The Portuguese Language

6cd022f97731851a55144563d956690a-223x300 The Portuguese LanguageThe 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where almost 100% of the population speaks Portuguese. It may surprise some of you to know that Portuguese, not Spanish is the largest language of South America. According to The World Fact Book, Brazil’s population is 204,259,812 (July 2015 est.) and the population of the other nine South American republics where Spanish is spoken is 204,191,776 (July 2015 est.). Therefore more South Americans speak Portuguese than Spanish, if only by a very slight margin. Ethnologue Languages of the World ranks, Portuguese 6th among the world’s largest languages (Spanish is ahead, in 2nd place).

The map on the right (ref: Pinterest) clearly illustrates that Brazil, with a total area 8,515,770 sq km (approx. 5,291,454 sq miles), is South America’s the largest country, almost as large as the United States (total area 9,833,517 sq km).

Portuguese is one of the languages of the European Union, and the official language of various countries across four of the world’s continents:

Source: The World Book

Maps: One World Nations Online

angola_africa.fw_ The Portuguese Language


Portuguese is the official language of the country of Angola, a former Portuguese colony that became independent in 1975. Other languages spoken in Angola are Bantu and other African languages, such as Chokwe, Kongo, Kwanyama. Angola is located in Southern Africa, bordering the South Atlantic Ocean, between Namibia and Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to a 2014 census, the population of Angola is estimated at 24.3 million and the total area 1,246,700 sq km, slightly less than twice the size of the State of Texas.

Portuguese is also the official language of Guinea-Bissauguinea_bissau_small_map The Portuguese Language, although Crioulo is spoken by a much higher percentage of the population. Other languages are French and English and the African languages Balanta-Kentohe and Mandinka, Pulaar, among others. Located in Western Africa, Guinea-Bissau borders the North Atlantic Ocean, between Guinea and Senegal, occupying a total area of 36,125 sq km, slightly less than three times the size of Connecticut.

A Portuguese colony, Guinea-Bissau declared independence from Portugal in 1974 and, since then has experienced considerable political and military upheaval.

sao_tome_small_map The Portuguese Language

Located in Central Africa, in the Gulf of Guinea, just north of the Equator and west of Gabon, the São Tomé e Príncipe island covers a total area of 964 sq km, slightly smaller than Taiwan. Discovered and claimed by Portugal in the late 15th, São Tomé e Príncipe has a population of 175,883. Portuguese is the official and most widely spoken language. Other languages are English, French, Forro, Cabo Verdian, Angolar, Lunguie and sign language.

The island declared its independence from Portugal in 1975, but democratic reforms were not instituted until the late 1980’s. Recent oil discoveries in the Gulf of Guinea may attract increased attention to the small island nation.

Mozambique is located in Southeastern Africa, bordering the Mozambique Channel, between South Africa and Tanzania, covering a total area of 799,380 sq km, or slightly less than twice the size of California. A colony of mozambique_small_map The Portuguese LanguagePortugal for almost five centuries, Mozambique declared independence in 1975. Large-scale emigration, economic dependence on South Africa, a severe drought, and a prolonged civil war hindered the country’s development until the mid-1990s.

The Official language of Mozambique is Portuguese, but Emakhuwa is the most widely spoken language. Others are Xichangana, Cisena, Elomwe, Echuwabo alomg with other Mozambican languages.

cape_verde_small_map-1 The Portuguese LanguageColonized by Portugal in the 15th century, Portuguese is the official language as well as one of the two major languages spoken in Cabo Verde (Cape Verde), located in Western Africa, west of Senegal. Cape Verde has a total area of 4,033 sq km, slightly larger than the State of Rhode Island, and a populations of 545,993 (July 2015 est.). The other major language is Crioulo, a blend of Portuguese and West African.  Cape Verde declared its independence from Portugal in 1975. Repeated droughts during the second half of the 20th century caused significant hardship and prompted heavy emigration. As a result, Cabo Verde’s expatriate population is greater than its domestic one. Most Cabo Verdeans have both African and Portuguese antecedents.


timor_leste_small_map.fw_ The Portuguese LanguagePortuguese is one of the two the official languages of Timor-Leste (East Timor). The other official language is Tetum, an Austronesian language. Indonesian and English are also spoken, in addition to another fifteen indigenous languages, such as Galole, Mambae, and Kemak. As you can see in the map on the right, East Timor is small, covering an area of 36,125 sq km, slightly larger than the State of Connecticut.

The first European power to arrive in East Timor was Portugal, in the early 16th century, followed by the Dutch. Portugal colonized  East-Timor in mid 16th century, but was forced to cede the western portion to the Dutch in a 1859 treaty. Imperial Japan occupied the region from 1942 to 1945, but Portugal took control again after Japan’s defeat in World War II. East Timor declared independence from Portugal in 1975, but the next two decades were filled with strife and hundreds of thousands of casualties until the population of East Timor voted to cede from Indonesia in a UN 1999 referendum. What followed was a scorched earth revenge campaign led by anti-independence militias supported by the Indonesian military that killed 1400 Timorese and forced 300,000 to seek asylum in West Timor. Finally, in 1999, Australian-led peacekeeping troops were able to end the violence and East Timor was international recognized as an independent state in 2002.

macau_small_map The Portuguese Language

Colonized by the Portuguese in the 16th century, Macau, located in Eastern Asia, bordering the South China Sea and China, was the first European settlement in the Far East. Following a 1987 agreement between China and Portugal, in 1999 Macau became the Macau Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (Traditional Chinese: 澳門特別行政區Portuguese: Regiao Administrativa Especial de Macau). Under the agreement, China promised that, under its “one country, two systems” formula, China’s political and economic system would not be imposed on Macau, and that Macau would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” in all matters except foreign affairs and defense for the subsequent 50 years. This tiny region covers a total of total: 28.2 sq km, less than one-sixth the size of Washington, DC.

Chinese and Portuguese are official languages of Macau (2011 est.). Languages spoken in Macau include Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, English, other Chinese dialects, Tagalog , Portuguese, other.


portugal_small_map.fw_ The Portuguese Language

on the Southwestern boder of Europe, alomg the coast of the North Atlantic Ocean and west of Spain is the nation of Portugal. An independent kingdom since 1143 and one of the oldest nations in Europe, Portugal established its continental frontiers in 1297. Following its heyday as a global maritime power during the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal lost much of its wealth and status with the destruction of Lisbon in a 1755 earthquake, occupation during the Napoleonic Wars and, in 1822, the independence of Brazil, its wealthiest colony. A 1910 revolution deposed the monarchy; for most of the next six decades, repressive governments ran the country. In 1974, a left-wing military coup installed broad democratic reforms. The following year, Portugal granted independence to all of its African colonies. Portugal is a founding member of NATO and entered the EC (now the EU) in 1986.

Portugal covers a total area of 92,090 sq km, including the Azores and Madeira islands. It is slightly smaller than the State of Indiana. It has a population of 10,825,309 (July 2015 est.) and the official languages are Portuguese and  Mirandese (official, but locally used).

South America

brazil.fw_ The Portuguese Language

As stated in the introductory paragraph above, Brazil is the largest country where Portuguese is the official language. Less common languages include Spanish (border areas and schools), German, Italian, Japanese, English, and a large number of minor Amerindian languages. With a total area of 8,515,770 sq km, Brazil is slightly smaller than the United States.

Brazilian and European Portuguese

As it usually happens, each region adapts the mother language to the characteristics of their region or locale. As distance from the motherland grows, so do the differences between the original language and the dialect (Merriam Webster: A regional variety of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting together with them a single language). Thus, Brazilian Portuguese is a variety of its mother language, European Portuguese. Distance and immigration have contributed to lexical differences between the two versions of the language. Italians, Germans, Japanese and their Spanish-speaking neighbors have introduced new terms into Brazilian Portuguese. Other terms have entered through contact with foreign products and technologies. However, some experts attribute the greatest differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian to the influence of Amerindian languages on the latter. For instance, Tupian, or Tupí-Guaraní, was used by natives of Brazil to communicate with the Portuguese traders, missionaries and adventurers. The Tupian languages continued to be used until the 19th century in the Amazon and Western Brazil regions. An example of the Tupian influence is the word for pineapple, which is ananas in European Portuguese and other European languages (e.g.; French, Italian, Spanish) but abacaxi in Brazilian Portuguese.

Portuguese have an easier time understanding spoken Brazilian than the other way around. This may be explained by the popularity of Brazilian music and soap operas (telenovelas) distributed around the world.

In Brazilian Portuguese, the pronunciation is more nasal and Brazilians speak slower, pronouncing all the vowels. This also may be due to the influence of the indigenous Tupian languages. By contrast, European Portuguese has been influenced by its neighbors, particularly by Spain and France.

Another difference is the acceptance of American technical terms into the Brazilian dialect. Words like software, mouse and site are not translated in Brazilian Portuguese, but Portugal has adopted Portuguese terms (logicial, rato and sitio). On the other hand, Portugal has imported from France the word for screen (écran or ecrã), which is tela in Brazil.

There are also false friends (false cognates) that could cause misunderstandings between English and European Portuguese and between the two versions of Portuguese. One of these is bizarre, which means gallant, gentle, noble in Portugal and weird in Brazil.

There are also words that have different meanings in Brazilian and European Portuguese. For example, a Brazilian (and one would expect also an American) would go to a Drogeria for a prescription or other health related products, but a European Portuguese would expect to find there household items, such as cleaning and painting supplies.

Portugal and Brazil have made efforts to standardize the rules of spelling, so the written word is mutually intelligible. However, Brazilian Portuguese tends to suppress surplus letters and doubled consonants common in European Portuguese. For example:

English Portuguese (EU) Portuguese (BR)
stockholder accionista acionista
fact facto fato
subtle subtil sutil
action acção ação
actual actual atual
selections selecções seleções
optimum óptima ótima

Some Grammatical Differences are the use of the infinitive instead of the gerund. For example, in European Portuguese I am workingestou a trabalhar and I am writing= estou a escrever, but Brazilian Portuguese uses the gerund = estou trabalhando, estou escrevendo. Both forms are understood in Brazil and Portugal, but while the Brazilian form is used in certain regions of Portugal and considered correct in some situations, the Portuguese form is not used in Brazil.

Brazilians use the object pronoun before the verb, even in formal writing, but the Portuguese do not. Examples:

English Portuguese (EU) Portuguese (BR)
Someone told me Alguém disse-me Alguém me disse
Someone saw me Alguém viu-me Alguém me viu

InterSol often has to answer the question whether two different versions of Portuguese are needed to meet the requirements of a wider population. Let us say that, linguistically, the two written versions are mutually intelligible. However, a good translation must sound natural to the native speaker, therefore, it should meet the cultural and linguistic requirements of the target market. Your decision needs to consider also whether you need to comply with the language requirement of the European Union (EU).


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