Why Does Brazil Speak Portuguese?

credit: Yay

Travelers visiting Latin America usually learn Spanish, but why does Brazil speak Portuguese? Few travelers, and even some locals, are unfamiliar with the reason! Whether for curiosity or self-interest, there’s a lot of great detail and history waiting to be discovered, so let’s get started!

Brazil speaks Portuguese because Portugal colonized Brazil in 1500. Spain signed the Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal, dividing the New World. All western lands belonged to Spain, and all eastern lands to Portugal. Brazil was not claimed by Spain but Portugal, so they speak Portuguese.

Why Is Portuguese The Main Language Of Brazil?

The reason why Brazil speaks Portuguese instead of Spanish dates back to the 15th century. When Christopher Columbus explored the Atlantic and discovered the New World, Spain jumped at the opportunity to claim it for themselves.

Spain signed the Treaty of Tordesillas with Portugal in 1494. This treaty divided the New World’s land using the Line of Demarcation, allocating all the western land to Spain and the eastern land to Portugal.

The western land was substantially bigger than the east, making it possible for Spain to colonize most of Latin America. As a result, most of Latin America today speaks Spanish.

The east side of the line was tiny in comparison and is what we know today as the east coast of Brazil. Portugal claimed it in 1500 but only occupied it once they discovered the existence of Brazilwood (Paubrasilia echinate), also called Pernambuco wood, in 1530.

It was handy for making vibrant red dye for textiles, flags, and clothing. This tree is also where Brazil got its name.

Portugal soon discovered that Brazilwood generated less income than the land’s sugar cane. Nearing the end of the 16th century, sugar was in high demand, and Brazil’s economy became dependent on producing large quantities for development.

The demand for sugar led to some fierce competition among other European economies. As a result, sugar cane plantation owners decided to move inland to find more soil. Coincidently, they found gold instead, leading to a gold rush in the 1600s.

Brazil quickly grew wealthier, gaining its independence on September 7, 1822.

Which Languages Mix To Create Brazilian Portuguese?

Brazilian Portuguese come from a wild mix of cultures, backgrounds, and lifestyles. It’s essential to go back a few centuries to understand it completely.

When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil, millions of indigenous people were already occupying the land. At the time, slavery was still active, so Portugal enslaved the indigenous people.

The act of slavery generated a lot of contention between natives and colonizers, so Portugal decided to import enslaved Africans. They brought an estimated 4 million enslaved Africans to Brazil, outnumbering the immigrants 5:1.

The vast mix of peoples, cultures, and dialects meant that, over time, adopted aspects of grammar and vocabulary from natives, enslaved Africans, and European immigrants. As such, Brazilian Portuguese contains slight variations in vocabulary and grammar but significant differences in pronunciation to European Portuguese.

What Language Did Brazil Speak Before Portuguese?

Before Portugal colonized Brazil, the indigenous people of the land spoke roughly one thousand languages. They belonged to various families and linguistic branches, including Carib, Macro-Jê, Arawak, Tupi, and countless others. Some indigenous groups today still speak these languages, but most are extinct.

Tupinambá, or Tupi, had a powerful presence among the indigenous people, especially among the coastal tribes. It was also one of the first languages the Portuguese explorers discovered when they arrived in the 16th century.

Tupinambá became the lingua franca, which refers to a language that people use to communicate when they have their own language. English is the lingua franca of the modern world.

The Portuguese learned Tupinambá from the Indians and used it to talk to them and with other Indians from different tribes. It became so integrated into daily life that the Indians even used it to communicate between themselves rather than using their own language.

Interestingly, many missionaries and colonists also adopted the language, dubbing it Língua Geral, or General Language.

Other indigenous languages also remain spoken in modern-day Brazil. Kaiwá Guaraní has more than 15,000 speakers nationwide and qualifies as an official language in some municipalities. Other prominent indigenous languages include Kaingang, Nheengatu, Ticuna, and Terêna.

What Cultural Significance Does Portuguese Have On Brazil?

Brazil’s culture contains many Portuguese elements that make it the colorful and energetic culture that it is today. It has influences from language, religion, customs, and institutions that give it a unique identity.


Portuguese is a romance language with varying elements of African, Arabic, and Indigenous influence. These subtleties are evident in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and spelling.


The Portuguese introduced Catholicism to Brazil, so most Brazilians today are Roman Catholic. Religion influences many aspects of society, like education, art, politics, and festivals.

Due to Brazil’s diverse cultural heritage, Catholicism in Brazil is unique and incorporates elements of Indigenous and African religions, namely Umbanda and Candomblé.


Brazilian architecture houses a lot of intricate techniques from the colonial period. The convents and baroque churches from the 17th and 18th centuries – Convent in Salvador and São Francisco Church – are prime examples.

The design philosophies of architecture demonstrate elaborate paintings, sculptures, carvings, and tiles of religious figures.

The 19th and 20th architectural styles incorporate particular Portuguese styles, including:

  • Eclecticism
  • Modernism
  • Neoclassicism
  • Art nouveau


Brazil’s literature has numerous traces of Portuguese that date back to the country’s founding. For instance, Portuguese chroniclers, missionaries, poets, and travelers were the first to produce literary works in Brazil.

These works of art described life in Brazil from the perspective of immigrants, enslaved people, and indigenous people. Among the most famous works are:

  • Father José de Anchieta’s poems and plays in the Tupi and Portuguese
  • Pero Vaz de Caminha’s letter to King Manuel I, regarding Brazil’s discovery in 1500.
  • Gabriel Soares de Sousa’s treatise on the natural and human history of Brazil in 1587
  • Gregório de Matos’s satirical verses in the 17th century


Brazilian cuisine is an exquisite combination of African, Indigenous, and Portuguese flavors that many locals and tourists find riveting! Some of the most famous dishes with Portugues origins include:

  • Feijoada – a stew of beans and meat
  • Bacalhau – salted cod
  • Pastel – a fried pastry with various fillings
  • Caldo Verde – a soup of kale and potatoes

Regarding indigenous influence, ingredients like peanuts, fruits, corn, and cassava are typical household produce for Brazilian meals.


Brazilian music carries an explosive demonstration of diversity and expressiveness. Music genres like nova, choro, samba, fado, and forró are ripe with Portuguese influence. Samba, in particular, is the recognized music of Brazil and contains a vibrant mix of African rhythms, Portuguese melodies, and Indigenous instruments.

The various music genres in Brazil have the following description:

  • Bossa nova – a style of samba that emerged in the 1950s and contains jazz influence.
  • Choro – a type of instrumental music that originated in the 19th century and combines European dances with African syncopation.
  • Fado – a melancholic style that originated in Portugal and expresses longing and nostalgia.
  • Forró – a popular dance music from the Northeast that uses accordion, triangle, and zabumba (a bass drum).