The History of the Portuguese Language
The history and evolution of the Portuguese language is one of the most fascinating stories among the languages of European origin.
Portuguese developed in the western part of the Iberian Peninsula (now Portugal and the Galicia region). The language is derived from the Latin spoken by Roman soldiers who came to the region in the third century BC. In the fifth century, the language began to differentiate itself from other Romance languages after the fall of the Roman Empire and the Barbarian invasions. Around the ninth century, it was being used in written documents, and it was a variant between Vulgar Latin and modern Romance languages (Portuguese, Castilian, French, etc.). By the fifteenth century, Portuguese had become a language with a rich body of literature of its own.
When the Roman Empire collapsed, the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by people of Germanic origin, known by the Romans as “Barbarians.” These Barbarians (mainly Suevi and Visigoths) rapidly absorbed the Roman culture and language of the peninsula, and Vulgar Latin spread among them. The Barbarian tribes spoke different forms of Latin, which led to the formation of very different languages (Galician-Portuguese, Portuguese, medieval Spanish and Catalan). From that point on, some significant differences emerged between Portuguese and the Castilian languages. The Germanic languages also influenced Portuguese, in particular, words related to war and violence, such as guerra.
In 711 AD, the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula, and as a result, Arabic became the official language of the region. However, the population continued to speak Vulgar Latin, and once the Moors were expelled, their influence on the Portuguese language grew smaller and smaller. Today, there are a few words in modern Portuguese that are influenced from the Arabic language. One example is words that start with al, which is an article in the Arabic language, such as alface (lettuce). The Arab influence is also seen in some Portuguese cities, such as Algarve and Alcácer do Sal.
The Awakening of the English Language:
From the time of the Roman invasion, two provinces stand out as forming the Portuguese language: Lusitania and Galicia. The language evolved throughout Portugal, especially in the north, and then expanded to the center and south.
Due to global navigation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Portuguese became one of the few languages present in Africa, America, Asia and Europe, and it is spoken by over 200 million people today.
The Portuguese Language in Africa:
After the conquest of Portugal and its colonial expansion, some countries in Africa adopted Portuguese as the official language, including Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, São Tomé and Príncipe. The coexistence of Portuguese with an immense diversity of native languages effectively served as a communication tool in daily life. Portuguese established itself as the language of administration, education, media, and relations with the outside world.
The Revolution of April 25, 1974 culminated in decolonization, and five independent republics established Portuguese as their official language alongside the many tribal languages of African origin. Officially, “African Portuguese” followed the European standard, but it is increasingly approaching the Portuguese that is spoken in Brazil.
In Brazil, the language was strongly influenced by the Indians, mainly of the Tupi language. It is only from the second half of the eighteenth century that Brazil began to be defined as an area of dominant Portuguese language, restricted by the linguistic and cultural policy developed by the Marquis of Pombal. Although Portuguese ultimately prevailed over other languages, it went through many changes and influences. The influence of indigenous languages was enormous, with Tupi the most significant.
When Pedro Álvares Cabral arrived in Brazil in 1500, he brought the Portuguese language that was spoken in Europe. Pero Vaz de Caminha—Cabral’s secretary—was known to write the official report of Cabral’s discovery of Brazil. He reported that it was impossible to speak or understand the natives, so in lieu of verbal communication, they exchanged views by gesticulating
Along the Brazilian coast the Tupi Indians were gradually learning the language of the white people, which was also greatly influenced by African dialects, while the Europeans struggled to learn a little of Tupi, ensuring better communication. The Jesuits had a strong influence on this exchange and communication. During the reign of King John VI, Portuguese became the dominant language in Brazil. The Law Directory, promulgated by the Marquis of Pombal in May 1757, outlawed the Tupi language.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Portuguese vocabulary absorbed new contributions. Certain grecolatinos terms arose to describe the technological advances of the time (like automóvel and televisão), along with technical terms in English in fields such as medical sciences and information technology (“check-up” and “software”). Like all languages, these modications and adaptions are necessary as the modern world evolves.
The history of the Portuguese language and evolution is fascinating. While there are some differences between the Portuguese of Brazil and Portugal, they are sister nations linked by culture, love, mutual respect, and the same beautiful language.