The Portuguese Language

Portuguese is a Romance language, whose roots trace back to the Latin spoken by Romanized Celts in the regions of Galicia (Spain) and northern Portugal, over two thousand years ago.

It started as Proto-Portuguese, a mix of a distinct Portuguese language interspersed with Latin phrases. The earliest records of this form of the language date as far back as the 9th Century.

During the first period of Old Portuguese (12th to 14th centuries), Portuguese became the official language of poetry in the Iberian Peninsula, and its use was widespread. This was promoted by the independence of the kingdom of Portugal, in 1143, and the foundation of the first Portuguese university, in Lisbon, in 1290, by King Dinis. It was then decreed that the ‘Vulgar Language’ would, from then on, be called Portuguese, the official language of the kingdom of Portugal.

In the second period of the Old Portuguese, between 14th and 16th centuries, the Portuguese language travelled with the Great Discoverers all around the world. By the end of this period, Portuguese was the official language of all trading and commercial initiatives in both Asia and Africa. Additionally, its use in missionary efforts along with mixed marriages between the Portuguese and the locals further promoted the general use of the language. Several Creole languages were also based on Portuguese, all around Africa and Asia. Conversely, the Discoveries allowed Portuguese to be influenced by the languages it encountered throughout the world. It gained many words from South America and Japan. Throughout both periods, Old Portuguese was also highly influenced by Arabic, during the Moorish invasions of the Iberian Peninsula. Many of the words it adopted then are still an integrating part of Modern Portuguese.

The early times of Modern Portuguese were characterized by an expansion in the vocabulary with the acquisition of words from Classical Latin and Greek. Recently, Portuguese has adopted words from other European languages such as Spanish, Italian, French and English.

Portuguese is currently ranked the sixth most spoken language in the world, with a total of 210 million native speakers. It is the official language in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and Sao Tome e Principe, and one of the official languages in Macau, Equatorial Guinea and East Timor. It is regulated by the International Portuguese Language Institute.

According to UNESCO, Portuguese is the language with the fastest growing potential as an international language in both southern Africa and South America.

Portuguese is a pluricentric language, with two main groups of dialects, those of Brazil and those of the Old World. The differences between dialects reside mainly in the accent and vocabulary, but some grammatical differences may also be found in colloquial forms of Brazilian dialects. The Portuguese-based creoles remain as separate entities, being thoroughly independent languages.

Since its establishment, the Portuguese language has been linked to literature. From the songs of the troubadours in the 9th Century, to the Portuguese national epic by Luis de Camões, and more recently, the highly renowned Fernando Pessoa and Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, this descriptive, strongly emotional language has inspired artists from all decades. However, it is perhaps through the melancholic voices of Fado singers that Portuguese has exerted the greatest impact on other nations, in recent times. Voices such as Carlos do Carmo, the great diva Amalia Rodrigues and Mariza, have mesmerized millions throughout the world. Some of the most enthusiastic crowds reside in the United Kingdom and Japan. If in the early days the maritime expeditions passed on this wonderful language to the world, nowadays, the power of Fado seems to be doing the same. The Portuguese pride themselves in the word ‘saudade’, a word they claim no other language possesses. ‘Saudade’ is effectively the grand theme of Fado, which finds its inspiration in the Discoveries, and sings the sadness and of the ones who, standing at the port, saw their loved ones depart to face unknown waters and unveil a new world. ‘Saudade’ is a deep, overwhelming feeling of missing somebody, highly charged with emotions such as loss, uncertainty, hope and nostalgia.