Brazilians are the only people in Latin America that speak Portuguese (not Spanish!) as their primary language. That may be the cause of confusion for many people visiting Brazil for the first time. After all, the official language for most neighboring countries such as Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Peru is Spanish.
So, why do Brazilians speak Portuguese and not Spanish?
Discovery of Brazil
Going back to the late 15th century, many European navigators explored the Atlantic searching for new lands. Explorers included Christopher Columbus crossed, John Cabot, Ferdinand Magellan, Giovanni da Verrazzano, and Pedro Álvares Cabral.
Soon after Columbus discovered America, Spain rushed to secure sovereignty over it before any other country could do the same. Unfortunately for them, Portugal decided to embark on a journey to America as well.
In 1494, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which would divide their claims along a line of demarcation between the two empires. Spain would gain access to all lands west of the line. On the other hand, Portugal was free to conquer everything to the east.
Needless to say, there was much more land to be explored west of the line. Because of that, Spain was able to colonize most of what we know today as Latin America. And that is why countries such as Argentina, Chile, Panama, and Costa Rica speak Spanish.
Colonization of Brazil
And so, Spain started to colonize everything west of the Treaty of Tordesillas. Meanwhile, Portugal got only a small piece of land off the Atlantic. This amount of land was basically just the coast of Brazil, represented by the southeast and northeast regions of today.
At the beginning of the colonization of Brazil, Portugal’s main interest was the brazilwood, a useful type of tree found here. Watch teacher’s Lennon video on Why Brazil is Called Brazil to learn more about that. However, another product became more and more economically interesting to Portugal: sugarcane.
Quickly, sugarcane became the main crop in Brazil. In the late 16th century, sugarcane was in high demand, and Brazil’s economy relied heavily on it. Because of that, Brazilian plantation owners began migrating inland searching for more fertile land.
Through these expeditions, they discovered a huge amount of gold, especially in Minas Gerais. A gold rush ensued in the country and that led to even further expansion of Brazil. Over the next century, the borders of modern Brazil were drawn and our country was finally shaped like it is today.
Brazilian Portuguese Language
Of course, there were many Indigenous people here before the Portuguese arrived in Brazil. Millions, actually.
As history unfolded, the European Portuguese from the colonizers started to adopt bits and pieces of dialect from other languages. Indigenous languages such as Tupi and Guarani had a great influence on the Brazilian Portuguese language of today. Moreover, African slaves brought to Brazil also contributed to the language, bringing their own dialects into our culture.
Today, Brazilian and European Portuguese have slight differences in vocabulary and grammar, though major differences in pronunciation. Nevertheless, the two languages remain very similar in general. For further reading, check our blog post: European Portuguese vs. Brazilian Portuguese – What are the main differences?
Now that you know a little bit about the origin of the Brazilian Portuguese language, how about exploring it further? At Caminhos Language Centre you not only learn Portuguese but immerse yourself in the Brazilian culture. We offer different courses, among group classes and private lessons, so people choose what is better for their needs. At Caminhos, we offer Portuguese courses on 9 different levels, from beginner to advanced, including a special class for Latin languages-speakers.
Caminhos organizes free activities every day of the week in order to encourage the practice of Portuguese and social gatherings. Furthermore, the school also provides their students with student visa support and accommodation in Rio de Janeiro.