Languages of Brazil
|Languages of Brazil|
|National||Portuguese - 98%|
|Significant||English - 7%, Spanish - 4%, Hunsrik - 1.5%|
|Indigenous||Apalaí, Arára, Bororo, Canela, Carajá, Carib, Guarani, Kaingang, Nadëb, Nheengatu, Pirahã, Terena, Tucano, Tupiniquim, Ye'kuana|
|Regional||German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish (border areas), Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, English, East Pomeranian, Chinese, Korean|
|Immigrant||German, Italian, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Japanese, Spanish, English, Chinese|
|Foreign||English, Spanish, German|
|Signed||Brazilian Sign Language|
Ka'apor Sign Language
|Part of a series on the|
Portuguese is the official and national language of Brazil and is widely spoken by most of the population. The Portuguese dialects spoken in Brazil are collectively known as Brazilian Portuguese. The Brazilian Sign Language also has official status at the federal level.
Aside from Portuguese, the country has also numerous minority languages, including indigenous languages, such as Nheengatu (a descendant of Tupi), and languages of more recent European and Asian immigrants, such as Italian, German and Japanese. In some municipalities, those minor languages have official status: Nheengatu, for example, is an official language in São Gabriel da Cachoeira, while a number of German dialects are official in nine southern municipalities. Hunsrik (also known as Riograndenser Hunsrückisch) is a germanic language also spoken in Argentina, Paraguay and Venezuela, which derived from the Hunsrückisch dialect. Hunsrik has official status in Antônio Carlos and Santa Maria do Herval, and is recognized by the state of Rio Grande do Sul as part of its historical and cultural heritage. Polish and Ukrainian are largely spoken in the State of Paraná, immigrants originally from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire., the Galicia Province.
As of 2019, the population of Brazil speaks or signs approximately 228 languages, of which 217 are indigenous and 11 came with immigrants. In 2005, fewer than 40,000 people (about 0.02% of the population at the time) spoke any of the indigenous languages.
The Brazilian spelling of Portuguese is distinct from that of other Portuguese-speaking countries and is uniform across the country. With the implementation of the Orthographic Agreement of 1990, the orthographic norms of Brazil and Portugal have been largely unified, but still have some minor differences. Brazil enacted these changes in 2009 and Portugal enacted them in 2012.
In 2002, Brazilian Sign Language (Libras) was made the official language of the Brazilian deaf community.
Before the first Portuguese explorers arrived in 1500, what is now Brazil was inhabited by several Amerindian peoples that spoke many different languages. According to Aryon Dall'Igna Rodrigues there were six million Indians in Brazil speaking over 1,000 different languages. When the Portuguese settlers arrived, they encountered the Tupi people, who dominated most of the Brazilian coast and spoke a set of closely related languages. The Tupi called the non-Tupi peoples "Tapuias", a designation that the Portuguese adopted; however, there was little unity among the diverse Tapuia tribes other than their not being Tupi. In the first two centuries of colonization, a language based on Tupian languages known as Língua Geral ("General Language") was widely spoken in the colony, not only by the Amerindians, but also by the Portuguese settlers, the Africans and their descendants. This language was spoken in a vast area from São Paulo to Maranhão, as an informal language for domestic use, while Portuguese was the language used for public purposes. Língua Geral was spread by the Jesuit missionaries and Bandeirantes to other areas of Brazil where the Tupi language was not spoken. In 1775, Marquis of Pombal prohibited the use of Língua Geral or any other indigenous language in Brazil. However, as late as the 1940s, Língua Geral was widely spoken in some Northern Amazonian areas where the Tupi people were not present.
However, before that prohibition, the Portuguese language was dominant in Brazil. Most of the other Amerindian languages gradually disappeared as the populations that spoke them were integrated or decimated when the Portuguese-speaking population expanded to most of Brazil. 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 Portuguese language spoken by its inhabitants still preserves 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.[failed verification] Examples of widely used words of Tupi origin in Brazilian Portuguese include abacaxi ("pineapple"), pipoca ("popcorn"), catapora ("chickenpox"), and siri ("crab"). The names of thirteen of Brazil's twenty six states also have Amerindian origin.
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, Japanese, Arabs, Poles and Ukrainians, preserved their languages for more generations. 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, Romania 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 dialects from Italy. 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, and in some degree the Japanese, Poles, Ukrainians, Arabs, Kurds and Italians, most of the immigrants in Brazil adopted Portuguese as their mother tongue after a few generations.
Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and the primary language used in most schools and media. It is also used for all business and administrative purposes. Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas, giving it a national culture sharply distinct from its Spanish-speaking neighbours. Brazilian Portuguese has had its own development, influenced by the other European languages such as Italian and German in the South and Southeast, and several indigenous languages all across the country. For this reason, Brazilian Portuguese differs significantly from European Portuguese and other dialects of Portuguese-speaking countries, even though they are all mutually intelligible. Such differences occur in phonetics and lexicon and have been compared to the differences between British English and American English.
During the 18th century, other differences between the Brazilian and European Portuguese developed, mainly through the introduction of lexicon from African and Tupi languages, such as words related to fauna and flora. At that time Brazilian Portuguese failed to adopt linguistic changes taking place in Portugal produced by French influence.[which?] However, when John VI, the Portuguese king, and the royal entourage took refuge in Brazil in 1808 (when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal), he influenced the Portuguese spoken in the cities, making it more similar 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 that, in those areas (such as Rio de Janeiro and Recife), one finds variations in pronunciation (for instance, palatalization of post-vocalic /s/) and a few superficial lexical changes.[which?] These changes reflect the linguistics of the nationalities settling in each area.[which?] In the 20th century, the divide between the Portuguese and Brazilian variants of Portuguese widened 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.
Despite the fact that Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and 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 asked respondents which languages they speak, allowing a better analysis of the languages spoken in Brazil.
The first municipality to co-officialize other languages alongside Portuguese was São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in the state of Amazonas, with the languages Nheengatu, Tukano and Baniwa. Since then, other Brazilian municipalities have co-officialized other languages.
European immigrant languages
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 two-thirds 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. (One might compare this to the United States, where a huge wave of German immigrants almost completely switched to English and assimilated more thoroughly than the Italian-Americans.) 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. 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.
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 they also speaks Galician, which is closer to Portuguese, sometimes even being considered two dialects of the same language. 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 Hunsrik, a language derived from the Hunsrückisch dialect of German. Hunsrik, or Riograndenser Hunsrückisch, has around 3,000,000 native speakers in Brazil, while also having some speakers in Argentina, Paraguay and Venezuela. The language is most used in the countryside of the South Region states of Brazil, with a considerable amount of native speakers using it as their main or even only language.
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, a broad category which includes the Hunsrik language, but also East Pomerian and Plautdietsch dialects. 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 Schwowisch (Standard German: "Schwäbisch"), from Donauschwaben immigrants, is spoken in Entre Rios, Guarapuava, in the state of Paraná; or the East Pomeranian 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. However, these languages have been rapidly replaced by Portuguese in the last few decades, partly due to a government decision to integrate immigrant populations. 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 to the Spanish language.
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, had been published in the city of São Paulo since 1946, still printing paper editions until January 2019. There is a significant community of Japanese speakers in São Paulo, Paraná, Mato Grosso do Sul, Pará and Amazonas. Much smaller groups exist in Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul and other parts of Brazil. Some Chinese, especially from Macau, speak a Portuguese-based creole language called Macanese (patuá or macaísta), aside from Hakka, Mandarin and Cantonese. Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan.
Many Amerindian minority languages are spoken throughout Brazil, mostly in Northern Brazil. Indigenous languages with about 10,000 speakers or more are Ticuna (language isolate), Kaingang (Gean family), Kaiwá Guarani, Nheengatu (Tupian), Guajajára (Tupian), Macushi (Cariban), Terena (Arawakan), Xavante (Gean) and Mawé (Tupian). Tucano (Tucanoan) has half that number, but is widely used as a second language in the Amazon.
One of the two Brazilian línguas gerais (general languages), Nheengatu, was until the late 19th century 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.
Below is a full list of indigenous language families and isolates of Brazil based on Campbell (2012). The Macro-Jê classification follows that of Nikulin (2020). Additional extinct languages of Northeast Brazil have also been included from Meader (1978) and other sources.
- Wamoé (Atikum)
- Yaté (Fulniô)
Spanish is understood to various degrees by many but not all Brazilians, due to the similarities of the languages. However, it is hardly spoken well by individuals who have not taken specific education in the language, due to the substantial differences in phonology between the two languages. In some parts of Brazil, close to the border of Brazil with Spanish-speaking countries, Brazilians will use a rough mixture of Spanish and Portuguese that is sometimes known as Portuñol to communicate with their neighbors on the other side of the border; however, these Brazilians continue to speak Portuguese at home. In recent years, Spanish has become more popular as a second or third language in Brazil due in large part to the economic advantages that Spanish fluency brings in doing business with other countries in the region, since seven of the 11 countries that border Brazil use Spanish as an official language. However, it falls behind English due to lack of interest by Brazilians in learning Spanish.
In São Paulo, the German-Brazilian newspaper Brasil-Post has been published for over fifty years. There are many other media organizations throughout the land specializing either in church issues, music, language etc.
The online newspaper La Rena is in Talian dialect and it offers Talian lessons. There are many other non-Portuguese publications, bilingual web sites, radio and television programs throughout the country.
On the Paraná state, there are several communities of Poles, Ukrainians and other Slavics that live in rural areas and in some municipalities such as Curitiba, Irati, Guarapuava, Ponta Grossa and Prudentópolis. Polish and Ukrainian are still spoken, mainly by oldest people. In the City of Foz do Iguaçu (on the border with Paraguay and Argentina), there are many Arabic speakers, these people are mainly immigrants from Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.
On the Rio Grande do Sul state, there are several German and Italian colonized cities, communities and groups. Most small cities have German or Italian as their second language. In the capital Porto Alegre, it is easy to find people who speak one of those or both.
There are also at least two ethnic neighborhoods in the country: Liberdade, bastion of Japanese immigrants, and Bixiga, stronghold of Italian immigrants, both in São Paulo; however, these neighborhoods do not count yet with specific legislation for the protection of Japanese and Italian languages in these sites.
Co-official languages in Brazil
The 21st century has seen the growth of a trend of co-official languages in cities populated by immigrants (such as Italian and German) or indigenous in the north, both with support from the Ministry of Tourism, as was recently established in Santa Maria de Jetibá, Pomerode and Vila Pavão, where German also has co-official status.
The first municipality to adopt a co-official language in Brazil was São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in 2002. Since then, other municipalities have attempted to adopt their own co-official languages.
The states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul have Talian officially approved as a heritage language in these states, and Espírito Santo has the East Pomeranian dialect, along with the German language as cultural heritage.  
Also in production is the documentary video Brasil Talian, with directed and written by André Costantin and executive producer of the historian Fernando Roveda. The pre-launch occurred on 18 November 2011, the date that marked the start of production of the documentary.
Officialization of languages as a linguistic or cultural heritage
Brazilian states with linguistic heritages officially approved statewide
- Espírito Santo (East Pomeranian and German)
- Rio Grande do Sul (Talian and Hunsrik)
- Rio de Janeiro (Yoruba)
- Santa Catarina (Talian)
Brazilian municipalities that have some language as intangible cultural heritage
- Blumenau, Santa Catarina (German)
- Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul (Talian)
- Salvador, Bahia (Yoruba)
- Santa Cruz do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul (German)
Municipalities that have co-official indigenous languages
- Tacuru, Mato Grosso do Sul (Guarani)
- Paranhos, Mato Grosso do Sul (Guarani, under approval)
- São Félix do Xingu, Pará (Kayapo)
- Bonfim, Roraima (macushi and wapishana)
- Cantá, Roraima (macushi and wapishana)
- Tocantínia, Tocantins (Xerénte)
Municipalities that have co-official allochthonous languages
Municipalities that have co-official Talian language (or Venetian dialect)
- Antônio Prado, Rio Grande do Sul
- Bento Gonçalves, Rio Grande do Sul
- Camargo, Rio Grande do Sul
- Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul
- Fagundes Varela, Rio Grande do Sul
- Flores da Cunha, Rio Grande do Sul
- Guabiju, Rio Grande do Sul
- Ivorá, Rio Grande do Sul
- Nova Pádua, Rio Grande do Sul
- Nova Roma do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul
- Paraí, Rio Grande do Sul
- Serafina Corrêa, Rio Grande do Sul
- Nova Erechim, Santa Catarina
Municipalities that have co-official East Pomeranian language
- Domingos Martins, Espírito Santo
- Itarana, Espírito Santo
- Laranja da Terra, Espírito Santo
- Pancas, Espírito Santo
- Santa Maria de Jetibá, Espírito Santo
- Vila Pavão, Espírito Santo
- Itueta, Minas Gerais (only in the district of Vila Nietzel)
- Pomerode, Santa Catarina
- Canguçu, Rio Grande do Sul
- Espigão d'Oeste, Rondônia (under approval)
Municipalities that have co-official Plattdüütsch (Low German) language
Municipalities that have co-official language Hunsrik
- Antônio Carlos, Santa Catarina
- Treze Tílias, Santa Catarina (language teaching is compulsory in schools, standing on stage in public official of the municipality)
Municipalities that have the Trentino dialect as their co-official language
Officialization in teaching
Municipalities in which the teaching of the German language is mandatory
Municipalities in which the teaching of the Italian language is mandatory
- Santa Teresa, Espírito Santo, known as the state capital of Italian immigration
- Venda Nova do Imigrante, Espírito Santo
- Vila Velha, Espírito Santo
- Francisco Beltrão, Paraná
- Antônio Prado, Rio Grande do Sul
- Brusque, Santa Catarina
- Criciúma, Santa Catarina
- Bragança Paulista, São Paulo
- Indigenous languages of South America
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