/// Portuguese means...

Portuguese is spread out all over the globe, from Portugal and Brazil to Africa and Asia, and to many migrant communities living on every continent. The following is a short presentation of this rich language.

Meanings of "Portuguese"

"Portuguese" may be both a noun and an adjective. It may refer to the 6th most spoken language in the world, or it may be the gentilic (or demonym) for the people of Portugal and for a person born in Portugal. In this section, it refers to the language.

Historical development

The roots of Portuguese are in Latin, spoken by the Romans, who occupied the Iberian Peninsula for over eight centuries. There are written records of a specific form of evolved Latin known as "Galician-Portuguese", which dates back to the 9th century. In the 13th century, the King of Portugal decided that Latin would no longer be used in the writing of official documents and Portuguese became the official language. As Portugal expanded its territory and commercial relationships, Portuguese became one of the most widely used languages in the world. In the 15th century, Portuguese was a lingua franca, a synonym of global communication, whether at the political, technological, or cultural level. The first grammar of Portuguese was written in the 17th century.

Did you know that...

Portuguese is a morphologically rich language. Nouns, adjectives and determiners vary in number and gender. In each tense, verbs have three different forms of person which also vary for singular and plural. There are four modes (imperative, indicative, subjunctive and conditional), the most complex of which (indicative) has five tenses (three for past, one for present and one for future). Pronouns may be incorporated by verbs, in a special form known as “clitic”.

This variety of forms and the high number of words for each class make this a complex language to learn and to process, since there are many levels of agreement that must be respected in order to avoid ambiguity and create grammatically correct sentences.

Portuguese in Europe, America, Africa and Asia

With distinct Histories from the 16th century on, and an ocean separating them, Portugal and Brazil developed different ways of using Portuguese. The variety of Portuguese spoken in Portugal is called "European Portuguese", and the variety of Portuguese spoken in Brazil is referred to as "Brazilian Portuguese". The differences between the two varieties are extensive, but not enough to consider them as two different languages or dialects.

The phonological differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese are so evident that they are even audible in a single word, just by the way vowels are modulated differently by speakers from the two countries. Morphological differences are also highly noticeable, so, in areas such as medicine, information technology or mechanics, translators must be careful when selecting references. These are the clearest markers of differences between the two varieties, but they also differ greatly in syntactic, semantic and pragmatic features.

Besides Portugal and Brazil (the only country where the Brazilian variety is spoken) Portuguese is the official language of African countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Príncipe, as well as East Timor in Asia/Oceania. Besides these, it is also the official language of Equatorial Guinea (also in Africa) and Macau (in China).

A few numbers

The nine Portuguese-speaking countries, spread out over all the world's continents, have an estimated total population of 240 million people. Portuguese is spoken by 187 million people in South America, 17 million in Africa, 12 million in Europe, two million in North America and over half a million in Asia. Moreover, Portuguese was considered the 7th most influential language in the world.

English, Portuguese and Spanish are the European languages that show the highest probability of growth. It is estimated that by 2050 there may be approximately 350 million people speaking Portuguese all over the world.

Language policies

The European Union (EU) is at the forefront in the defence of multilingualism and local languages, as highlighted by the fact that language policy is registered at its first Regulation, from 1958. Official documents in the EU are produced in its 23 working languages. In this environment, translation is highly regarded and fostered. Umberto Eco even said that "Translation is the language of Europe". In addition, one of the EU's language policy initiatives uses the motto "Languages mean Business!", which underlines the fact that businesses need to have a language policy in order to understand and survive in multilingual surroundings. This policy was further boosted by the Portuguese President of the European Commission, Durão Barroso, who created the role of European Commissioner for Multilingualism.

Portugal is the only country in the world that celebrates its national day on the same day that Luís de Camões (Portugal's most famous poet) died, rather than on the day of an important battle or historical event. The “Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities” is celebrated on June 10th. Brazil is also a major champion of the Portuguese language. The most visited museum in Brazil is the Museum of the Portuguese Language, based in São Paulo. This is the second museum of its kind worldwide, and the very innovative ways in which it represents and celebrates Portuguese make it a must-see for anyone interested in languages.

Did you know that...

2070, 816, 22-2, ptg and pt-PT are some of the language codes used by software developers to identify their projects as “European Portuguese”. These codes are very important in avoiding internationalisation issues. The codes for Brazilian Portuguese are different: 1046, 416, 22-1, ptb and pt-BR. This means that the differences between the two varieties must be taken into account when planning and allocating resources for a localisation project.

Portuguese is the only language that has two different official spellings, one for each variety. Under the auspices of the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries, an agreement was established to standardise spelling, but a total commitment to this agreement has yet to be made. However, spelling is only a small part of what distinguishes the two varieties, and the agreement will not put an end to these differences, nor to the need to have a different communication strategy for the two varieties.

Portuguese presents many challenges in translation. TIPS can guarantee high-quality results because we are specialised in our rich language.


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