While the majority of Latin America speaks Spanish, Portuguese history is on the tips of tongues in Brazil thanks to the country’s history of European colonialism. Human civilization in Brazil has been dated back to nearly 10,000 years ago, with historians and anthropologists counting nearly 2,000 individual tribes with their own nations, and ethnic groups. In 1500, Portugal arrived in search of exports. Disease ravaged native populations and killed tens of thousands, but by 1534, Portugal had officially began colonization and intermixing with natives. One could only assume that this was the beginning of Portuguese history in Brazil.
In fact, the dialect of Portuguese spoken in Brazil isn’t even the same as Portuguese spoken across the pond in Europe. After the end of colonialism in Brazil, the specific Brazilian dialect of the Portuguese language was left to flourish. The main differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese lie in phonology, similar to the differences between English in America and English in the UK. Linguists think this is mostly because Brazilian Portuguese was influenced by languages of West African slaves. Additionally, in other Portuguese-speaking countries came out of colonialism much later than Brazil share many more similarities to European Portuguese than Brazilian Portuguese does.
To reconcile the differences between dialects, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) met in 1990 with representatives from each Portuguese-language country in the world. Their goal was to unify the two dialects in terms of spelling, following the Spanish language’s example in which spelling between Spain and Hispanic America is governed by the Association of Spanish Language Academies. The Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement went into effect in 2009 in Brazil, and in Portugal in 2008. Despite this, linguists, writers, scholars, journalists, and others don’t accept the legal value of the treaty for reasons political, economic, linguistic, and legal.
In 2002, a sign language law was passed that mandates the usage of Brazilian Sign Language in education and government services. it’s most commonly known by its Portuguese acronym LIBRAS. LIBRAS is spoken in the deaf communities of Brazil and has been well-established in the country and already has several dictionaries and is the subject of academic linguistic articles. LIBRAS even has its own dialects among subcultures and socio-economic levels. in addition to LIBRAS, 180 native languages are still spoken by 0.02 percent of the population in rural areas of the country. German and Italian immigrant populations also tend to speak their mother tongue or some Brazilian-flavored version of it.
Throughout primary and secondary school, Brazilian students are required to take a second language, usually Spanish or English, in order to boost their communication skills, but it’s not usually spoken throughout the large country. Within Brazil, Portuguese doesn’t face any significant subdialects and only faint regional accents. Because Brazil is the only nation in Latin America that speaks Portuguese (or rather, recognizes Portuguese as its national language), the language has certainly become a matter of national identity to Brazil where 99 percent of the population speaks it.
Do any of you readers know Portuguese history? Tell me your favorite phrase in the comments section.
Emily Kaltman writes for Estancia Churrascaria in Austin, Texas. She enjoys writing about the history of Brazil.