Portuguese is a Latin-based (or Romance) language that developed in the Iberian Peninsula. 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. Today, Portuguese is among the world's ten most spoken languages.
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 1500’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.
Countries That Speak Portuguese
Although the Portuguese Empire declined over time and no longer rules colonies throughout the world, its influence remains. The Portuguese language is the 7th most spoken on the planet. Today, the following countries have the largest numbers of Portuguese speakers:
Brazil - 204,000,000
Portuguese is the official and the most popular language spoken in Brazil. Out of a total population of around 207 million, 204 million Brazilians use Portuguese as their primary language. Brazil was colonized by Portugal in the 1400s, and today retains the Portuguese language as the language of choice. Brazil's large population means that Portuguese is the most used language in South America.
Angola - 20,455,100
Like Brazil, Angola was formerly a Portuguese colony. Located in west Africa, the country hosts around 20.4 million Portuguese speakers. This represents around 71% of the country's entire population of 28 million. Aside from Portuguese, indigenous languages such as Kikongo, Umbundu, and Kimbundu are also spoken in Angola.
Mozambique - 14,400,000
Around 50% of the population of Mozambique speaks Portuguese, which translates to around 14.4 million people. Even in the other languages spoken in Mozambique, which inclues Bantu languages like Makhuwa, Portuguese loan words are often used.
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.