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More than 230 million people speak Portuguese.

It is the sixth most spoken language worldwide (Lingua Portuguesa, 1998). It ranks second after Spanish as the most widely spoken romance language in the world (Castanho, Serpa, Serpa, 2000). It is spoken on every continent.

Portuguese Heritage Speakers in the United States

The economic and political ties between the U. S. and Brazil have historically been very close, but the language barrier has made it impossible to develop cultural ties as fully as would be desirable. The importance of Brazilian - U. S. relations will inevitably increase in the years ahead, and many more Americans with a knowledge of Portuguese will be required by our government, by our business firms, and our educational institutions.

-J. W. Fulbright

Girl is writingThe 2000 U .S. Census results show that, of the total school population, 5 years and over, 564,630 speak Portuguese at home. The National Clearing House of English Language Acquisition (NCELA) ranks Portuguese as the third tenth most widely spoken language in the United States among students learning English as a new language, and the third in Massachusetts, after English and Spanish (NECLA, 2004).

Portuguese-speaking peoples in the USA are concentrated primarily in California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York (US Census, 2000). The majority of Portuguese speaking students in the USA come from Brazil, Azores & Madeira archipelagos (Portugal) and Cape Verde (Cape Verde, 2002).

Note: The total U. S. school population, five years of age and over as reported on the 2000 U. S. Census is 262,375,152 (U. S. Census Bureau, 2003).

Historical Overview of Portuguese Language

The Portuguese language (Portuguese language, 2005) evolved mostly from Latin brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Romans. It developed its distinctive characteristics after the original country of Portu Cale (Portugal) separated from the Kingdom of Leon and Castille (Spain) in the 12 th century (1143). In time, as the Portuguese people developed their own sense of identity, Portuguese emerged as the national language distinct from Spanish. Later, in the 15 th and 16 th centuries, when Portugal took a leading role in the European expansion in the New World (Pap, 1981, p. 3), Portuguese spread throughout the continents.

Portuguese-Speaking Countries

The following countries (CPLP, 2004) have designated Portuguese as their official language:

Additionally, there are large communities of Portuguese-speakers in Bermuda, Canada, France, the United States, and Venezuela.

Source: Países e Comunidades de LÍNGUA PORTUGUESA (Mendes dos Santos, n.d.)

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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