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The Portuguese language (português) is a member of the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family, originally in the Iberian Peninsula of Europe, and derived from Vulgar Latin. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Portuguese global expansion brought the language to the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and by the mid-16th century, it had become a lingua franca in Asia and Africa for administration and trade between local populations and Europeans of all nationalities. Portuguese is currently the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and São Tomé and Príncipe, and has co-official language status in East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, and Macau in China. There are also small populations of Portuguese and Portuguese-Creole speakers in parts of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesian, and Malaysia as a result of Portugal’s colonial legacy.

Currently, there are approximately 220 million native speakers of Portuguese, with about 20 million additional non-native speakers. Portuguese is the sixth most spoken language in the world, the most spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere and South America, and the second most spoken language in Latin America after Spanish. It is also an official language of the European Union, Organization of American States, the African Union, and Mercosur. Of all the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) countries, Brazil has the largest population by far.

In the United States, Portuguese is spoken by around 770,000 people, according to the American Community Survey (ACS), with the largest groups originating from Brazil and Portuguese Africa. The largest populations of Portuguese speakers can be found in Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey, California, and New York.

The two predominant dialect groups of Portuguese are Continental (or European) Portuguese, which is the standard spoken in Portugal and Portuguese Africa, and Brazilian Portuguese, which includes numerous sub-dialects. The primary differences between dialects are in accent and vocabulary, although there are also a number of grammatical distinctions between Brazilian and Continental Portuguese. One of the key differences between Continental and Brazilian Portuguese is the use of the 2nd personal singular pronouns você and tu, meaning “you.” Você is the form used in Brazil, whereas tu is the standard European Portuguese form.

Like other Romance languages, Portuguese is an inflected (fusional) language, wherein morphemes are added to a root word to assign a grammatical property to that word. All nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles are assigned one of two genders (male or female) and one of two numbers (singular or plural). Portuguese verbs are also highly inflected, including three tenses (past, present, future); three moods (indicative, subjunctive, imperative); three aspects (perfective, imperfective, and progressive); three voices (active, passive, reflexive); and an inflected infinitive. Portuguese has also preserved more verbal inflections from classical Latin than any other Romance language. It is also a subject-verb-object (SVO) language, although it allows for more flexibility in sentence structure than English, including some subject-object-verb (SOV) constructions with certain object pronouns.

Portuguese is written in the Latin script with 26 letters and five diacritic marks to indicate stress, vowel height, contraction, nasalization, and etymological assibilation. The letters k, y, and w are absent from the traditional Portuguese alphabet but were later added for the spelling of foreign names. The majority of Portuguese vocabulary is derived from Latin, although it has also assimilated numerous loanwords from other languages as a result of its age of colonization in Africa and Asia, as well as numerous words from Arabic as a result of the Moorish conquest of Spain between 700 and 1500 CE.

FUN FACTS: Galician, a Romance language spoken by about 3 million people in the northwest of Spain, is mutually intelligible with Portuguese and is its closest living relative. Also, only about 5% of the world’s Portuguese speaking population lives in Portugal.

At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Portuguese. Whether you need to translate a patent application into Continental Portuguese for filing in the European Patent Office, a Brazilian Portuguese interpreter for a community meeting or you want to localize your website into African Portuguese to market your products or services in Lusophone Africa, PGLS is here to help with all of your Portuguese language needs.

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