" (anonymous), whereas Portugal and Africa use open ones, "António" or "anónimo", respectively.
  2. Easier reading: Because "qu" can be read in two different ways in Portuguese: "kw" or "k", Brazil uses the diaeresis (called 'trema' in Portuguese), instead of "cinquenta" they write "cinqüenta". Currently, some press in Brazil has stopped using this accent mark. It was part of an orthographic agreement but abolished in Portugal.

A 1990 Spelling Reform (Port. Reforma Ortográfica), intended to create an International Portuguese Standard, was ratified by Brazil, Cape Verde, and Portugal. East Timor, not an original subscriber, will ratify shortly along with Guinea-Bissau. Brazil and East Timor were the biggest supporters of the reform and pressured the CPLP for a fast implementation, but the implementation date has not yet been set. In East Timor, both orthographies are currently being taught to children. Galiza was also invited to take part in the reform but the Galician government ignored the invitation (note that this government states that Galician and Portuguese are different languages). However, an unofficial commission formed by Galician linguists (supporting the unity of the language) was sent and participated in the reform. 2

At first, the Agreement established that its entrance into practice would only occur when all the countries of the CPLP had ratified it. But the Portuguese-speaking African countries have not ratified, possibly due to problems in implementing it. In the CPLP’s summit of 2627 July 2004, an adjustment will prompt implementation when just three countries ratify it. The agreement will eliminate most first 'c's in 'cc', 'cç' or 'ct'; and 'p's in 'pc', 'pç' or 'pt' from European/ African Portuguese, the dieresis and accent marks in words ending in "éia" in Brazil and add some new spelling rules. And it will allow either orthography for words like anónimo or anônimo, depending on the dialect of the author or person being transcribed. Late in October 2004, Brazil became the first to approve the adjustment and asked its ambassadors in Portugal and Cape Verde to promote the rapid implementation in those countries. The agreement will enter into practice in the first day of the next month when the third country ratifies it.

Even if today's orthographies do not harm intelligibility between native speakers, the orthography of one country is considered incorrect in the other, leading to two different translations of the same book written in another language and it can confuse foreigners that are learning the language. One endeavour of this reform is to promote the language internationally, just like the spelling reforms of Spanish by the Real Academia Española helped to promote the Spanish language. The language is not very popular internationally, even if it is the third-most-spoken Western language in the world, after English and Spanish. Another objective is Portugal's aid to Brazil and African countries in education of the Portuguese language to African and Amerindian populations, Brazil's educational aid to Africa and greater cultural and academic exchange.

Another agreement was made for the new words that will come into the language.


PT. - Standard Pronunciation of Portugal
BR. - Normal Pronunciation of Brazil
note: The pronunciation of "o" and final "s" in Rio de Janeiro follows the European standard.
translation phrase IPA
Portuguese: português PT. /puɾtu'geʃ/ BR. /poɾtu'gejs/
hello: olá; oi (mostly used in Brazil) /o'la/ ; /oj/
see you later (preferable); good-bye: até logo; adeus /ɐ'tɛ 'lɔgu/; PT. /ɐ'dewʃ/; BR. /a'dews;/;
please: por favor PT. /puɾ 'fɐvoɾ/ BR. /poɾ 'favoɾ/
thank you (m); thank you (f): obrigado; obrigada /obɾi'gadu/; /obɾi'gadɐ/
sorry: desculpe PT. /dɨʃ'kuɫpɨ/ BR. /dʒis'kuwpi/
yes: sim /'sĩ/
no: não /'nɐ̃w̃/

Extract of «The Lusiads» (I, 33)
Translation Original IPA
Against him supported the beautiful Venus Sustentava contra ele Vénus bela, suʃtẽ'tavɐ kõtɾɐ elɨ 'vɛnuʃ 'bɛlɐ
She was attached to the Lusitanian people, Afeiçoada à gente Lusitana, ɐfɛjsuada a ʒẽtɨ luzi'tanɐ
Due to so many qualities she saw in them Por quantas qualidades via nela puɾ 'kuɐ̃tɐʃ kuɐli'dadɨʃ viɐ 'nɛlɐ
Of the ancient her beloved Roman; Da antiga tão amada sua Romana; dɐ ɐ̃tigɐ tɐ̃w̃ ɐ'madɐ suɐ Ru'manɐ
In the strong hearts, in the great star, Nos fortes corações, na grande estrela, Nuʃ 'fɔɾtɨʃ kuɾɐsõj̃ʃ nɐ gɾɐ̃dɨ ɨʃtɾelɐ
That they had shown in the Tingitana land, Que mostraram na terra Tingitana, kɨ muʃ'tɾaɾɐ̃w̃ nɐ 'tɛRɐ tĩʒi'tanɐ
And in the language, in which when she imagines, E na língua, na qual quando imagina, i nɐ 'lĩguɐ, nɐ kuaɫ kuɐ̃du imɐ'ʒinɐ
With little corruption she believes it is Latin. Com pouca corrupção crê que é a Latina. kõ pokɐ coRup'sɐ̃w̃ kɾe kɨ ɛ ɐ lɐ'tinɐ


To English speakers, the most famous writer in the Portuguese language is the poet Luís Vaz de Camões (also known as Camoens) (15241580), author of the epic poem, the Lusiadas.

Several other authors and poets are also internationally known, such as: Machado de Assis (1839-1908), the most traditional Brazilian novelist; Eça de Queirós (18451900), one of the most famous Portuguese language novelists; Fernando Pessoa (18881935), one of the greatest poets in the history of the language; Jorge Amado (19122001), a popular novelist; Pepetela (born 1941), a famous Angolan novelist; Mia Couto (1955), the most famous novelist from Mozambique; and José Saramago (born 1922) who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998. The 2005 winner of Camoens Prize was Lygia Fagundes Telles (1923).

See also: Camoens Prize

See also



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