External History of the Portuguese Language

The Romance Period

The Portuguese language evolved from the Vulgar Latin (see also Latin language), spoken on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, in the Roman provinces (see Rome) of Lusitania and Gallaecia (now Portugal and the Spanish province of Galicia). When the Romans invaded the peninsula in 218 B.C., the people living in the region adopted the vulgar or common Latin, the Romans' colloquial language. A further stage in the linguistic development was the  Romance, a language representing an intermediate stage between vulgar Latin and modern West Romance languages, which include Portuguese, Spanish, French, Galician and Occitan.

From 409 AD to 711, the Portuguese vocabulary adopted many new words used by invading Germanic tribes (see Germanic languages). Among these were roubar (to steal), guerrear (to wage war), and branco (white). The effects of the Germanic migrations on the spoken language was not uniform and broke the linguistic uniformity of the peninsula. Over a period of time, this rupture led to a differentiation of the regional languages.

Beginning in 711, when the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula, Arabic became the official language, although the vast majority of the population continued to speak Romance. Arabic words that entered the Portuguese language during the Moor occupation included arroz (rice), alface (lettuce), alicate (pliers), and refém (hostage).

The period between the ninth century, when Latin-Portuguese documents first appeared, and the 11th century is considered one of linguistic transition. A few Portuguese words appear in local Latin texts, but Portuguese (more specifically Galician-Portuguese, its forerunner) was spoken only in Lusitania.

The Galician-Portuguese language

When Christians started to reconquer the peninsula in the 11th century, the Arabs were expelled to the South, where the contact between Romance and Arabic created the Mozarabic dialects. Galician-Portuguese became the spoken and written language of Lusitania. The first regional official documents and literary texts that were not in Latin were written in Galician-Portuguese. These included the Cancioneiros (collections of medieval poems) da Ajuda, da Vaticana and Colocci-Brancutti , now in Lisbon's National Library.

As the Christians advanced southward, the northern dialects interacted with the Mozarabic dialects of the South, producing a Portuguese which was different from the Galician-Portuguese. The separation between the Galician and Portuguese languages, which began with Portugal's independence in 1185, was consolidated after the Moors were expelled in 1249, and also by the defeat in 1385 of the Castilians, who sought unsuccessfully to conquer Portugal. The literary prose in Portuguese appeared in the 14th century, with Crónica Geral de Espanha (1344), and Livro de Linhagens (Book of Lineages), by Dom Pedro Afonso, Count of Barcelos.

Archaic Portuguese

Between the 14th and 16th centuries, when Portugal established an overseas empire, the Portuguese language was heard in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Under regional influences, it absorbed words like jangada (raft), of Malay origin, and chá (tea), of Chinese origin. During the Renaissance, the inclusion of Italian expressions as well as erudite Greek words made Portuguese a more complex and malleable language. The publication of Cancioneiro Geral de Garcia de Resende in 1516 marked the end of this period of consolidation in which Archaic Portuguese was used.

Modern Portuguese

Portuguese entered its modern phase in the 16th century when the first grammars defined Portuguese morphology and syntax. When Luis de Camões wrote Os Lusíadas, in 1572, the language was already close to its current structure of phrases and morphology. From then on, linguistic changes have been minor. When Portugal was under the domination of Spain, from 1580 to 1640, Castilian words such as bobo (fool) and granizo (hail) were absorbed into the language. French influence during the eighteenth century changed the Portuguese spoken in the homeland, making it different from the Portuguese spoken in the colonies.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Portuguese vocabulary absorbed new contributions. Words of Greco-Latin origin, reflecting technological advances, were added to the language. Such words included automóvel (car) and televisão (television). This was followed by English technical words from medical, astronautical, and computer sciences, such as checkup and software. The onrush of new words led to the creation in 1990 of a commission of representatives of the various Portuguese-speaking countries. Its goal was to create a uniform technical vocabulary and avoid the confusion that was occurring when different words were used to describe the same objects.

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