July 13, 2020

The Portuguese Language: A Pinnacle of Diversity and Unity across the Oceans

By   Capitão Pedro Bala.

The influence of the Portuguese language today, does not limit itself to the distribution of Padrões around the newly discovered shores and corners of the seven seas. Nowadays, the Portuguese language sings throughout the globe as a manifestation of the spirit that it has become.

A romantic language that captivates the imagination of the foreigner who, at first encounters it through the sound of a poetic melody.

Examples of this can be found in an ordinary sentence said in a sublime and simplistic beauty by a fisherman in the island of Santo Antão in Cabo Verde or through a catholic mass murmur in Goa, India or even a scream for independence out of the hills of Dili in East Timor.

The Portuguese language hides beyond the tongue, a culture and an attractive mystery in every country in which it is spoken around the five continents. The 5th of May is designated as the international day of the Portuguese language and this is the first year celebrated by UNESCO. A language that today represents more than a desire to build an empire, but also reflects the ability to withstand the extreme diversity that stretches from Rio Branco to Bissau, from Ponta Delgada to Lobito, via São Tomé and Xai Xai to Macau. 

The wide spread of the Portuguese language in a recent study done by the Instituto Camões in Lisbon mentioned that around the globe, 300 million people have Portuguese as a their first language, and in countries such as Malaysia, India, China, Japan, Equatorial Guinea or Uruguay adding it as their second language which is also a legacy from the former Portuguese Empire. The philological influence of Portuguese today is also felt in other languages such as Swahili, Saramaccan, Papiamento, Fá D’ambô or Malay. In fact, the language owes a great part of its geographical distribution around the globe to the Portuguese Empire.

In the 21st century, migration is also contributing to the enlargement of Portuguese. In Europe, Paris has become the second largest city with more Portuguese speakers after Lisbon.

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, now considered to be the second country after Portugal with Portuguese speakers in Europe.

Some sociologists has even dared to postulate that Portuguese is a De facto language in Luxemburg, spoken by more than 150 thousand Cabo Verde and Portuguese migrants and their descendants. However, nowadays it is rather the appeal of the Portuguese speaking countries and above all, its people that attracts more and more enthusiasts to the language of Cesária Evora, Elis Regina, Mia Couto and Pepetela.

In modern times, Brazil has definitely led to the contribution of the expansion of Portuguese in the world in a somewhat unconscious way, in a manner of speaking. This country counts for 210 million of Portuguese speakers. At the same time, its soap-operas, literature, dance, music and football has enchanted the hearts of millions across the globe. Who can say that they have never felt the drama of a couple of lovers trying the overcome social barriers in order be close to each other during the 08:00 pm soap-opera, or has not become lost in the culture in the streets of Salvador da Bahia in Jorge Amado’s adventures or even dancing and crying while listening the sambas of Bezera da Silva and Carlota. 

Portugal on the other hand, promotes the Portuguese language in a much more active and focused manner.

The Iberian country is keenly aware of its linguistic legacy and has established a network of language centres through its diplomatic missions, where the Portuguese is taught to students all over the world. The institute entrusted with the responsibility in spearheading the export the Portuguese language today, bears the name of the great Portuguese writer Luís Vaz de Camões, the author of Os Lusíadasand the epic journey of Vasco da Gama to India.  

Politically speaking, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP – in its Portuguese acronym) headquartered in Lisbon, is an international governmental organization that has grown in its mandate and purpose since its creation in 1996. The CPLP today coordinates a diverse range of issues among the Member States from security and defence, investments, education, health and mobility. The CPLP is made up of 9 Member States and 19 Associated Observers.

The coordinated action of the CPLP member States, representing 300 million citizens is also help the Portuguese language in becoming recognized as a United Nations official language, not only due to the number of speakers but also the importance of the function it serves in a key region for the UN, such as Africa.

As a result of forecasting the potential of the language, many countries, universities and business schools around the world today are offering Portuguese in their language curricula. Some of these analysts have realised the great potential and niche markets that cities such as Luanda, Maputo, Praia, São Paulo, Pemba or Fortaleza can bring to financial exchanges and entrepreneurship. Not much yet has been explored by the foreign investors. The number of students reported to be studying Portuguese as a second language in 2019 were around 200 thousand worldwide, with indications showing the potential to grow every year.   

The heterogeneity of the Portuguese language is as a result of transcending miles and miles of oceans, to bind together in a breeze of understanding of different cultures, different accents, different people, five continents and one language. The contradiction in of all of this is that I write to you in English instead of using o belo português.  I am certain that in the next edition you will ask me to read about the Portuguese world in Portuguese.

Nevertheless, I leave you with a magnificent quartet from the poem Padrão, in Mensagem, by Fernando Pessoa:

E ao imenso e possível oceano

Ensinam estas Quinas, que aqui vês,

Que o mar com fim será grego ou romano:

O mar sem fim é português.

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Main image’s designer: Lucas Barros Correia.

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