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The PALOP, highlighted in red
The first contact of Africa to Portugal after its discovery of the Congo river in the 15th century. Africa is home to the fastest growing Portuguese-speaking countries, making Africa a major player in the future development of Portuguese as an international language in the 21st century.

Portuguese is a post-colonial language in Africa and one of the working languages of the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). What makes these varieties of Portuguese logical to group together separately from those of Brazil and Portugal is their common origin in sub-Saharan Africa's colonial history and the fact that African Portuguese co-exists with Portuguese-based creoles (Upper Guinea and Gulf of Ginuea Creoles) and autochthonous African languages (Niger-Congo family).

In Africa, Portuguese experiences pressure and possibly competition from French and English. Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe are all member-states of La Francophonie and Mozambique is a member-state of the Commonwealth of Nations.


Geographic distribution

In sub-Saharan Africa, the nation-states with Portuguese as an official language are referred to by the acronym PALOP (Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa) and include the following: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. Portuguese is a primarily urban language having a reduced presence in rural areas, except for in Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe, where the language is more widespread.

South Africa also has approximately 1,000,000 speakers of Portuguese, largely white Angolans and Mozambicans who emigrated after independence in the late 1970s. The civil wars in Angola and Mozambique have resulted in more recent migrations of refugees (some of whom speak Portuguese) to neighbouring countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and South Africa. Other migrations involved returning Afro-Brazilian ex-slaves to places such as Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Angola and Mozambique and also some returning white Portuguese African refugees and their descendants from Brazil, Portugal, and South Africa to their former African-controlled territories, mostly to Angola and Mozambique, and most importantly, arrival of Portuguese post-colonial settlers in Angola in the recent years, because of Portugal's economic reasons and Angolan economic boom.

Senegal has its own Lusophone connection with a significant community of Cape Verdeans in Dakar and speakers of Guinea-Bissau Creole in its southern region of Casamance, which was once part of the Portuguese colonial empire. Portuguese is taught as a foreign language throughout the country.[1] In 2008, Senegal became an observer nation in the CPLP.

Equatorial Guinea, at one point a Portuguese colony, is home to a Portuguese-based Creole and is an observer nation in the CPLP. The language is now official in Equatorial Guinea.

Mauritius, a multilingual island in the Indian Ocean, has strong cultural ties with Mozambique. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to encounter the island. In 2006, Mauritius joined the CPLP as an associate observer.

As a fellow member of the SADC, Zambia has introduced Portuguese language instruction in its primary school system, partially due to the presence of a large Angolan population there.[2]

The role of Portuguese in Africa

As an official language, Portuguese serves in the realms of administration, education, law, politics and media. Given the existing linguistic diversty of the PALOPs, Portuguese also serves the purpose of lingua franca allowing communication between fellow citizens of different ethno-linguistic backgrounds. It is in this way that each country has started to develop a national culture.

Additionally, Portuguese connects the PALOP countries to each other, to Portugal, East Timor and, most interestingly, to fellow former colony Brazil which pursues its own relations with PALOP independently of Portugal. As the number of L1 and L2 speakers of Portuguese continues to increase, so too will the role of the language grow and change.

Music is one way in which the linguistic profiles of PALOP have increased. Many recording artists from PALOP, in addition to singing in their maternal languages, sing in Portuguese to one degree or another. The success of these artisis in the World Music industry increases international awareness of Portuguese as an African language.

As a literary language, Portuguese has a strong role in the PALOP. Authors such as Luandino Vieira, Mia Couto, Manuel Rui or Ondjaki have made valuable contributions to lusophone literature, prompting an African scent and ideas to the language and creating a place for the Portuguese language in the African imaginary.


Portuguese is the language of journalism (print, radio, and television) which serves as a vehicle for the dissemination of the language. Literacy being an issue, radio serves as an important source of information for Lusophone Africans.

BBC Para África, RFI and RTP África are all media outlets that make a point of presenting Portuguese as an African language aside from its origins in Europe. Lusophone Africa forms an obvious market for Brazilian media.

African varieties of Portuguese abroad

As a result of immigration to Portugal various varieties of African Portuguese have influenced contemporary speech in Portugal. In the 1970s it came from white people from the former colonies (referred to as Retornados). More recent immigration from the PALOPs has resulted in a visible demographic of black and brown Portuguese who have strong links to Lusophone Africa.

In Brazil, many of the indigenous African languages that influence African Portuguese had the same influence historically on the formation of Brazilian Portuguese during the colonial period, especially lexically. The settlement of white African refugees from their former territories to Brazil also added the influence of dialects of African Portuguese on Brazilian Portuguese.

Local norms and norms of reference

In Africa, European Portuguese mostly known as Standard Portuguese (Português-padrão) forms the basis for the written and spoken norm, although there are local variations of the language. As the number of both L1 and L2 speakers increases, one can see the emergence of distinct national varieties of Portuguese specific to each country. Some aspects of phonology of African dialects in Angola, and São Tomé and Príncipe share similarities with Brazilian dialects, this has historical motivations, although younger generations and upper class, in both countries, tend to use standard (European) pronunciation.

In Angolan Journalism, both the "estar+gerund" and the "estar+infinitive" constructions are acceptable for the present progressive tense. Another example is in pronominal syntax where the placement of object pronouns can be placed before or after the relevant verb. In Cape Verdean Portuguese, compound tenses are favoured over simple tenses due to the influence of Cape Verdean Creole.

Unlike Portugal and Brazil, the PALOPs are multilingual societies. Wilson Trajano Filho differentiates between Brazil and Portugal which are focused speech comunitites and the PALOPs which are diffused speech communites. Omar Ribeiro Thomaz maintains that Portuguese is used to communicate concepts and realities unique to each society[3].

In the varieties of Portuguese spoken in the Mainland PALOPs, this results in large amounts of lexical borrowing from these languages. In Angola and Mozambique, large numbers of Portuguese words have been incorporated into their indigenous languages. Portuguese is also a source of new words for the various lusophone creoles spoken on the continent. This complex relationship between Portuguese and these other languages has implications for language planning in the African member states of the CPLP.


Any discussion of the role of the Portuguese language in Africa must take into account the various Portuguese creoles that have developed there. These languages co-exist with Portuguese and, in the countries where they are spoken, form a continuum with the lexifying language.

In Cape Verde, Crioulo levinho refers to a variety of Cape Verdean Creole which takes on various features of Portuguese and is a result of processes of code switching, bilingualism and diglossia in the archipelago. In Sāo Tome e Principe, Santomense Portuguese is a variety of Portuguese strongly influenced by Forro in syntax and vocabulary. Since these languages' lexicons are derived from Portuguese, even creole-speakers who don't speak Portuguese have a passive knowledge of it.

In addition, Portuguese creoles have often been (and often continue to be) written using Portuguese orthography. An important issue in discussions of standardization of creoles is whether to devise a truly phonetic orthography or to use an etymological one based on Portuguese.

See also


  1. ^ Over 17,000 Senegalese learning Portuguese
  2. ^ Zambia to introduce Portuguese into school curriculum
  3. ^ Brazilian Anthropologists in Africa

External links



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