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Do You Know What Languages Are Spoken in Brazil?

by Eli Sousa

 

You may have wondered what languages are spoken in Brazil. At least, you might have imagined we speak Spanish.

Don’t worry. You’ll not be judged. Your assumption has a solid base. Brazil is really a multicultural country.

But what you may have not guessed is that we speak more than 200 languages in this country.

Languages from different places. Different nations. Even from the indigenous peoples that have existed in Brazil before its colonization.

But it doesn’t mean that all Brazilians speak all languages.

You’ll find below a list of some different languages we speak here and where.

Brazilian Sign Language (LIBRAS, or “Língua Brasileira de Sinais”)

libras

You can find LIBRAS speakers all over the country.

According to the Brazilian census of 2010, around 5.1% of the Brazilian population have some kind of hearing disability.

That translates to 9.7 million people. Out of that number, around 2.5 million don’t understand Portuguese and don’t use it.

Although there is no exact number of users of the Brazilian Sign Language, it is believed that a great number of people have adopted LIBRAS as their only language. To that number, we need to add the bilingual individuals, individuals with no disability, and people who know Portuguese and LIBRAS.

Fun facts:

  • the Brazilian Sign Language (LIBRAS) has been the second official language of the country since 2002
  • the Brazilian sign language was created in Brazil, based on the French Sign Language. Some words in both languages overlap.
  • Just like any language, LIBRAS has its own morphology, syntax, and vocabulary.

Go a little deeper:

Brazilian sign language picture dictionary.

 

Pomeranian

Currently, you can hear Pomeranian in five Brazilian states – Espírito Santo, Rio Grande do Sul, Rondônia, Santa Catarina, and Minas Gerais.

Fun facts:

  • Pomeranian is a German dialect. It is considered a variety of Plattdeutsch.
  • You can find this dialect only in Brazil. The territory where it was originally spoken doesn’t exist anymore as a nation. Pommern was situated between Germany and Poland.
  • The Pomeranian language doesn’t have a written form. Currently, there have been some attempts to establish a written form of Pomeranian based on German.
  • The Pomeranian schooling program (PROEPRO) is present in schools of five cities in Espírito Santo. The Pomeranian language has been recognized as a factor of ethnic identity and cultural preservation. Not only is the language preserved; the religion, dances, and other traditions of its speakers are preserved as well.

To go a little deeper:

Wiktionary in Portuguese – Pomeranian

 

Talian

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You can find Talian speakers in the southern part of Brazil. They are spread in different cities of each state. You can find them in the following cities: Caxias do sul, Farroupilha, Garibaldi, Bento Gonçalves, Flores da Cunha, Veranópolis, Erechim, Carlos Barbosa – in the state of Rio Grande do Sul; Joaçaba, Caçador, Chapecó, Concórdia in the state of Santa Catarina; Cascavel, Pato Branco, Francisco Beltrão, Medianeira, Toledo, in the state of Paraná.

There are around 500,000 Talian speakers.

Fun facts:

  • Talian is a blend of the Italian dialects brought from Italy by the first immigrants. You can hear Portuguese words mixed with Italian grammar.
  • The term Talian is used to differentiate the Venetian dialect spoken in Brazil and the one still in use in Italy.
  • Talian is such a heavyweight in Brazil that there are numerous publications that cater to this specific audience. You can even find books. And some radio stations broadcast exclusively in Talian.

Go a little deeper:

Wordbook in Talian.

Riograndenser Hunsrückisch

You can hear this language spoken in Paraná (Rio Negro, Ponta Grossa, Rolândia, Entre Rios), Santa Catarina (Blumenau, Joinville, São Francisco do Sul, Brusque, Itajaí, São Bento), Espírito Santo (Santa Leopoldina), and Rio Grande do Sul (São Leopoldo, Santa Augusta, São Lourenço, Lageado, Montenegro).

there are around 3 million people speak Riograndenser Hunsrückisch.

Fun facts:

  • In Portuguese, the name of this language is “hunsriqueano riograndense”. The second part of its name refers to the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where most speakers live.
  • Other states, such as Santa Catarina and Paraná, also have speakers of that language.
  • But the varieties spoken in Santa Catarina are referred to as Katharinensisch.
  • Brazil ranks second in the list of countries most German speakers came to in the American continent. Number one is the United States.

Go a little deeper

Below you’ll find “The Mucker,” a Brazilian movie shot partly in Hunsrückisch (at around 22:00 you’ll get to hear some conversation).

Spanish

You didn’t see that coming, did you?

Brazil is a huge country. Because of that, it borders with several countries. Those countries have Spanish as their official language. So, it stands to reason that people living those regions would speak Spanish as well.

According to the website Ethnologue, there are about 490,000 Spanish speakers in Brazil.

Fun facts

  • Although the presence of the Spanish language is not as strong as other languages in Brazil, it is still a language that lives together with Portuguese and indigenous languages.
  • In the southern borders, Spanish and Portuguese blended to create something called “Portuñol.” It is an informal language many Brazilians resort to when traveling in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries.
  • Do you think you can do business in Brazil only in English? Think again. Spanish is as important as English when it comes to business in Brazil.

 

Japanese

japanese descendants in Brazil
From Maru Sama’s Blog

Japanese is not as widespread as other languages might be in Brazil. But it doesn’t mean it is less popular.

It is spoken in some places in São Paulo and Paraná. Although the second largest Japanese speaking community outside Japan lives in Brazil, we don’t have a specific number of speakers of this language in the country.

But there are many heritage speakers of Japanese.

Fun facts

  • the biggest population of Japanese descendants outside Japan is in Brazil. There are about 1.5 million descendants of Japanese people.
  • The Japanese language spoken in Brazil is not standard Japanese. Rather, it’s a mix of different dialects from different regions in Japan.
  • If your sushi fan, or if you’re in Brazil to practice jujitsu, you probably know that Portuguese has incorporated many Japanese words into its vocabulary. Sushi, sashimi, ofurô… the list goes on.

Go a little deeper

If you want to learn Japanese using Portuguese as a go-between language, visit this website.

Jurussaca

This African language came to us with the slaves.

You may not know, but Brazil was one of the many countries stained by slavery. It is a shameful part of our past, something that should never be repeated.

But that fact also brought to us many of the languages that were – or are – spoken in Brazil. Jurussaca is one of them.

There are only about 600 speakers of this language, and they can be found in one quilombo, a settlement where runaway slaves hid in the past, in Pará.

Facts:

  • Jurussaca reveals a typical Brazilian mix. Banto (an African language), Portuguese, and ancient Tupi (an indigenous language) elements compose this language.

 

Gira da Tabatinga

The name Gira comes from the Portuguese word for slang (“gíria”). The Tabatinga community is located in Bom Despacho, Minas Gerais..

Unfortunately, it is a dying language.

When slaves wanted to communicate without letting their owners listen in on their conversations, they used this language. It was spoken in the senzalas, the slave quarters.

Here is an old news coverage featuring this language.

Guarani Mbya

Although the number of speakers is not big (only about 7000, according to Funasa, Funai, 2008), it is spoken in a coastal area that stretches from Espírito Santo to Rio Grande do Sul. You can also hear it in some places along the borders between Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Fun facts:

  • Guarani Mbya is one of the three modern varieties of the Guarani Language. The other two are Nhandeva and Kaiowa.
  • The Guarani stand as one of the biggest indigenous peoples of Brazil. You can find them in various communities across the Brazilian territory.
  • This is a living language. It is used in education, traditions, and communication among communities.  It is the strongest element in their cultural identity.

 

Guarani Kaiowá

You can find speakers of this language in Brazil and Paraguay. The only Brazilian state that reportedly has speakers of this language is Mato Grosso do Sul.(about 31,000 speakers, according to Funasa, Funai, 2008)

Fun facts

  • Languages are divided into families. You have the Indo-European family, the Slavic family… And the Tupi-Guarani family, among many others.
  • Languages in that family tend to be quite similar, but not the same.

Go a little deeper

If you really want to dive into the indigenous diversity of this country, we recommend the Povos Indígenas do Brasil website. You’ll find information – particularly linguistic information – about each one of the indigenous peoples still in Brazil.

And if you want to go even deeper, you might want to learn about nine popular podcasts that are good for your level.


So, did you imagine Brazil was such a diverse country in terms of languages? How about your country? What languages do you speak at home, with your friends, on the streets? Let us know in the comments below.

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