THE PORTUGUESE LANGUAGE
Like Italian, the Portuguese language is part of the Romance branch of the Indo European group.
In the world
As Portugal was another great empire, its language is official in nine other countries. This list includes Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Macau, Mozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe.
Thanks to that, it is now the sixth most spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers. Also, it ranks 1st in South America and 2nd in Latin America after Spanish. In fact, more than a third of Latin America speaks it. Plus, we have to add the former trading posts in Asia. If we consider the total number of speakers, it then counts for 4% of the world. As the number of Portuguese speakers is growing, experts think that they could be 335 millions by 2050.
Also, Portugal founded the Community of Portuguese Language Countries which included 8 countries.
From the beginning of the Roman Empire, the Romans brought with them to the Iberian Peninsula the Vulgar Latin from which all Romance languages are descended. This happened at the beginning of the 3rd century B.C. There, soldiers, settlers and merchants spread the language.
The Barbarian invasions
From the 5th to the 8th century, some Germanic peoples attacked the Roman empire, which led to its fall. Once the region conquered, they settled and adopted the Roman culture and Vulgar Latin dialects spoken there. Right after them, Muslim peoples came and took power. From then, Arabic became the administrative language of the conquered regions. However, the locals kept a form of Romance mixed with Arabic, then called Mozarabic. Finally, the influence of Arabic on the Romance dialects was quite slight, but affected their lexicon mainly.
Three clear periods
First, from the 9th to the 12th century is the period called Proto Portuguese. From there come the oldest texts, written in Portuguese mixed with Latin. Actually, they are notarial papers. Also, this is the time where Portugal became an independant kingdom.
Second is the Galaico Portuguese period from the 12th to the 14th century. During it, this dialect slowly came into general use and was the language for lyric poetry in Christian Hispania. Very important to note that in 1290, Portuguese became the official language of the country, by King Denis I. That follows the creation of the first Portuguese university in Lisbon.
Later, with the Empire, Old Portuguese spread to Asia, Africa and America. Also, inter marriage, as well as Catholic missionaries, fostered this process. The language remained popular in these regions until the 19th century.
Finally, the modern Portuguese appeared in the 16th century. The latter borrowed words from Latin and classical Greek to enrich the lexicon.
THE WRITING SYSTEM
Of course, Portuguese uses the Latin alphabet, with some special accents added. This is the case with the tilde on the vowels 'a' and 'o'. The latter comes straight from the Middle Ages. Indeed, it is the old sign marking the shortening of /n/. For example, pan (bread) became pão. We also have the cedilla, the circumflex and the acute accent, as well as digrams. Thus, nh is like ñ in Spanish or gn in French. Similarly, lh is like ll in Spanish or (gl(i) in Italian. Of course, there are some differences in spelling from a country to another. In order to get a visual recap, please follow this link.
20 years ago, a project to change the spelling of hundreds of words was launched. Portugal first ratified this treaty, followed by the other countries that practice it. While it only concerns 2,000 of the 110,000 words in the lexicon, it aims to simplify them. In fact, that concerns international contracts mainly.
The aim is also to be closer to the way to pronounce words. That happens through removal of silent consonants, as already applied in Brazil. For instance, óptimo (very good) became ótimo and acção (action) became ação. The new alphabet counts twenty six letters with the addition of k, w and y. This is the case for words like hacker or kwanza (Angolan currency).
Also, Brazil no longer uses the umlaut, except for adjectives derived from proper nouns of foreign origin.