Overview of the Portuguese Language

The Portuguese language ranks second after Spanish as the most widely spoken Romance language. European Portuguese, sometimes also called Continental Portuguese, is spoken in Portugal.

Standard European Portuguese is a modern version of the colloquial Latin spoken by the Romans who occupied the Iberian Peninsula for more than half a millennium. It was a simplified version of Latin that avoided passive verbs forms, complicated tenses, and the entire declension system. The Portuguese language was also influenced by the consecutive invasions of Visigoths and Muslims in later years.

In medieval times, there were two main dialects of Portuguese: Galician-Portuguese (which was spoken in the Northwestern region of the Iberian Peninsula) and Luso-Mozarabic (which was spoken in the region under Muslim control between the Mondego and Tagus Rivers). During the 11th and 12th centuries, the conquest of the Muslim-controlled territory and the imposition of permanent boundaries caused the two dialects to merge, giving birth to the modern Portuguese language. The first written documents in modern Portuguese date from the late 12th century, and literary works appeared soon after.

The Portuguese Alphabet, Portuguese Pronunciation, and Portuguese Spelling

The Portuguese alphabet includes the same 26 letters as the English alphabet, although the letters K, W, and Y are used only in words of foreign origin. Some aspects of Portuguese pronunciation may seem unusual to native English speakers learning Portuguese. The use of nasalized vowels, for example, requires some practice. Ways that nasalized vowels are indicated in Portuguese spelling include an 'm' or 'n' after the vowel, or a tilde (~) over the vowel. Portuguese also uses a number of other diacritic marks with certain letters to indicate stress and various aspects of pronunciation.

Portuguese Vocabulary

A good deal of the vocabulary of Portuguese was derived from Latin, and thus shows similarities to other Romance languages such as Spanish, French, and Italian. Moreover, European Portuguese was heavily influenced by the French language during the 18th century. In recent times, a number of words have also been borrowed from English. Terms have been passed the other way, as well: English words that come from European Portuguese vocabulary include lingo, fandango, albino, brocade, and molasses.

As you are learning Portuguese, you'll notice that some Portuguese vocabulary words look or sound deceptively like English-- but watch out! Don't assume that a Portuguese vocabulary word always means what you think it does. For example, if you tell someone they are breve, you are not complimenting them on their bravery-- you are calling them brief! If you describe something as grosso, you are saying it is thick. Férias has nothing to do with fairies or ferries: it means vacation.