Geographic distribution of Portuguese

Geographic distribution of Portuguese

Portuguese is the official and first language of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe. It is also one of the official languages of Equatorial Guinea (with Spanish and French), East Timor (with Tetum), Macau (with Chinese) and the gabonese-equatoguinean city of Cocobeach (with French and Spanish).

Uruguay gave Portuguese an equal status to Spanish in its educational system at the north border with Brazil. In the rest of the country it's taught as an obligatory subject beginning by the 6th grade. [Uruguay recently adopted Portuguese language in its education system as an obligatory suibject]

It is widely spoken, though not official, in Andorra, Luxembourg, Paraguay, South Africa, and Namibia.

Although the majority of Portuguese speakers are found in Africa, South America, Asia and Europe, there are also two million in North America (most in the United States, Canada, Bermuda and Barbados). More than 2 million speakers live in Central and Northern America, under 10,000 live in Australia, including speakers of Portuguese Creoles from nearby Asia and India, and fewer than 50 thousand speakers live in Oceania.

With more than 200 million native speakers, Portuguese is one of the few languages spoken in such widely distributed parts of the world, and is the fifth or sixth most-spoken first language in the world. It is spoken by about 187 million people in South America, 17 million in Africa, 12 million in Europe, 2 million in North America, and 0.61 million in Asia. Portuguese is the third most spoken European language.

Because Brazil, with 186 million inhabitants, constitutes about 51% of South America's population, Portuguese is the most widely spoken language in South America and it is also a key language in Africa.

Portuguese is with Spanish the fastest growing western language, and, following estimates by UNESCO it is the language with the highest growth potential as an international communication language in Southern Africa and South America. The Portuguese speaking African countries are expected to have a combined population of 83 million by 2050. The language is also starting to regain popularity in Asia.



Portuguese is spoken as a first language in Portugal by 10.3 million people. Portugal (including the islands of the Azores and Madeira), along with Galicia (Spain) is the birthplace of the language, which developed from the popular Latin brought there by the Romans, in the aftermath of the Punic Wars. A strong romanization policy, planned by Roman Emperors such as Caesar Augustus, eventually led to the complete extinction of all the former native languages.


When referring to Spain the main debate revolves around the autonomous community of Galicia and its official language (alongside with Spanish): Galician.

There is controversy on whether Galician is within the Portuguese language or if it is a different - although very closely related - language. Spanish administration considers Galician and Portuguese to have had the same origin and common literary tradition, yet they are considered different languages today. Galician reintegracionists and organizations such as AGAL support the idea that Galician and Portuguese still are the same language, despite some differences. As a matter of fact, spoken Galician was accepted as Portuguese in the Parliament of the European Union and used as such by, among others, the Galician representatives José Posada, Camilo Nogueira and Xosé Manuel Beiras [] [] [] . The international linguistic community generally tends to group them in the same diasystem. For a better understanding of this issue see also Reintegrationism.

Galician is also spoken in Spain in Vale do Xalima (known as "a fala") and in a number of territories neighbouring Galicia but administratively located outside Galicia, namely in the Spanish regions of Asturias and Castile and Leon.

In other areas of Spain the study of Portuguese is on the rise mainly thanks to the growing number of immigrants coming from Portuguese speaking countries. A number of secondary schools and language institutes regularly offer Portuguese language as a preferred choice to study a foreign language. The regional government of Extremadura (bordering Portugal) has also played a critical role in promoting Portuguese language as it is thought this will benefit economic relations between this region and Portugal.

outh America


There are 182.1 million people in Brazil who use Portuguese as their main language, where it is both the official and national language. It arrived in the beginning of the 16th century, but it was only in the 18th century, with massive migration from Portugal, that the language became the national language of the country. Until then, it had been a home language, and communication was done through trade languages based on Tupi and influenced by Latin and Portuguese, called "línguas gerais".

Rest of the Americas

Portuguese has been growing in importance in the rest of South America. Because of Brazil's membership in Mercosul, it is being taught other South American member states (and is popular, especially in Argentina). Aside from Brazil, there are also first-language speakers in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay, where a hybrid dialect, known as "Riverense Portunhol" (from "português" and "español" or "espanhol") has emerged, and in Venezuela.


In Africa, Portuguese is a growing language and projected by UNESCO to be one of the most spoken languages within 50 years. As the populations of Angola and Mozambique continue to grow, their influence on Portuguese will become increasingly important. Angola and Mozambique, along with São Tomé and Príncipe, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Equatorial Guinea are known as the "Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa" (Official Portuguese Language African Countries) or PALOP, forming a community of some 16 million speakers (9 million use it as first or only language; the rest are bilingual, using the language daily). The educational aid of Brazil and Portugal to these countries also increases the need of people to educate their children in Portuguese. Portuguese especially grew in use after the independence of Portugal's former colonies. Independence movements from Guinea-Bissau to Mozambique saw it as an instrument to achieve their countries' development and national unity. The residents of these countries use European Portuguese.


In Angola, Portuguese is quickly becoming a national language rather than only an official language or "cohesion vehicle". By the census of 1983, in the capital, Luanda, Portuguese was the first language of 75% of a population of 2.5 million, with at least 300,000 residents speaking no other language. Also, according to the 1983 census, as much as 99% of the capital's population could speak Portuguese, albeit to varying degrees. In the entire country 40% of the 12.5 million inhabitants spoke Portuguese as their first language as of 1992. Most younger Angolans can only speak Portuguese; as early as 1979 a survey conducted in Luanda's slums showed that local African children aged between 6 and 14 spoke uniformly Portuguese, while only 47% of them knew an African language. Angola receives several Portuguese and Brazilian television stations. Today, Angola is the third largest lusophone country in terms of native speakers.

Since there are also many other native languages in Angola, some words from those languages have been borrowed by Portuguese when the "retornados" returned to Portugal after Angola's independence. Words like "iá" (yes), "bué" (many), or "bazar" (going away), common in the young and urban Portuguese population, have their origin in Angolan languages, used in Angolan Portuguese.


Mozambique is among the countries where Portuguese has the status of official language, mostly spoken as a lingua franca (thus spoken with accents influenced by the local Bantu languages). However, it is the main language in the cities. According to the 1997 Census, Portuguese speakers account for more than 40% of the population, this number rising to more than 72% in the urban areas. However, only 6,5% consider Portuguese as their main language (17% in the cities as opposed to 2% in rural areas). All Mozambican writers write in Portuguese, which has become attached to the color and texture of Mozambican culture.

Cape Verde

In Cape Verde, the most widely spoken language is a Portuguese creole known as Cape Verdean Creole, and the informal use of Portuguese seems to be decreasing. Most Cape Verdeans can also speak Portuguese which is used formally. There is some decreolization due to education and the popularity of Portugal's national TV channels.


In Guinea-Bissau, the most widely spoken language is a Portuguese Creole known as "Crioulo" or Upper Guinea Creole, and the informal use of Portuguese seems to be decreasing. However, the situation there is different from Cape Verde (where only Portuguese and Portuguese Creoles are spoken). In Guinea-Bissau, there are numerous languages and Portuguese and its Creole are spoken by about 74% of the inhabitants (as first and second language), of which Portuguese itself is only spoken by 14% (10.4% according to the 1992 census). This is mostly due to internal political instability which affects education. In the country, several different African languages are spoken, and the lingua franca is Upper Guinea Creole, which is taught informally throughout the country, as it is an important vehicle of communication between different tribes, including mestiços, because of the lack of a nationwide educational system.

In 2005, cooperation between the Government of Guinea-Bissau and the Instituto Camões led to an agreement for the opening of ten centres of the Portuguese language in the country: in Canchungo, Ongoré, Mansoa, Bafatá, Gabu, Buba, Catió, Bolama, Bubaque, and Quinhamel. Before there was only one centre, in Bissau, the capital of the country. The objective of these centres is to support teachers in each province, to effectively launch the teaching of the language to children in the country.

ão Tomé and Príncipe

In São Tomé and Príncipe, the Portuguese used by the population is an archaic form of Portuguese known as São Tomean Portuguese, which has many similarities with Brazilian Portuguese. Politicians and the upper classes use European Portuguese, like the other PALOP countries.

Three different Portuguese creoles are also spoken in São Tomé and Príncipe. Usually children can only speak Portuguese because of their parents' preference and not because of school. By the time they are adults they usually have learned a Portuguese Creole known as Forro (which is a social group language), but more than 50% of the population keeps using Portuguese informally and its use is on the increase. Almost all the population can speak Portuguese. The population of Príncipe Island uses Portuguese, though some elderly people still speak a local Portuguese Creole.

Rest of Africa

In July 2007, President Teodoro Obiang Ngumema announced his government's decision to make Portuguese Equatorial Guinea's third official language, in order to meet the requirements to apply for full membership of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries. This upgrading from its current Associate Observer condition would result in Equatorial Guinea being able to access several professional and academic exchange programs and the facilitation of cross-border circulation of citizens. Its application is currently being assessed by other CPLP members. [ [ "Obiang convierte al portugués en tercer idioma oficial para entrar en la Comunidad lusófona de Naciones"] , "Terra". 13-07-2007]

Portuguese is also spoken in Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. In Namibia it is spoken by less than 2% of the population, though it is dying out, and by more than one million people in South Africa. Unlike the PALOP countries, Portuguese spoken in Nigeria (although not official) is Brazilian Portuguese, as it is spoken by freed black slaves from Brazil.

In the south of Senegal, known as Casamance, there is an active Portuguese creole community linked culturally and linguistically to Guinea-Bissau. Learning the history and language of Portugal is popular, and people feel they are learning part of their background, since they are descendants of Portuguese and Africans. A Portuguese creole linked to São Tomé and Principe is the language of the island of Annobón, Equatorial Guinea.

For further information on the creolization of Portuguese in Africa see Portuguese Creole.


In Asia, Portuguese is spoken in East Timor, Goa, Daman and Diu in India, and Macau in China. It is one of the official languages of East Timor and Macau.

East Timor

In East Timor, the most spoken language is Tetum, an Austronesian language that is heavily influenced by Portuguese. The reintroduction of Portuguese as an official language has caused suspicion and resentment among some younger East Timorese who have been educated under the Indonesian system and do not speak it.

Portuguese in East Timor is spoken by less than 20% of its population, mostly the elder generation, though this percentage is increasing as Portuguese is being taught to the younger generation and to interested adults. East Timorese schools announced to use European Portuguese.

East Timor asked the other CPLP nations to help it to reintroduce Portuguese as an official language. East Timor uses Portuguese to link itself to a larger international community and to differentiate itself from Indonesia. Xanana Gusmão, president of East Timor, believes that Portuguese will be widely spoken again within 10 years. Recent numbers made in Asian Lusophone meetings showed that the language almost tripled the number of speakers from 1999 to 2005.


In the Chinese special administrative region of Macau, Portuguese is a co-official language with Cantonese. It is predominately spoken by the Macanese (Eurasian) and Portuguese minorities, who comprise 5% of Macau's population, although there are Portuguese-speaking ethnic Chinese and there is only one school where Portuguese is the language of instruction, due to strong immigration from mainland China since the 20th century.

Macau has a number of Portuguese-language radio and television stations, which existed before the return to the People's Republic of China. Some Brazilian television stations air in Macau, but the only Portuguese-language school said that European Portuguese must be taught to students. Although Portuguese use was in decline in Asia in the early 21st century after Macau was ceded to China in 1999, it is becoming a language for opportunity there, mostly due to East Timor's boost in the number of speakers in the last five years, but also the Chinese authorities' protection of Portuguese as official language in Macau due to increased Chinese diplomatic and financial ties with Portuguese-speaking countries.

The Macanese formerly spoke a Portuguese-based creole, the Macanese language or "Patuá" which is almost extinct.


In Goa, where it is spoken by an increasingly small minority, it is seen as the 'language of grandparents' because it is no longer taught in schools, nor is it an official language.

In Daman, the Portuguese heritage is more lively than Goa, and that is also seen in the language use; about 10% of the population uses Portuguese or a Portuguese semi-Creole, called Língua da Casa. Most of the Indo-Portuguese creoles are already extinct. Aside from that of Daman, the other existing Indo-Portuguese creole is Kristi in Korlai.

Rest of Asia

In Japan, Portuguese is spoken as a home language by Brazilians of Japanese descent, known as "dekassegui", who number approximately 270,000 - 280,000 (in 2005) people, making Japan the Asian nation with the largest number of Portuguese speakers.

In Malacca (Malaysia), there is a Portuguese creole known as "Papiá Kristang" or "Cristão", still spoken by some of the Eurasian population. There are also several Portuguese creoles especially in India and Sri Lanka.

Immigrant communities


The language is also spoken throughout Europe by Portuguese influence, by more than 10% of the population of Luxembourg and Andorra. There are also strong Portuguese speaking communities in Belgium, France, Germany, Jersey, and Switzerland, but Portuguese emigration has declined, which could lead to a decrease of speakers in some European countries. An exception is Luxembourg, where the language has gained strong roots, and most Luxembourgeois of Portuguese descent can speak Portuguese perfectly; there are Portuguese radio and TV stations, and the language is taught in some schools. In January 2003, 14.23% of the Luxembourgeois population was Portuguese. The United Kingdom also has a number of Portuguese speakers, including Portuguese Creole speakers from Asia, Africa, and India.


In North America, Portuguese is spoken by 2.5 million people in the USA and around 800,000 Luso-Canadians. In the United States, there are large populations of Portuguese-speakers in the states of Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. In Canada, most Portuguese speakers can be found near and around Toronto and Montreal. There is also a sizable community in the Caribbean and Bermuda.

International organizations

The Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, or CPLP, is an international organization consisting of the eight independent countries which have Portuguese as an official language. Portuguese is also an official language of the European Union, Mercosul and the African Union and the Latin Union (And one of the three languages of international work. The others are English and French), and one of the official languages of other organizations. Except for the Asian territories (East Timor and Macau), Portuguese is the sole official language in each country.

Related languages and dialects

Some dialects and languages related to Portuguese exist in border areas between Spanish and Portuguese:
* Barranquenho - mixture of Portuguese and Extremaduran language, spoken in Portugal.
* The Fala - Portuguese-Galician subgroup, spoken in Spain.
* Galician language - the native language of Galicia, original member of the Portuguese-Galician subgroup, and not distinct from Portuguese until the 15th century.
* Riverense Portuñol - mixture of Portuguese and Spanish, spoken in Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina.

ee also

*Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP)
*Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP)
*Luso American
*Portuguese dialects
*Portuguese creole
*Portuguese language

Notes and references

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