Learn Portuguese in Lisbon - header image

Origins of the Portuguese Language

Probably you didn’t know about that but once a year, just for a few days and in the heart of Lisbon you can visit underground roman galleries.

Roman galleries? Yes, Romans have been there too and they left a very big heritage: part of it is underground and almost secret, as the galleries, part of it is still undiscovered and the rest is quite evident. Portuguese language, for example! In fact, the language developed from Latin brought by Romans back in the 3rd century BC.

Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula inhabited the territory before the Romans' arrival. Iberians, Celts, Phoenicians and many others had their own language long before Latin became the main language spoken. Nowadays, only a few words are still used and confirming the origins is not always an easy task. Wondering which ones are still alive? Well, Iberians (probably) left us words like cama (bed) and sapo (frog), from the Celts we got camisa (shirt) and from the Phoenicians mapa (map).

Later on, Latin came leaving us a huge heritage: 90% of portuguese words come from Latin. However, the language spoken by Roman soldiers and merchants was not a “pure latin”, yet the language of everyday people called "vulgar latin”. Are you curious about the evolution from pure latin to portuguese? Check this example:

classical latin -   vulgar latin -  portuguese
  cáthedram        cathédra          cadeira 

After the decline of the Roman Empire, in the late 5th century, Germanic tribes (mainly Suevi and Visigoths) entered the Iberian Peninsula. They considered education a distraction for soldiers and decided to close all roman schools. The result? Vulgar latin was no longer teached and every region started developing his own dialect. However, those warriors left us a few words from the military domain, the most known being guerra (war). They also gave to us a new human feeling...or at least a name for it, orgulho (pride)!

After germanic tribes, time for the Muslim army to invade the Peninsula. Their contribution to the vocabulary was remarkable: a lot of terms (about 800) were introduced in the language before the Reconquista (“reconquest”). Those words are often recognizable by the initial arabic article “al”. Want some example? Alface (lettuce), aldeia (village), almofada (pillow) and, last but not least, Algarve, the sunny region of Portugal that literally means “the west”.

The road has been long and, in parts, an arduous one, but we have now a beautiful language rich of surprises!