top of page

The Formation of Brazilian Portuguese

Updated: May 6

We cannot say, with certainty, that there is a Brazilian language, the subject is controversial among experts. We can say that there is Brazilian Portuguese, a variation of European Portuguese that is only spoken in South America. We can also say that nowhere else in the world has the Portuguese language been influenced by so many different cultures as has happened here in Brazilian territory. Brazilian Portuguese is a soup, in which its main ingredient is European Portuguese, but the final flavor has a wide variety of elements. And how did this happen? 

This story begins in 1500, with the arrival of Portuguese. At first, the Jesuits learned Tupinambá, the most spoken language on the entire coast of Brazil at the time. And thus, they managed to maintain communication between the colonizers and the natives, also expanding their project of catechization and definitive conquest of the region. After learning the language of the original people, the Jesuits created a general language, a kind of mixture between 16th century Portuguese and the Tupi-Guarani language. The general language was the most spoken language at the bottom of the pyramid population of the Brazilian until 1757, when it was definitively banned and Portuguese was decreed the official language of the colony. According to historians, for almost three centuries it was with it that Brazilians communicated in villages, in commerce and even when teaching in schools.

Around 1530, Portugal began kidnapping African people for forced labor in the American colony. They were people from different origins, nations and cultures, speakers of different languages who were forced to learn the language of the new territory in order to survive. Brazil was the country that most exploited the forced labor of Africans in the world, for more than three hundred years. And the country's enslaved population became superior to the free population. The languages of these people merged with Portuguese over the centuries.

Schoolbooks in Brazil tend to limit the indigenous and African influence on Brazilian Portuguese to a few everyday words. But experts say this influence goes much further. As an example, we have the plural only in the first word of the sentence: “As criança brinca”. A way of speaking that is typical of more mixed-race communities. The correct form is “As crianças brincam”, but what seems like a grammar “error” is actually a process of “Africanization” of Portuguese. Studies show that many indigenous and African languages use the plural in the same way. These ethnic groups have historically been excluded from access to formal education in the country, so they have also not internalized many of the grammatical structures of the official language. As a result, the “Africanization” of the Portuguese spoken by them still continues today in various linguistic contexts.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, other European peoples were in Brazilian lands in an attempt to conquer the territory. The French founded Antarctica France in Rio de Janeiro and Equinoctial France in Maranhão. And the Dutch were in control of northeastern cities such as Salvador, Recife, Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte for twenty years. Even though they were expelled by the Portuguese, they left signs of their passage through the country present in the culture of these places. Signs that are sometimes more visible in places, such as in architecture, sometimes more hidden in culture, such as influences on customs and accents.

At the end of the 19th century, the Brazilian government ended the system of human slavery in Brazil. For fear of the same revolution happening here that happened in Haiti, the government created a “population whitening policy” and encouraged the immigration of Europeans and Asians to the country. The people who arrived here the most at that time were the Germans, the Italians, the Chinese and the Japanese. Assistance policies were created to welcome immigrant families. Brazil is the second place in the world with the most Japanese after Japan. German immigrants were mainly concentrated in the southern region and Italians in the southeast region. These people finished seasoning Brazilian Portuguese. They needed to learn the customs and language of the place, but they also contributed to its culture and consequently influenced the Portuguese that is spoken today in Brazil.

Thus, Brazilian Portuguese is the result of interaction between several peoples over the centuries. Each one with their own color and in specific social circumstances, using European Portuguese as a communication tool between them. It was from this socio-historical dynamic that Brazilian Portuguese emerged. This linguistic soup with unique flavors, which, like everything else in the country, abounds in diversity and multiculturalism.

Núbia Farias


Bibliographical references:

A Arte da Gramática da Língua mais usada na Costa do Brasil – José de Anchieta. Editor: Coimbra: Antonio de Mariz. Data do documento:      1595.

Como falam os Brasileiros – Yonne Leite e Dinah Callou. Editora: Jorge Zahar, 2004.

O Brasil dos Imigrantes – Lúcia Lipi Oliveira. Editora: Zahar, 2000.

Os Índios Antes do Brasil – Calos Fausto. Editora: Jorge Zahar, 2000.

Preconceito Linguístico – Marcos Bagno. Editora‏: ‎ Parábola Editorial, 2015.

Raízes do Brasil – Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, Editora: Companhia das Letras, 1997.

22 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Farhan Khalaf Bonilla
Farhan Khalaf Bonilla
May 01

Muito bom Nubia!! Obrigado pelas aulas.


Maria Velasco
Maria Velasco
Mar 28

As aulas com a professora Núbia são muito divertidas, mas acima de tudo aprendo muito sobre a cultura. Acho isso encantador. 💚

bottom of page