Portuguese (português or língua portuguesa) is a Romance language that grew from the Latin-descended Galician-Portuguese language that was spoken in the mediaeval Kingdom of Galicia, whose territory is now divided between northern Portugal, Galicia and Asturias. It also absorbed influences from the Romance and Arabic languages spoken in the areas that were conquered by the Portuguese reconquista. It was spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal established a colonial empire (1415–1999) that included Brazil in South America, Goa and other parts of India, Macau in China, Timor in South-East Asia and the five African countries that make up the PALOP lusophone area: Cape Verde, Guiné-Bissau, São Tomé e Príncipe, Angola and Mozambique. It was used as the exclusive lingua franca on the island of Sri Lanka for almost 350 years. During that time, many creole languages based on Portuguese also appeared around the world, in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
With over 260 million speakers, Portuguese is the fifth most spoken language in the world, the most widely spoken in the southern hemisphere, and the third most spoken in the Western world. In addition to Brazil and Portugal, it is used in Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Macau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe and East Timor, as well as in the former territories of Portuguese India (Goa, Daman, Isle of Angediva, Simbor, Gogol, Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli) and in small communities that were part of the Portuguese Empire in Asia as Malacca, Malaysia and East Africa as Zanzibar, Tanzania. It has official status in the European Union (EU), Mercosur (Mercosul in Portuguese), the African Union, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Latin Union, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) and the Association of National Olympic Committees of Portuguese Official Language (ACOLOP).
Like other languages, Portuguese has experienced a historical evolution, being influenced by many other languages and dialects, as it reached the form known today. Contemporary Portuguese comprises several dialects and sub-dialects (subfalares), often very distinct, and two internationally recognized standards (European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese).
Today it is one of the world's major languages, ranked seventh according to number of native speakers (between 193 and 230 million). It is the language of about half of South America's population, even though Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. It is also a major lingua franca in Portugal's former colonial possessions in Africa. It is an official language in nine countries (see the table on the right), also being co-official with Cantonese Chinese in Macau and Tetum in East Timor. There are sizeable communities of Portuguese speakers in various regions of North America, notably in the United States (New Jersey, New England, California and south Florida) and in Ontario, Canada (especially Toronto).
In various aspects, the system of sounds in Portuguese is more similar to the phonologies of Catalan or French than, say, those of Spanish or Italian. Nevertheless, the grammar, structure and vocabulary of the Portuguese and Spanish languages are so similar that phonetic differences do not impede intelligibility between them in any significant way. Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes once called Portuguese "the sweet language", Lope de Vega referred to it as "sweet" while Brazilian writer Olavo Bilac poetically described it as a última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela: "the last flower of Latium, wild and beautiful". Portuguese is also termed "the language of Camões", after one of Portugal's best known literary figures, Luís Vaz de Camões.
Portuguese is also the fourth most learned language in the world, since at least 30 million students study this language. The mandatory offering of Portuguese in school curricula is observed in Uruguay, and Argentina, and similar legislation is being considered in Venezuela, Zambia, Congo, Senegal, Namibia, Swaziland, Côte d'Ivoire, and South Africa.Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_language
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