I love to write about interpreting, intercultural communication, Latin America & the UK.

Portuguese & Brazil

Ibirapuera Auditorium in Sao Paulo

Brazil is the only Latin American country that does not have Spanish as its main and official language, apart from Surinam, Guyana, and French Guiana, where people speak Dutch, English, and French respectively.

Given that the population of Brazil is of more than 200 million people, Portuguese is the second most spoken language in the continent.

Brazil is a vast country, almost as big as the rest of Latin American countries combined, and home to most of the Amazon rainforest, parts of which are yet to be explored.

Once a Portuguese colony, it was an empire during most of the 19th century, around the time when Portuguese became the country’s main language, and it has received a big influx of immigrants, mostly French, German, Italians, and Japanese, and many – too many – slaves, whose souls have left their imprint in Brazilian culture.

Did you know that the Japanese dish Tempura (yummy deep fried battered seafood or vegetables) is actually Portuguese and that its name derives from temperos, the Portuguese word for condiments?

Brazilian Portuguese is quite different to European Portuguese and the many varieties of Portuguese spoken in Africa. It would be fair to say that African Portuguese is more similar to the European type than the Brazilian one.

As with Spanish, the differences among the varieties of Portuguese are more visible in oral expression than in the more formal written language, which surely makes chatting all the more interesting.

It was not only the physical distance that separated the Brazilian colony from its metropolis what let it to develop a language identity of its own but also the influence and legacy of the Amerindian languages spoken by the area’s native peoples and the African languages imported together with the African slaves. Many Amerindian and African words are now part of Brazilian Portuguese.

I always have the impression that Brazilian Portuguese is quite musical. There is surely a certain cadence to it, almost as if the words were dancing a dance of their own. Maybe I am right. What is true, though, is that Brazilian use a lot of gestures to communicate – just like there is a “body English”, there is a “body Brazilian” and it is always fascinating to watch.

However, Brazilian Portuguese is not a homogenous tongue. Brazil itself is not a homogeneous country, so why would its language be? There are big differences among the north, the south, the east, and the west of the country, between the urban and non-urban areas, between the seaside and the rainforest and so on.

“Everyone smiles in the same language.” ~George Carlin

Useful Resources

Photo – The Ibirapuera Auditorium in Sao Paulo, designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the famous Brazilian architect.


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