By Lindenberg Junior | Translation: Leandro Saueia
Just like Spanish, Italian and French, Portuguese is also a Latin derived language. Most of Brazilians are not aware about the history of their language and its relation to the many others languages that were spoken in the country, prior to the arrival of the Portuguese Pedro Alvares Cabral; as well as the other languages that were spoken before and after Brazil’s colonization.
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, the seventh most spoken language in the world, and the third with most speakers in Europe. According to some historians, when Brazil was found by the Portuguese, there were more than a thousand different languages in the country being spoken by Indians of different ethnic groups.
A little bit of brazilian history
Portuguese colonization started gradually along the coastline in 1532 when the “capitanias” (the Administrative division and hereditary fief of the Portuguese state in some of its colonies) were institutionalized. During this period, many communities of the “Tupi” and “Guarani” Indians could be found on the seaside, from Rio de Janeiro in the south through Pará in the north. To establish a communication with the natives, the Portuguese started to learn the language and dialects used by the Indians. From the Tubinambá, spoken by the groups more open minded to the contact with the colonizers, a common language was created to be used by Indians and Europeans.
In 1595 Father José de Anchieta registered that this was the most spoken language on the Brazilian Coast. This general language derived from Tupinambá, which was the first influence of the Portuguese language in Brazil.
The Africans, who were brought as slaves to the country when the Sugar-cane cultivation began, were in the Capitanias of São Vicente (currently the state of São Paulo), Bahia and Pernambuco. At the beginning of the colonization, Portuguese was a gradual influence in Brazil. An intensification could already be felt in the century XVII. The slaves obviously ended up learning the Portuguese to communicate with their Lords and also learned the general Indian created language – the most talked among the settlers.
According to a text written by the Father Antonio Vieira in 1694, the language spoken by the Portuguese families living in São Paulo was an Indian language. The children of these families learned how to speak Portuguese at school. Only in the second half of the eighteenth century Portuguese becomes the most spoken language. The reason for this was the exploration of the countryside by the “bandeirantes”, and the discovery of the diamond and gold mines, and the consequent raising of the Portuguese immigration. In August 17 of 1758, Portuguese became the official Brazilian language by an act signed by the Marquês de Pombal that also banned the use of the general language.
A mix of cultures
At this stage, Portuguese had already progressed as all languages naturally change through time. It’s good to point out that when Pombal signed the decree, the Brazilian Portuguese speakers had already incorporated many Indians and African words derived from Indian languages in their vocabulary, like the name of plants, fruits and animals that have their origins in the Tupinambá. There’s many examples to be told like caatinga, caju, capim, capivara, carnaúba, cipó, cupim, curió, ipê, jaboticaba, jacarandá, mandacaru, mandioca (cassava), maracujá (passion flower), piranha, tatu (armadillo) and the famous abacaxi (pineapple).
Among the indigenous words that were incorporated to the Brazilian Portuguese are: Aracajú, Avaí, Guanabara, Guaporé, Jabaquara, Jacarepaguá, Jundiaí, Parati, Piracicaba, Tijuca (all names of cities or neighborhoods). It’s interesting to notice that the Indigenous influence helped to create a lot of slang and idiomatic expressions that are still in use (things like “andar na pindaíba” that means something close to “being penniless”). The Africans form “Bantu” and “Yoruba” groups left a legacy of their own in the culture of the samba and bossa-nova country. The Afro-Brazilian culinary has the quindim, the abará, the acarajé and the vatapá. The candomblé (Afro religion) has the orixás yemanjá, oxum, Iansã, and so on.
The Quimbundo (spoke in Angola) gave its contribution to the Brazilian Portuguese with some words such as caçula (the youngest son), cafuné e moleque (or brat). Words used to express the way of life and the dance of the slaves such as senzala, maxixe, ginga and even samba, were also incorporated to the vocabulary. After the Brazilian Independence (in 1822), the traffic of slaves decreased until it completely stopped in the year 1850. From then on, many Europeans immigrants, mostly Germans and Italians, arrived in the country.
our language in literature
This contact of the Brazilian Portuguese with other languages was one of the most important coefficients in generating the many language regionalisms that can be found in the country nowadays. As an example we can say that the Northeast Portuguese was heavily influenced by the Indian and the Africans, especially in the States of Pernambuco and Bahia. At the same time, the Portuguese spoke in the south by its way was influenced by the European immigrants like German and Italians, especially in the states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul.
In the second half of the 19th century, the authors from the Romanticism tried to reflect on their works a “Brasilidade” (way or “art form” to be Brazilian) that distinguished the country from its former colony. This also happened at the beginning of the 20th Century with the modernists.
A good example for the first case can be found in the books by José de Alencar that used the exaltation of the Indian figure, bringing to literature the Brazilian way of talking. For the second case let’s remember Mário de Andrade, one of the most famous modernists that later on would go back to the romantic idea of rescuing of the origins and the construction of a self identity.
» The Portuguese language allows its speakers to understand 85% of the Spanish, 45% of the Italian and 15% of the French languages.
» The Portuguese language is considered a very important language especially when one realizes that around the year 2015, Brazil will be the third or fourth biggest market of the world.
» The Portuguese is one of the languages in the political and economical dialogues in Europe, South America, Africa and the East Timor.
» The Portuguese is a language of the future and of global communication that will offer big opportunities of work and social interaction around the globe.
Throughout the years the Brazilian has adopted expressions not only from the indigenous and African languages but also from the Spanish, French, Italian and, more recently, the English such as the cases of words like, “gym” and “happy hour” among others. Another interesting fact is when you see Brazilians who have been living for many years in the U.S adapting verbs like “to park” to the Portuguese saying neologisms like “parkear” from the verb – to park, or phrase like “vai rolar um party a noite” (there’s going be a party tonight with the English word taking the part of the Portuguese: Festa).
Regarding the Portuguese spoken in Portugal, we can say that the vocabulary is almost the same, but phonetically, differences are perceptible. We also recommend you to read Why Portuguese is the Language of Future Communication, as the language offers great possibilities to more jobs, business and social interaction associated with the globalized world.