Society

Portuguese Speaking Countries

Nine countries from all around the world use Portuguese as their primary language.

Origins and Evolution of Portuguese

Portuguese is a Latin-based (or Romance) language that developed in the Iberian Peninsula (where Spain and Portugal are located). It was influenced by the languages introduced to the region during the barbaric invasions, particularly German, and much later in history, the Moorish invasions. This event brought the Arabic language, which also left its mark on between 400 and 800 Portuguese words. Portuguese first appeared in text from the 9th Century onward, and continued to gain importance until Portugal became an independent country in 1143. Then, by 1290, the King proclaimed that the “vulgar language” (as it was then referred to because of its deviance from pure Latin) would become the official language of the nation and named it Portuguese.

The Portuguese Empire

Portugal gained global power and became the first world-wide empire in history. Sailors began exploring the coast of Africa and islands throughout the Atlantic at the beginning of the 1400’s in search of a more efficient route for the spice trade. The sailors reached Asia year later and everywhere they landed, they built forts and factories and established the land as Portuguese territory. Their efforts culminated in 1571 when Portugal had an established route of naval ports that connected Africa, the Middle East, India, and Asia. The empire began to lose power after 1580 when the King of Spain also inherited the Portuguese crown. Portuguese colonies around the world were attacked by the enemies of Spain, namely England, France, and the Dutch Republic. Gradually, the Portuguese empire lost its colonies to these countries. During the 1820’s, colonies in the Americas gained independence and this left Portugal with colonies along the coast of Africa. Post World War II decolonization movements brought the end of Portugal’s reign in Africa.

Current Portuguese Speaking Countries

Although the Portuguese Empire declined and today no longer rules colonies throughout the world, its influence has remained. The Portuguese language is the 7th most spoken on the planet and it has been identified as one of the top ten most important languages to the future of the United Kingdom. Today, the Portuguese language is spoken in nine countries, 8 of which were once colonies of Portugal. Those countries and their years of independence are Brazil (1822), Guinea-Bissau (1973), Cape Verde (1975), Angola (1975), East Timor (1975), Mozambique (1975), and Sao Tome and Principe (1975).

Importance of Portuguese Today

Today, Portuguese continues to be an important language across the globe. It is a mandatory school subject in Argentina and Uruguay. In addition, it is being taught in Venezuela, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Zambia, South Africa, Namibia, and Swaziland. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has identified Portuguese as the fastest growing language within Europe (after English) and has the potential to be the fastest-growing foreign language throughout southern Africa and South America. Portuguese speaking countries have a combined population of over 430 million people. Because of economic ties between Asian and Portuguese speaking countries (especially Brazil), interest in speaking the language has grown. This is seen in China, Korea, and Japan. China has even received large numbers of Brazilian immigrants that are slowly spreading their special dialect of Portuguese. The expected future of Portuguese is one of continued growth.

Portuguese Speaking Countries

Portuguese Speaking CountriesIndependence from Portugal
Angola1975
Brazil1822
Cape Verde1975
East Timor1975
Guinea-Bissau1973
Macao1999
Mozambique1975
PortugalNot Applicable
Sao Tome and Principe1975

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