Portuguese (português) is a Romance language originated in what is now Galicia (Spain) and northern Portugal from the Latin spoken by romanized Celtiberians, about a thousand years ago. It spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal set up a colonial and commercial empire (1415–1999) which spanned from Brazil in the Americas to Goa in India and Macau in China.
Today, it is one of the world’s major languages, ranked seventh according to number of native speakers (over 200 million). It is the language with the largest number of speakers in South America (186 million, over 51% of the continent’s population), and also a major lingua franca in Africa.
Portuguese is the official language of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe and Mozambique, and co-official with Chinese in the Chinese special administrative region of Macau.
Portuguese belongs to the West Iberian branch of the Romance languages, and it has special ties with the following members of this group:
- Spanish, the major language closest to Portuguese;
- Mirandese, another West Iberian language spoken in Portugal.
Portuguese has two main groups of dialects, those of Brazil and those of Europe.
The differences between Portuguese dialects are mostly in phonology, usage of certain grammatical forms, and especially in the distance between the formal and informal levels of speech. Lexical differences are numerous but largely confined to “peripheral” words such as plants, animals, and other local items, with little impact in the core lexicon. Dialectal deviations from the official grammar are relatively few. As a consequence, all Portuguese dialects are mutually intelligible; although for some of the most extremely divergent pairs the phonological changes may make it difficult for speakers to understand rapid speech.
Most of the lexicon of Portuguese is derived from Latin. Nevertheless, due to the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages, and the participation of Portugal in the Age of Discovery, it has adopted loanwords from across the world.
In the 5th century the Iberian Peninsula (the former Roman region of Hispania) was conquered by Germanic tribes who had been displaced from Central Europe by the Huns. As they adopted the Roman civilization and language, however, these people contributed only a few words to the lexicon, mostly related to warfare.
Between the 9th and the 15th centuries Portuguese acquired about 1000 words from Arabic by influence of Moorish Iberia. The name of the Portuguese town of Fátima, where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared, is originally the name of one of the daughters of Muhammad.
Starting in the 15th century, the Portuguese maritime explorations led to the introduction of many loanwords from Asian languages. For instance, catana “cutlass” from Japanese katana; corja “rabble” from Malay kórchchu; and chá “tea” from Chinese chá.
From South America came batata “potato”, from Taino; ananás and abacaxi, and tucano “toucan” from Guarani tucan.
From the 16th to the 19th century, the role of Portugal as intermediary in the Atlantic slave trade, with the establishment of large Portuguese colonies in Angola, Mozambique, and Brazil, Portuguese got several words of African and Amerind origin, especially names for most of the animals and plants found in those territories.
Finally, it has received a steady influx of loanwords from other European languages.
Portuguese is written with the Latin alphabet, and makes use of the acute accent (‘), the circumflex accent (^), the grave accent (`), the tilde (~) , and the cedilla (ç). Brazilian Portuguese also uses the diacritic mark. Accented letters and digraphs are not counted as separate characters.
Brazilian vs. European spelling
There are some minor differences between the orthographies of Brazil and other Portuguese language countries. One of the most pervasive is the use of acute accents in the European/African/Asian orthography in many words such as sinónimo, where the Brazilian orthography has a circumflex accent, sinônimo.
Another important difference is that Brazilian spelling often lacks c or p before c, ç, or t, where the European orthography has them; for example, cf. Brazilian fato with European facto, “fact”, or Brazilian objeto with European objecto, “object”. Some of these spelling differences reflect differences in the pronunciation of the words, but others are merely graphic.
Primary stress may fall on any of the three final syllables of a word, but mostly on the last two. The orthography of Portuguese takes advantage of this correlation to minimize the number of diacritics.
There are definite and indefinite articles. Nouns, adjectives and articles show only a limited degree of inflection. There are two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine, and two grammatical numbers, singular and plural.
Verbs have many conjugations, with normally over 50 different forms. There are three main moods, indicative, subjunctive, and imperative; and three aspects, imperfect, perfective, and progressive. It has two copulas.
Word order is typically SVO, though often less strict than in English. It is a null-subject language.
List of English words of Portuguese origin
Auto-da-fé (a judicial “act” or sentence of the Inquisition), Baroque, Breeze, Bossa nova (“new trend” or “new wave”), Caravel , Carioca , Flamingo , Lambada , Marmalade , Monsoon , Samba , Tapioca , Yam.
Source: Wikipedia. (This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Metasyntactic variable”)