Portuguese language, member of the Romance group of the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. It is the mother tongue of about 170 million people, chiefly in Portugal and the Portuguese islands in the Atlantic (11 million speakers); in Brazil (154 million speakers); and in Portugal's former overseas provinces in Africa and Asia (about 5 million speakers). (These nations are members of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, which was founded 1996.) Although the Portuguese spoken in Portugal differs to some extent from the Portuguese current in Brazil, with reference to pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary, the differences are not major.
A distinctive phonetic feature of Portuguese is the nasalization of certain vowels and diphthongs, which can be indicated by a tilde (˜) placed above the appropriate vowel. The acute (´) and circumflex (ˆ) accents serve to make clear both stress and pronunciation and also to distinguish homonyms (for example, e “and,” but é “is”). The grave accent (ˋ) is a guide to pronunciation. It can also indicate a contraction, as in às, which is a combination of a “to” and as “the” (feminine plural). A c with a cedilla (ç) is pronounced like c in English place when used before the vowels a, o, and u. As in Spanish, there are two forms of the verb “to be”: ser, which denotes a comparatively permanent state and which also precedes a predicate noun, and estar, which denotes a comparatively temporary condition. Again like Spanish, Portuguese tends to use reflexive verbs instead of the passive voice. Historically, Portuguese, which developed from the Vulgar Latin brought to the Iberian Peninsula by its Roman conquerors, could be distinguished from the parent tongue before the 11th cent. The Portuguese spoken in Lisbon and Coimbra gave rise to the Standard Portuguese of today. Although the greater part of the Portuguese vocabulary comes from Latin, a number of words have also been absorbed from Arabic, French, and Italian, and also from some of the indigenous South American and African languages.
Portuguese and Spanish are the fastest-growing European languages, and, according to estimates by UNESCO, Portuguese is the language with the highest potential for growth as an international language in southern Africa and South America. The Portuguese-speaking African countries are expected to have a combined population of 83 million by 2050. In total, the Portuguese-speaking countries will have 335 million people by the same year. Since 1991, when Brazil signed into the economic market of Mercosul with other South American nations, such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, there has been an increase in interest in the study of Portuguese in those South American countries. The demographic weight of Brazil in the continent will continue to strengthen the presence of the language in the region. Although in the early 21st century, after Macau was ceded to China in 1999, the use of Portuguese was in decline in Asia, it is becoming a language of opportunity there; mostly because of East Timor's boost in the number of speakers in the last five years but also because of increased Chinese diplomatic and financial ties with Portuguese-speaking countries.
Portuguese developed in the Western Iberian Peninsula from the spoken Latin language brought there by Roman soldiers and colonists starting in the 3rd century BC. The language began to differentiate itself from other Romance languages after the fall of the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions in the 5th century. It started to be used in written documents around the 9th century, and by the 15th century it had become a mature language with a rich literature.
Many languages have borrowed words from Portuguese, such as Indonesian, Manado Malay, Sri Lankan Tamil and Sinhalese (see Sri Lanka Indo-Portuguese), Malay, Bengali, English, Hindi, Konkani, Marathi, Tetum, Xitsonga, Papiamentu, Japanese, Lanc-Patuá (spoken in northern Brazil) and Sranan Tongo (spoken in Suriname). It left a strong influence on the língua brasílica, a Tupi-Guarani language which was the most widely spoken in Brazil until the 18th century, and on the language spoken around Sikka in Flores Island, Indonesia. In nearby Larantuka, Portuguese is used for prayers in Holy Week rituals. The Japanese-Portuguese dictionary Nippo Jisho (1603) was the first dictionary of Japanese in a European language, a product of Jesuit missionary activity in Japan. Building on the work of earlier Portuguese missionaries, the Dictionarium Anamiticum, Lusitanum et Latinum (Annamite-Portuguese-Latin dictionary) of Alexandre de Rhodes (1651) introduced the modern orthography of Vietnamese, which is based on the orthography of 17th-century Portuguese.
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