History of Brazilian Portuguese

Treaty of Tordesillas

This post outlines the history of the Brazilian Portuguese language. For more information about learning Brazilian Portuguese, check out the resources page.

In 1494, Portugal and Spain divided the New World between them in the Treaty of Tordesillas, which gave Portugal the rights to lands that now constitute the eastern quarter of Brazil.  Then in 1500, the navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in what is now Brazil and laid claim to it in the name of King Manuel I of Portugal.

The influence of Tupi and other languages

Before Portuguese colonisation, the Tupi people inhabited the coastline of modern-day Brazil.  When the Portuguese arrived, they found that wherever they went along the coast most of the indegenous people spoke similar languages.  Jesuit missionaries took advantage of these similarities to Christianise the local populations.  In 1595, the missionary Joseph of Anchieta published the first grammar of the Tupi language, which was also adopted by settlers.

The origins of the names of many of the plants and animals found in Brazil come from Tupian, including mandioca (cassava) and abacaxi (pineapple).  The original divergence of Brazilian Portuguese from Portuguese can be traced to this contact with indigenous people. It is also thought to have contributed to the nasal tones found in spoken Brazilian Portuguese.  The arrival of slaves from Africa also made a mark on Brazilian Portuguese, including the word samba, which is thought to derive from the Kimbundu (Angolan) term semba.

Portuguese dominates

It was only in the second half of the eighteenth century that Portuguese became the most spoken language in Brazil.  The reason for this was the exploitation of the interior, including the discovery of the diamonds and gold, which resulted in an increase in Portuguese immigration.  Discovery of wealth also spurred the Portuguese authorities to consolidate their control of the territory and Portuguese became the official language of Brazil in 1758.

After Brazilian independence in 1822, Brazilian Portuguese became influenced by European migration from countries including Italy, Germany and Poland.  More recently, words from French (e.g. metrô) and English (e.g. email) have been adopted. 

The cultural influence of Brazilian Portuguese in the rest of the Portuguese-speaking world has greatly increased in the last decades of the 20th century, due to the popularity of Brazilian music and Brazilian soap operas.


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