Planning some Brazilian Day festivities? A little Portuguese might add to the ambiance. Yes, Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish. As the only country in South America to officially speak the language, there’s an intriguing story behind that unique piece of cultural heritage.
By Sean Chaffin
It all begins with the Pope, a treaty, and an undiscovered continent.
After Christopher Columbus “discovered” the new world, Spain and Portugal raced to colonize these new lands. In an attempt to stymie its rival, Spain sought support from the pope, Spanish-born Alexander VI. He created a line of demarcation to divide the nations’ claims as part of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494.
That miraculous and fateful decision is why Brazilians speak Portuguese.
While it was still early in the exploration of the western hemisphere, the Portuguese must not have known exactly what they were giving up when they signed that treaty with Spain. The line of demarcation ran just east of South America and north into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Spanish were authorized to explore everything west of the line while the Portuguese could only explore lands east of the line – mostly open ocean. Other countries ignored the treaty, but it allowed the Spanish to explore and colonize large portions of North, South, and Central America.
Realizing the folly, the Portuguese re-negotiated the treaty a year later and the line was moved further west. Portugal could then at least lay claim to the area that is now modern-day Brazil after it was discovered by Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500.
The claim, however was mostly ignored until around 1530, however, when it was found to be a rich source of Brazilwood (Pau-Brasil), where the country got its name.
Brazilians later explored further inland to expand their territory. The country was not completely safe from other invading countries however. In 1555, the French claimed the area of Rio de Janeiro as its own. The Portuguese reclaimed it in 1560 after fierce fighting.
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For more than 200 years, Brazil was one of the most important colonies of the Portuguese empire. But on September 7, 1822, Brazil broke free from Portugal.
Dom Pedro, Emperor Dom João’s son and his father’s acting regent in the colony, added his support to Brazilian nationalists and declared the country’s independence of the Portuguese homeland. The agreement was formally agreed to in a treaty signed by Brazil and Portugal in 1825.
So that’s the little-known story of why Brazilians speak Portuguese, and why so many aspects of Brazilian culture are distinctly different from their Spanish-speaking neighbors, from music to cuisine, the arts and more.
In fact, we’ll go so far to say that Brazil’s national identity is critically linked to its language.
Spanish remains the language of much of the western hemisphere, but for more than 207 million Brazilians, and millions more worldwide, Portuguese is the law of the land.
Looking to brush on your Portuguese a bit? Here’s some common words below. While Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish, speakers of that language may notice some similarities.
- Hello or good morning – Bom dia.
- Good afternoon – Boa tarde.
- Good evening or good night – Boa noite
- Hi – Oi/Olá
- Bye – Tchau
- Good bye – Adeus
- Please – Por favor
- See you later – Até mais or até logo
- Thank you (very much) – (Muito) Obrigado. (if a man is speaking) or (Muito) Obrigada (if a woman is speaking)
- You’re welcome or don’t mention it – Não há de quê
- Welcome – Bem-vindo
An Editor and Senior Writer at Connectbrazil.com, Sean Chaffin is also a freelance writer based in Crandall, Texas. His love of Brazilian music and culture is what prompted him to pen this story, but like most of us, he struggles mightily with Portuguese verbs, especially the irregular ones.