Portuguese spoken by over 200 million in nine countries but still gets no respect

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Estação da Luz, the building housing the museum.
The Estação da Luz, the building housing the Museum of the Portuguese Language.

I finally found it! A few days ago I was looking for an article on Portuguese and the lack of respect it gets in spite of being spoken by over 200 million people in nine countries but couldn't remember where I had seen it because it was from 2006. It turns out it was the International Herald Tribune, and here's some of it:
More people speak Portuguese as their native language than speak French, German, Italian or Japanese. So it can rankle members of that community of 230 million people to find that when they travel elsewhere that the rest of the world often views their mother tongue as a "minor" language whose leading novelists, poets and songwriters also tend to be overlooked.

But now an effort is being made here in the largest Portuguese-speaking city in the world's largest Portuguese- speaking country to remedy that situation. A "Museum of the Portuguese Language," complete with the latest in multimedia displays and interactive technology, recently opened here and is dedicated to the proposition that Portuguese speakers and their language can benefit from a bit of self-affirmation and self-advertisement.


In 1996, Brazil and Portugal joined with five African countries - Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe - to found the Community of Portuguese- Speaking Countries.

Portuguese was recently designated an official language of the Organization of African Unity as a result of the Community's efforts, but leaders think that more can be done and hope Brazil can lead the way.

"One of our objectives is to disseminate Portuguese so that it has greater visibility in international organizations," José Tadeu Soares, deputy director general of the group, said by telephone from its headquarters in Lisbon.

"But aside from Brazil and Portugal, the other countries have only been independent for 25 or 30 years and don't have the resources to project themselves on the world stage the way Brazil can."

The article then finishes off with:

Because of similarities to their own language, Spanish-speakers have sometimes jokingly dismissed Portuguese as simply "Spanish, badly spoken." But because of Brazil's huge size and dynamic economy, cities like Buenos Aires and Santiago in neighboring countries are now awash in flyers and billboards of language schools that offer Portuguese courses.

"For 850 years, our neighbors next door have been saying that there is no future for Portuguese," Soares said, referring to Spain.

"But here we are, still. The dynamic for the language may come from Brazil, but there is no doubt in my mind that Portuguese as a language will remain viable."

Right, so has anything changed in the past two years? The Wikipedia page for the Museum of the Portuguese Language doesn't seem to have any relevant information, but the Wikipedia article on East Timor has a bit:
According to the 2006 UN Development Report (using data from official census), under 5%[44] of the Timorese population is proficient in Portuguese. However, the validity of this report has been questioned by members of the Timorese National Institute of Linguistics,[45] which maintains that Portuguese is spoken by up to 25% of Timorese, with the number of speakers more than doubling in the last five years.[citation needed]
Also, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is beginning to come to fruition, a supranational union where Portuguese is one of four official languages.

Lastly, since 2006 Portuguese has become an official language of Equatorial Guinea (apparently a pretty scary place to live in but we're just talking about language right now):
In July 2007, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema announced his government's decision for Portuguese to become Equatorial Guinea's third official language, in order to meet the requirements to apply for full membership in the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). This upgrading from its current Associate Observer condition would result in Equatorial Guinea being able to access several professional and academic exchange programs and the facilitation of cross-border circulation of citizens. Its application is currently being assessed by other CPLP members.[16]
Anybody else have further information on how Portuguese is doing now, and is expected to fare in the near future?


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