What do they speak in Portugal?

What do they speak in Portugal? The short answer is: “Portuguese”. But there is more to it. In this post, we will explore why they speak Portuguese in Portugal and where it comes from.

Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe, with thousands of years of history. However, during Portugal’s lifetime, many changes occurred, and it was part of many different empires and civilizations.

Therefore, Portugal’s official language changed several times throughout the country’s history but was also influenced massively by conquerors and neighbors. 

Nevertheless, today Portuguese is Portugal’s official language. However, there is much more to this language than you might think. So, let’s see more about why they speak Portuguese in Portugal.

Ericeira surfing in Portugal
Ericeira Surfing in Portugal

Why do they speak Portuguese in Portugal?

Portuguese is, in fact, originally from Portugal. But specifically, it is a Romance language derived from Galician-Portuguese, which was once spoken in today’s Galicia in Spain and Northern Portugal. 

Portuguese Language Origin

Although modern-day Portuguese is derived from Galician-Portuguese, as a Romance language, Portuguese developed about 2,000 years ago when the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula and brought with them their language, Vulgar Latin. 

However, the Portuguese language had many other influences, such as from the Germanic tribes, who conquered parts of the Iberian Peninsula after the collapse of the Roman empire, and the Moors from North Africa, who invaded both Portugal and Spain in the 8th century.

That’s why today, the Portuguese language has about 800 words of Arabic origin.

A brief history of  Portuguese in Portugal

Although Portuguese had several external influences, at its core, the language undoubtedly derives from Vulgar Latin and Medieval Galician. 

The first time Portuguese was recognized as a language was in 1290 after Portugal became an independent kingdom and at the opening of Lisbon’s first university.

However, in the beginning, Portuguese referred to Vulgar Latin and then Galician-Portuguese. Today, Vulgar Latin is the core of various Romance languages, while Galician-Portuguese are two distinct languages, Galician and Portuguese, whose differences are similar between American and British English.

One fascinating fact about modern Portuguese is that until 2009, the alphabet consisted of only 23 letters.

Specifically, the letters “K,” “W,” and “Y” were not part of the language. The letters “W” and “Y” were only found in foreign-origin nouns, while the letter “K” was written as “qu.” 

However, nowadays, more countries speak Portuguese, and the vocabulary and spelling expanded and changed.

Therefore, the Portuguese-speaking countries signed a new “Orthographic Agreement,” standardizing spelling forms from different variations of Portuguese, and introduced the letters “K,” “W,” and “Y.”

best hikes in portugal
Best hikes in Portugal

Portuguese vs Spanish: Similarities and Differences

Portuguese and Spanish are Ibero-Romance languages descending from Vulgar Latin, the language of the Roman soldiers. Therefore, they share the same linguistic roots and similar traits.

Furthermore, Portugal and Spain are neighboring countries that evolved during the same period and influenced each other in many ways due to their close relations and trade. 

Of course, throughout the countries’ history, the two languages changed dramatically. Still, Portuguese and Spanish have 89% lexical similarity, meaning 89% of words in Portuguese have an equivalent word in Spanish. So, in other words, they are sister languages.

You can easily trace the two languages’ similarities through their written forms. However, when speaking, especially for a non-native speaker, it might be difficult to realize the similarities due to the distinctive pronunciation of Portuguese natives.

For instance, Portuguese may sound more like Russian or other Slavic languages than Spanish. And this is due to Portuguese and Russian being stress-timed languages. However, apart from this significant similarity, Portuguese and Russian have completely different linguistic roots. 

Tavira Portugal
Tavira: Read the Most Charming coastal towns in Portugal

What do they speak in Portugal: Frequently Asked Questions

How many countries speak Portuguese?

In the 15th and 16th centuries, when Portuguese colonialism began, the Portuguese language spread throughout Portugal’s colonized territories in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

So today, Portuguese is the official language of 10 countries and territories. These are Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe. 

However, many other countries, including  India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela, have a small population that speaks Portuguese.

How many people speak Portuguese?

Approximately 230 million people speak Portuguese as their native language. This makes Portuguese the second-most-spoken Romance language and the ninth-most-spoken language in the world.

Interestingly, even though Portugal is the origin country of Portuguese, only 5% of the native speakers reside in Portugal, while Brazil has the most Portuguese speakers in the world.

How similar is Brazilian Portuguese to European Portuguese? 

Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese are practically the same language and are considered mutually intelligible.

However, they share many differences in pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, and grammar due to different external influences. Nevertheless, Brazilian and Portuguese people can easily understand each other.

What are the top 3 languages in Portugal?

As of today, Portugal’s only official language is Portuguese. However, Mirandese is officially recognized as a regional language and is found in northeastern Portugal, specifically in the municipality Miranda do Douro.

The other top 3 languages spoken are Spanish, French, and English. 

Why is Portuguese so much like Spanish?

The major Romance languages include French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Romanian.

However, among these languages, Portuguese and Spanish are the most similar.

This is because apart from being from the same language family, both countries originated from the Iberian peninsula and shared similar historical events that influenced their languages. 

Aveiro – Portugal Town

What do they speak in Portugal? Final Thoughts

Portuguese may have originally been Portugal’s language, but it is now a language that unites many people from different cultures and backgrounds across the world.

In fact, since it is spread over several continents, it is a language with internal diversity. Hence, the differences between European, Brazilian, and other significant Portuguese.

Similarly, due to Portugal’s rich history, although Portuguese is of the Romance language family, it has a distinctive pronunciation that often confuses people.

Nevertheless, Portuguese is a beautiful language that impacted and still impacts the world through art, music, sports, and history.