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The Portuguese Language

The Portuguese language is one of the five Romance languages. It is estimated 210 million people speak Portuguese. Although the Portuguese language evolved from Latin, the majority of people who speak the language live outside Portugal.
Conquests during the 3rd to 11th century had a major influence on the primary language spoken on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, which is modern-day Spain and Galicia, a Spanish province.

The Roman Period

The Romans conquered the Peninsula in 218. Cities were built by the Romans and Latin became the primary language. Eventually, the inhabitants were recognized as Roman citizens.

Iberian Romance Period

Germanic invasions by tribes known as Barbarians occurred from 409 to 711. The Barbarians adopted Latin and Roman culture. At this time, the Roman Empire was collapsing. Roman schools and officials no longer operated. Due to this, Vulgar Latin evolved without unity and regional dialects were created. Words from Germanic languages became included in the local language.

When the Moors invaded the Peninsula in 711, Arabic was declared the official language. However, the majority of people continued to speak Latin Romance dialects. These dialects, known as Mozarabic, would accept inclusion of Arabic words, which are today still part of the Portuguese language.


Proto-Portuguese was the period between the 9th and 12th centuries when a distinctive Portuguese language began to emerge. Written administrative documents from the 800's reveal a mixture of the Romance language with Latin.

Galician-Portuguese Period

The Moors were forced southwards by Christians reconquering the Iberian Peninsula. As a result of this, the native language of Galicia and Northern Portugal became the dominant spoken and written dialect. Poets and lyric songwriters composed in this language.

By 1249, the Moors were completely ejected from Portugal. As the Christians moved south, northern dialects began to intermingle with southern Mozarabic dialects, thus substantially changing Galician-Portuguese.

Castilian Spanish influenced Galicia to the extent that a southern form of Galician-Portuguese arose to become the language of Portugal.

Portugal Separation from Galicia

Portugal's first attempt to gain independence occurred on June 24, 1128 at the Battle of São Mamede, when Afonso Henriques declared he was the first Prince of Portugal. Later, in 1139, he would proclaim himself King. In 1143, Portugal was formally recognized as an independent country.

The Portuguese University in Lisbon was built by King Diniz in 1290. This king decreed the Vulgar Language, as it was known, would be the official Portuguese language. Within a decade, the Portuguese language replaced Latin in court proceedings and official documents.

Archaic Period

Portugal established colonies in North and South America, Asia and Africa between 1300 and 1500. The Portuguese language, as a consequence, became the lingua franca of Asia and Africa. In addition, Catholic missionaries played a role in the spread of Portuguese.

Italian and Greeks words added to the Portuguese language during the Renaissance era would render the language more complex.

Cancioneiro Geral de Garcia de Resende, published in 1516 divided Old Portuguese from Modern Portuguese. It would have a major effect on the structure of current Portuguese.

Modern Portuguese

The Portuguese language grammar and phonetics were further embedded with the publishing of grammar books and Os Lusíadas during the 16th century.

Portugal came under the control of Spain from 1580 to 1640. As a result, the Portuguese language adopted some Spanish words. Napoleon's occupation of Portugal further altered the Portuguese language, although Portuguese in the colonies would not change.

New words created by technological advances were added to the Portuguese language during the 19th and 20th centuries.

A commission comprising of representatives from each Portuguese speaking country worldwide reached a compromise agreement in order to create a standard technical vocabulary in 1990. This reform to simplify spelling and reduce orthography anomalies will take effect in 2009.