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The Portuguese Language - A Languages Of The World Primer

Dec 25, 2007
Portuguese is a Romance language that grew out of "Vulgar Latin". It initially developed in the late first millennium amongst the Romanised Celts in modern-day Galicia (Spain) and northern Portugal. Its influence spread southwards along the Atlantic fringe during the 11th-13th centuries following the "reconquest" of the Iberian peninsula from the Arab inhabitants. As with Spanish, the language was influenced by Arabic during this period.

In 1290 it was renamed Portuguese and recognised as the official language of the relevantly recent Kingdom of Portugal (only established in 1143). As Portuguese economic and naval power came to the fore in the 15th and 16th century, the language spread across Africa, the Caribbean, South America and parts of Asia. In more recent times, as the empire declined, the geographic spread of the language has meant that it has split into a series of dialects that are generally classed into African, Brazilian, Asian and Portuguese subgroups.

Whilst mutually intelligible to varying degrees they can, nevertheless, be highly divergent in terms of language use. For example, when localising products, such are the differences, it is general practice to develop completely separate versions for the Brazilian and Portuguese markets. In comparison UK and US products would only need to be lightly reviewed (spell checking mainly), if at all.

Related languages
Portuguese is most closely related to the other west-Iberian languages, Galician, spoken to the North of Portugal in the Spanish region of Galicia, and Fala, spoken by around 10,000 people in pockets of Extremadura (Spain) near the Portuguese border. In fact, all languages were once a single language, now called Galician-Portuguese by linguists, but have diverged somewhat over the centuries largely as a result of the political separation.

In terms of vocabulary and grammar, Galician and Portuguese are still much closer than Spanish with mutual intelligibility very high. Indeed, such are the similarities, that not everybody agrees that Galician should be classed as a separate language and there is a minority movement in Galicia, known as Reintegracionismo, that is looking to have Galician recognised as a variant of Portuguese. There is little doubt that a person from Northern Portugal would find it easier to understand a Galician speaker than they would some of the Portuguese dialects spoken around the world.

Portuguese is also close to other Iberian languages, and lexical similarity between it and Spanish is estimated to be 89% with only pronunciation differences complicating mutual intelligibility. Outside the Iberian peninsula, Portuguese also has significant lexical similarities with Italian, French and Romanian.

Current status
Portuguese is an official language of the European Union, Mercosul, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Ibero-American States and the Union of South American Nations as well as being a working language of the African Union. In addition to Portugal, Portuguese is the official language of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. It also has official status in Equatorial Guinea (alongside French and Spanish), Timor-Leste (alongside Tetum) and in Macau (alongside Chinese).

Pockets of Portuguese and related Creoles are spoken in various parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas although from a linguistic perspective the latter are generally treated as independent languages. In total, there are an estimated 220 million native speakers putting Portuguese in 7th place worldwide. Of this total, some 188 million are in South America (i.e. primarily Brazil - population: 183 million), where it is spoken by over half of the continent's inhabitants.
About the Author
Stranslations offers professional language translation services in English, French, Spanish, German and other major European languages.
The original version of this article can found at www.stranslations.com.
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