Languages of Brazil: Wikis


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Languages of Brazil
Official language(s) Portuguese
Indigenous language(s) Apalaí, Arara, Bororo, Canela, Carajá, Caribe, Guarani, Kaingang, Nadëb, Nheengatu, Terena, Tucano, Tupiniquim
Sign language(s) Brazilian Sign Language
Common keyboard layout(s)
Portuguese keyboard layout
KB Portuguese Brazil.svg

There are many Languages of Brazil, including Portuguese, indigenous languages, and languages of more recent European and Asian immigrants. Portuguese is the dominant language and the only official language of the country. Approximately 210 languages are spoken or signed by the population, of which 80 are indigenous to the area.[1] The country is bordered with 5 official languages, Spanish (Uruguay to Venezuela), Guarani (Paraguay) in the South and West, English (Guyana), French (French Guyana), and Dutch (Suriname) in the North. And dozens of non-recognized indigenous languages on its border (Yanomamo, Ticuna, Curripaco, Yaminahua).

Language is one of the strongest elements of Brazil's national unity. Portuguese is spoken by nearly 99.9 percent of the population. The only exceptions are some members of Amerindian groups and pockets of immigrants, who have not yet learned Portuguese. There is about as much difference between the Portuguese spoken in Brazil and that spoken in Portugal as between the English spoken in the United States and that spoken in the United Kingdom. Within Brazil, there are no dialects of Portuguese, but only moderate regional variation in accent, vocabulary, and use of personal nouns, pronouns, and verb conjugations. Variations tend to diminish as a result of mass media, especially national television networks that are viewed by the majority of Brazilians.

The written language, which is uniform all over Brazil, follows national rules of spelling and accentuation that are revised from time to time for simplification. They are slightly different from the rules followed in Portugal. Written Brazilian Portuguese differs significantly from the spoken language and is used correctly by only a small, educated minority of the population. The rules of grammar are complex and allow more flexibility than English or Spanish. Many foreigners who speak Portuguese fluently have difficulty writing it properly. Because of Brazil's size, self-sufficiency, and relative isolation, foreign languages are not widely spoken. English and Spanish is often studied in school and increasingly in private courses.[2]



Portuguese house in the Brazilian city of Florianópolis.
Monument to the Italian Immigration in Castelo, Espírito Santo.

Before the arrival of the first Portuguese, in 1500, the current territory of Brazil was inhabited by several Amerindian peoples, who spoke different languages. According to Rodrigues, there were 6 million Indians in Brazil speaking 1,000 different languages. When the Portuguese settlers arrived, they encountered the Tupi people, who dominated almost all the coast of Brazil and spoke a common language. In the first two centuries of colonization, a language based on Tupian languages (known as Língua geral) was widely spoken in the colony, not only by the Amerindians, but also by the Portuguese settlers, Africans and their descendants. This language was spoken in a vast area from São Paulo to Maranhão. It was spread by the Jesuit missionaries and Bandeirantes to other areas of Brazil where the Tupi language was not spoken. Then, until the 1940s this language based on Tupi was widely spoken in some Northern Amazonian areas where the Tupi people were not present. In 1775, Marquês de Pombal prohibited the use of Língua geral or any other indigenous language in Brazil.

However, before that imposition, the Portuguese language was already becoming dominant in Brazil, due to the increased immigration from Portugal, and also because of the large numbers of African slaves, who spoke several intelligible languages and eventually adopted Portuguese as a lingua franca. During this process, Língua geral virtually became extinct, while most of the several other Amerindian languages also gradually disappeared when the Portuguese-speaking population dominated the areas where they were previously spoken. The several African languages spoken in Brazil also disappeared. Since the 20th century there are no more records of speakers of African languages in the country. However, in some isolated communities settled by escaped slaves (Quilombo) the inhabitants still preserve some lexicon of African origin which is not understood by other Brazilians. Due to the contact with several Amerindian and African languages, the Portuguese spoken in Brazil absorbed many influences from these languages, which led to a notable differentiation from the Portuguese spoken in Portugal.[3][4]

Starting in the early 19th century, Brazil started to receive substantial immigration of non-Portuguese-speaking people from Europe and Asia. Most immigrants, particularly Italians and Spaniards, adopted the Portuguese language after a few generations. Other immigrants, particularly Germans and Japanese, preserved their languages and took more generations to adopt Portuguese as their mother tongue. German-speaking immigrants started arriving in 1824. They came not only from Germany, but also from other countries that had a substantial German-speaking population (Switzerland, Poland, Austria and Russia (Volga Germans). During over 100 years of continuous emigration, it is estimated that some 300,000 German-speaking immigrants settled in Brazil. Italian immigration started in 1875 and about 1.5 million Italians immigrated to Brazil until World War II. They spoke several Italic languages and dialects. Other sources of immigration to Brazil included Spaniards, Poles, Ukrainians, Japanese and Middle-easterns. With the notable exception of the Germans, who preserved their language for several generations, in some degree the Japanese and Italians, most of the immigrants in Brazil adopted Portuguese as their mother tongue after a few generations.[5][6]


Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, and is spoken by virtually all the population, being virtually the only language used in schools, newspapers, radio and TV, and used for all business and administrative purposes. Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas, giving it a national culture distinct from its Spanish-speaking neighbors. However, many minority languages are spoken daily throughout the vast national territory of Brazil. Some of these are spoken by indigenous peoples. Others are spoken by immigrants and their descendants and at least one of the indigenous languages, Nheengatu, became an official language alongside Portuguese in the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira.[7] Brazilian Portuguese has had its own development, influenced by the Amerindian and African languages. Due to this, the language is somewhat different from that spoken in Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries, mainly for phonological differences, similar to the difference between U.S. English and British English.

During the 18th century, other differences between the Brazilian and European Portuguese developed. At that time Brazilian Portuguese failed to adopt linguistic changes taking place in Portugal produced by French influence. The Brazilian Portuguese remained loyal to the pronunciation used at the time of its discovery. However, when Don João, the Portuguese king, and the royal entourage took refuge in Brazil in 1808 (when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal), his presence helped to reapproximate the Portuguese spoken in the cities to the Portuguese of Portugal. After Brazilian independence in 1822, Brazilian Portuguese became influenced by Europeans who had migrated to the country. This is the reason one finds in those areas variations in pronunciation and a few superficial lexical changes. These changes reflect the nationalities settling in each area. In the 20th century, the split between the Portuguese and Brazilian variants of Portuguese heightened as the result of new words for technological innovations. This happened because Portuguese lacked a uniform procedure for adopting such words. Certain words took different forms in different countries. For example: in Portugal one hears "comboio," and in Brazil one hears "trem," both meaning train. "Autocarro" in Portugal is the same thing as "ônibus" in Brazil, both meaning bus.[8]

Immigrant languages


European languages of immigrants

German style house in Pomerode, Santa Catarina state: the main local language is a German dialect, called Pomeranian.

According to the 1940 Census, after Portuguese, German was the most widely spoken language in Brazil. Although the Italian immigration to Brazil was much more significant than the German one, the German language had many more speakers than the Italian one, according to the Census. The Census revealed that 2/3 of the children of German immigrants spoke German at home. In comparison, half of the children of Italians spoke Portuguese at home. The stronger preservation of the German language when compared to the Italian one has many factors: Italian is closer to Portuguese than German, leading to a faster assimilation of the Italian speakers. Also, the German immigrants used to educate their children in German schools. The Italians, on the other hand, had less organized ethnic schools and the cultural formation was centered in church, not in schools. Most of the children of Italians went to public schools, where Portuguese was spoken.[9] Until World War II, some 1.5 million Italians had immigrated to Brazil, compared to only 250,000 Germans. However, the 1940 Census revealed that German was spoken as a home language by 644,458 people, compared to only 458,054 speakers of Italian.[10]

Spaniards, who formed the third largest immigrant group in Brazil (after the Portuguese and Italians) were also quickly assimilated into the Portuguese-speaking majority. Spanish is similar to Portuguese, which led to a fast assimilation. Moreover, many of the Spanish immigrants were from Galicia, where the dominant language was not Spanish, but Galician, which is even closer to Portuguese, sometimes being considered two dialects of the same language.[11][12] Despite the large influx of Spanish immigrants to Brazil from 1880 to 1930 (over 700,000 people) the Census of 1940 revealed that only 74,000 people spoke Spanish in Brazil.

Other languages such as Polish and Ukrainian, along with German and Italian, are spoken in rural areas of Southern Brazil, by small communities of descendants of immigrants, who are for the most part bilingual. There are whole regions in southern Brazil where people speak both Portuguese and one or more of these languages. For example, it is reported that more than 90% of the residents of the small city of Presidente Lucena, located in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, speak Riograndenser Hunsrückisch, a Brazilian form of the Hunsrückisch dialect of German.[13]

Liberdade, São Paulo, concentrates the largest Japanese population outside of Japan.

Some immigrant communities in southern Brazil, chiefly the German and the Italian ones, have lasted long enough to develop distinctive dialects from their original European sources. For example, Brazilian German, Riograndenser Hunsrückisch or Hunsrückisch. In the Serra Gaúcha region, we can find Italian dialects such as Talian or italiano riograndense, based on the Venetian Language.

Other German dialects were transplanted to this part of Brazil. For example, the Austrian dialect spoken in Dreizehnlinden or Treze Tílias in the state of Santa Catarina; or the dialect of the Donauschwaben spoken in Entre Rios, in the state of Paraná; or the Pomeranian (Pommersch) dialect spoken in many different parts of southern Brazil (in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, Espírito Santo, São Paulo, etc.). Plautdietsch is spoken by the descendants of Russian Mennonites.

Although they have been rapidly replaced by Portuguese in the last few decades. Partly by a government decision to integrate immigrant populations &mdash. Today, states like Rio Grande do Sul are trying to reverse that trend and immigrant languages such as German and Italian are being reintroduced into the curriculum again, in communities where they originally thrived. Meanwhile, on the Argentinian and Uruguayan border regions, Brazilian students are being introduced (formally) to the Spanish language.

Asian languages

In the city of São Paulo, Korean, Chinese and Japanese can be heard in the immigrants districts, like Liberdade. A Japanese-language newspaper, the São Paulo Shinbun, is published in the city of São Paulo since 1946.[14] There is a significant community of Japanese speakers in Paraná, Mato Grosso do Sul and Amazonas. Much smaller groups exist in Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and other parts of Brazil. Many Chinese, especially from Macau, speak a Chinese creole called Macanese (patuá or macaísta), aside from Japanese-language, Mandarin, and Cantonese.


German colonies in Southern Brazil.

More people are realizing in Brazil that a person can master and carry more than one language throughout their lives. In other words, integration into mainstream society does not mean that one has to become monolingual. More and more the reasoning is that if languages are a human capital of great value to some, perhaps they should be considered valuable to one all.

English is part of the official high school curriculum as well as Spanish, but just a minority achieve any usable degree of fluency. Spanish is understood to various degrees by most Brazilians, due to the similarities of the languages. But Spanish is slightly more common on the border of Brazil with Spanish-speaking countries, and the mixture of Spanish and Portuguese is jokingly known as Portuñol.

In São Paulo, the German-Brazilian newspaper Brasil-Post has been published for over fifty years. The Livraria Alemã of Blumenau was a fixture in the city for a long time. There are many other media organizations throughout the land specializing either in church issues, music, language, etc. The German-Brazilian community in Brazil is estimated to be in the millions.

The Italian online newspaper La Rena offers Brazilian Italian or Talian lessons.

There are many other non-Portuguese publications, bilingual web sites, radio and television programs throughout the country. For example, TV Galega from Blumenau shows German-language programming on their channel on a weekly basis.

The English-language daily Brazil Herald is directed mostly to tourists, foreign executives and expatriates.

Most major foreign newspapers can be obtained in larger Brazilian cities (Frankfurter Allgemeine (German), Le Monde (French), The New York Times (American), etc.)

Minority languages

Despite the fact that Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and that the vast majority of Brazilians speak only Portuguese, there are several other languages spoken in the country. According to the president of IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) there are an estimated 210 languages spoken in Brazil. Eighty are Amerindian languages, while the others are languages brought by immigrants. The 1950 Census was the last one to ask Brazilians which language they speak at home. Since then, the Census does not ask about language. However, the Census of 2010 will ask respondents which language(s) they speak, allowing a better analysis of the languages spoken in Brazil.[15]

Indigenous languages

Many Amerindian minority languages are spoken throughout Brazil, mostly in Northern Brazil. The main indigenous languages are: Apalaí, Arara, Bororo, Canellla, Carajá, Caribe, Guarani (also in Paraguay), Kaingang, Nadëb, Nheengatu, Terena, Tucano, Tupiniquim, and many others.

One of the two Brazilian línguas gerais (general languages), Nheengatu, was until the late 1800s the common language used by a large number of indigenous, European, African, and African-descendant peoples throughout the coast of Brazil — it was spoken by the majority of the population in the land. It was proscribed by the Marquis of Pombal for its association with the Jesuit missions. A recent resurgence in popularity of this language occurred, and it is now an official language in the city of São Gabriel da Cachoeira. Today, in the Amazon Basin, political campaigning is still printed in this Tupian language.


  1. ^ 210 languages are spoken in Brazil
  2. ^ Portuguese language in Brazil and other languages
  3. ^ Línguas Africanas
  4. ^ Línguas indígenas
  5. ^ Línguas europeias
  6. ^ Políticas lingüísticas e a conservação da língua alemã no Brasil
  7. ^ Language Born of Colonialism Thrives Again in Amazon New York Times. Retrieved 2008-09-22
  8. ^ History - Brazilian Portuguese
  9. ^ The Italian Immigration and Education
  10. ^ Census of 1940
  11. ^ Spanish people in Brazil
  12. ^ O Brasil como país de destino para imigrantes
  13. ^ German cities in Southern Brazil [1].
  14. ^ São Paulo Shimbun - Japanese Brazilian Newspaper this website.
  15. ^ Censo 2010 fará a soma de casais homossexuais

See also


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