When we ask ourselves ‘what language is spoken in Brazil’ we may not be considering the journey this country has been through to claim an official language. Indeed, the history of the Brazillian language is quite rich and unknown by many. Even before the arrival of Pedro Alvares Cabral, there’s a long storyline of languages spoken in those territories before Brazil’s colonization. According to the records, when Brazil was discovered by the Portuguese, different tribes of natives had multiple communication styles and tongues.
This article will take you through a series of curious facts regarding the history of the land we know today as Brazil, focusing on the evolution of the many dialects that once existed there and the effects of its development in the country’s main language today.
Let’s travel through time…
…to the good old days of 1532. Just like the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire was in the middle of an extensive colonization process of military, economic and cultural expansion. Pedro Alvarez Cabral, a portuguese nobleman and military commander, led his fleet to the shores of this wealthy land in natural resources where Portugal saw immense potential.
After territorial disputes with the French and Spanish military forces, the borders of modern Brazil were settled in 1777 and the first wave of Portuguese-speaking immigrants arrived. During this initial period, Portuguese coexisted with Língua Geral–a dialect based on Amerindian languages used by Jesuit missionaries–and with several other African languages commonly used by the slaves that were brought to the colony between the XVI and the XIX century.
As far as official history reveals, Portuguese was not yet affirmed as the national language of the Brazilian territory until the XVIII century. Why then? And what happened in the middle?
When the “Capitanias” were institutionalized as the official administrative division of the large territory discovered, the Portuguese began to learn the dialects used by the “Tupi” and “Guarani” indigenous tribes and a common language was created, that derived from Tupinambá. In 1595 Father José de Anchieta registered that this was the most spoken language in the territory, and it is considered the first influence of the present-day language of Brazil.
Now, this is interesting because it means that the tongue spoken by the first Portuguese families living in settlements of Sao Paulo, Bahia, and Pernambuco, was an Indigenous language. Only later on, the children of these families would learn how to speak Portuguese at school.
It was on August 17 of 1758 when the Marques de Pombal signed an act stipulating Portuguese as the official language of Brazil but, by the time this decree had been signed, the Brazillian Portuguese had already incorporated many Indian and African words: names of plants, fruits, and animals, among other terms.
Another event of historical significance for the language was the Brazilian independence in 1822, after which many Germans and Italians immigrated to the country, near the areas of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul. The exposure to these other languages is one of the main factors that exlainslanguage regionalism found in Brazil today.
Even though the written language taught in Brazillian schools was based on the standard Portuguese by law, the spoken language wasn’t subject to any particular constraint, and consequently Brazillian Portuguese sounds different. And an interesting cultural aspect is that when in doubt of pronunciation technicalities, Brazilians have historically appealed to the national standard instead of the European one, which granted them wide linguistic autonomy.
So, What Language is Spoken in Brazil?
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, though it’s collectively known as Brazillian Portuguese. And why is that? Because of the many diverse minority languages and inputs that the Portuguese language has experienced across this vast country.
To get familiar with the specific characteristics this language has, it’s important to know the reach of those inputs and influences over the local tongue. This would get us closer to understanding the context of regional varieties that differ from each other in vowel pronunciation and speech intonation.
First, we have the indigenous influence which actually contributed to creating idiomatic expressions that are used today. Also, there were African dialects, like the Quimbundo, spoken in Angola. “Bantu” and “Yoruba” groups left quite a legacy in several cultural elements like samba and bossa-nova, even in the Afro-Brazillian culinary field.
Then, the critical intake of immigrants caused the incorporation and following adaptation of words that turned into separated dialects. Some examples are the German Hunsrückisch dialect, that we can find in the south of Brazil and Riograndenser Hunsrückisch (another Greman dialect that has official status in Antonio Carlos and Santa Maria do Herval). Other European languages, such as Ukrainian and Polish are spoken in the State of Paraná.
We would also find other ethnic groups in Libredade (center for Japanese immigrants), and Bixiga (Italian immigrants). Spanish is largely understood, though not by all Brazilians, basically because of the analogies in the phonology of both tongues. Actually, in border-areas of Brazil with Spanish-speaking countries, a language known as Portuñol is sometimes used, which is a rough mixture of Spanish and Portuguese. The popularity of the Spanish language has increased in the last several years.
Did you know?
Thanks to the rising popularity of Brazilian music and soap operas around the world (which started in the last decades of the XX century) the cultural influence fo the Brazillian Portuguese has increased in a considerable way.
And, as an economic partner, Brazil has become one of the BRICS states, emerging economies that gained a position of political strength and commercial influence in their respective regions. This had repercussions in the increasing rate of study of Portuguese as a foreign language in many academic disciplines, especially in the case of Brazil´s main Spanish-speaking partners.
Considering what we´ve mentioned so far, it´s easy to imagine how Portugues is a language that allows its speakers to understand 85% Spanish, 45% Italian and 15% fo the French languages.
Today, the Brazillian Portuguese is spoken by almost 200 million inhabitants and also by the 2 million Brazilians who have emigrated to foreign countries. The population of Brazil speaks (and signs) around 228 different languages, 217 of them have indigenous origins whereas 11 were brought up by immigrants.
If you are looking for specialized and reliable Portuguese translation services, we can help you get what you need from this interesting language!