Why Do Brazilians Speak Portuguese And Not Spanish?

Unlike the rest of Latin America, Brazil's official language is Portuguese, not Spanish. So what led to the country's differing vernacular?

Alert viewers of the Olympics broadcasts will have noticed that the country of Brazil, unlike other Latin American countries, speaks Portuguese rather Spanish. Why is this the case? History, of course! Laura Ling has the details in today's Seeker Daily report.

In the 15th century, Christopher Columbus and other explorers discovered the New World, triggering a land grab competition between Spain and Portugal. In 1494, the two countries signed the Treaty of Tordesillas, which divided their claims. Spain was given rights to all lands west of the line of demarcation, while Portugal got everything to the east.

It wasn't a particularly great deal for Portugal. Spain went on to colonize much of what is today Latin America, while Portugal got a sliver of land on the east coast of modern-day Brazil. What's more, the Portuguese didn't do much with their claim until around 1530, when the newly discovered land was found to be a rich source of the valuable Brazilwood. As you may have already intuited, this is how Brazil got its name.

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The really valuable cash crop in the region, however, turned out to be sugar cane. Plantation owners began migrating inland in search of more fertile land, bringing the Portuguese language and culture with them. A subsequent gold rush led to further expansion in the late 1600s. Over the next century or so, Brazil's modern borders were established and the country eventually gained independence.

Portuguese remained the dominant language throughout all of these developments, adding linguistic bits and pieces from from native groups, African slaves and neighboring European settlers . Today, Brazilian and European Portuguese have slight differences in grammar and vocabulary -- and major differences in pronunciation -- but the languages remain very similar.

Feel free to drop a few of these details at your next Olympics-watching event to impress friends and family. Also, if you're a fan of history and exploration, you should check out Discovery Go. You can watch all your favorite Discovery Channel shows anytime, anywhere and you can download it for free at your app store. Até mais tarde!

-- Glenn McDonald

Learn More:

New York Times: A Brief History of Brazil

Britannica: Brazil- Agriculture and Prospecting

National Geographic: June 7th, 1494: The Treaty of Tordesillas