Africa to have majority of Portuguese speakers by century’s end

This status is held today by Brazil with a comfortable lead

Published on 07/10/2019 - 10:41 By Augusto Queiroz* - Brasília

Boasting a population of around 210 million—the largest among the member countries of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, or CPLP—Brazil is the nation with the highest number of speakers of Portuguese today. More than eight of every ten people speaking the language in the world today are Brazilians.

“However, in 2050 this reality will begin to change, as the demographic growth of Angola and Mozambique, coupled with a decline in Brazil’s population, will pull the pendulum of the Portuguese language towards the African continent,” said Portugal’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, who believes most speakers of Portuguese will be in Africa by the end of the century.

Pliability and dynamism

“When I look at the figures and the maps, what I see is, the world is home to 250 million speakers of Portuguese as a mother tongue or second language today. Looking ahead, in the course of this century, what’s going to happen? Speakers will total 500 million, and the majority will be African,” Santos Silva argued.

He mentioned the pliability of the language, which “started European—the language of Camões. Then, it became Brazilian. The Portuguese tongue today is, above all, Brazilian. It’s the language of Chico Buarque and Clarice Lispector. In the course of this century, it will come to be African. A language of Angolans, Mozambicans, the language of Mia Couto, Luandino Vieira, and Pepetela. It’s an extremely dynamic language.”

O ministro das Relações Exteriores, Ernesto Araújo, cumprimenta o general Eduardo Villas Bôas, durante Sessão Especial em homenagem ao ex-comandande do Exército  no Senado Federal
 Brazil’s Chancellor Ernesto Araújo – Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / Agência Brasil

On the rise

In a recent interview at the UN, in New York, the Portuguese minister seemed optimistic about the expansion of the language. “Unesco says it’s one of the three languages of the world expected to grow the most and currently growing the most. This gives us a huge responsibility,” he stated.

Instrumental in the preservation and diffusion of the language is the role of CPLP member countries: Brazil, Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor. Six of the nine nations of the lusophone community are in Africa.

According to Brazil’s Chancellor Ernesto Araújo, “From CPLP’s three pillars—the political and diplomatic synergy, cooperation in all domains, and the promotion and diffusion of the Portuguese language—stem concrete strategies for cooperation and support in times of crisis and close partnership of the nine countries in multilateral forums.”

Guimarães Rosa Institute

Araújo recently announced the creation of a Brazilian institute similar to Portugal’s Camões Institute, called Guimarães Rosa Institute after the great Brazilian writer and diplomat of the same name.

“We’re creating a new institute for the promotion of Brazilian culture overseas, which should bring about a more structured presence of Brazil in the field of cultural cooperation, where a special role will be ascribed to our cooperation with Africa,” Araújo declared in his address in Brasília in May, delivered as part of Africa Day celebrations.

The Brazilian initiative was hailed by the Portuguese chancellor, who said the institute “will provide more artillery, so to speak—in the good sense of the word—to the international promotion of the Portuguese language.”

The Portuguese minister also named three recent signs of the expansion of the Portuguese language across the globe. “First, this year’s success with the beginning of Portuguese classes at the United Nations School of Languages, sponsored by Brazil and Portugal; second, the announcement in October of the first bilingual Portuguese–English school in London; third, a protocol we signed with the University of Seville, Spain, for teaching Portuguese, with 130 enrollments.”

Lusophone diasporas

The language also has millions of speakers in countries such as the US, France, and South Africa, the destination of several major Portuguese-language diasporas.

According to Camões Institute and the Institute of Portuguese in the East, the interest in learning Portuguese has seen a sharp increase in China, especially in the autonomous region of Macau.

China’s interest in the language is also linked to the country’s commercial ties with the Macau Forum, a platform for economic cooperation among Portuguese-speaking countries, founded in 2003.

Origins and expansion

Portuguese stems from Latin and is closely related to Spanish. Its name derives from Portugal, which in turn comes from Porto, the country’s second largest city.

Speakers of Portuguese are often referred to as lusophones, from Lusitania, the Roman name for the region of present-day Portugal. The language is a member of the Romance branch of the vast Indo-European language family. Other Romance languages include Italian, French, and Romanian.

The international spread of the Portuguese language started in the 15th century in the maritime expansion of the Portuguese empire, which once encompassed territories in South America, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent. Today, Portuguese holds official status in nine countries as well as Macau.

Despite the divergence in rankings and figures, Portuguese is reckoned among the ten most widely spoken languages of the world, usually at sixth or ninth place, depending on the criteria adopted.

*With information from UN News

Translation: Fabrício Ferreira -  Edition: José Romildo

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