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Portuguese Vocabulary

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Portuguese vocabulary

The National Library of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, the largest library in Latin America

Baroque Library of the Coimbra University, Portugal

The Royal Portuguese Reading Room in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

A sign in the Museum of Macau
Most of the lexicon of Portuguese is derived, directly or through other Romance languages, from Latin. Nevertheless, because of its original Celtiberian heritage and later the participation of Portugal in the Age of Discovery, it has some Gallaecian words and adopted loanwords from all over the world.

A number of Portuguese words can still be traced to the pre-Roman inhabitants of Portugal, which included the Gallaeci, Lusitanians, Celtici and Cynetes. Most of these words derived from Celtic and are very often shared with Galician since both languages share a common origin in the medieval language of Galician-Portuguese. A few of these words existed in Latin as loanwords from a Celtic source, often Gaulish. Altogether these are over 1,000 words, some verbs and toponymic names of towns, rivers, utensils and plants.

In the 5th century, the Iberian Peninsula (the Roman Hispania) was conquered by the Germanic Suebi and Visigoths. As they adopted the Roman civilization and language, however, these people contributed with some 500 Germanic words to the lexicon. Many of these words are related to warfare—such as espora “spur”, estaca “stake”, and guerra “war”, from Gothic *spaúra, *stakka, and *wirro, respectively. The Germanic languages influence also exists in toponymic surnames and patronymic surnames borne by Visigoth sovereigns and their descendants, and it dwells on placenames such has Ermesinde, Esposende and Resende where sinde and sende are derived from the Germanic “sinths” (military expedition) and in the case of Resende, the prefix re comes from Germanic “reths” (council). Other examples of Portuguese names, surnames and town names of Germanic toponymic origin include Henrique, Henriques, Vermoim, Mandim, Calquim, Baguim, Gemunde, Guetim, Sermonde and many more, are quite common mainly in the old Suebi and later Visigothic dominated regions, covering today’s Northern half of Portugal and Galicia.

Between the 9th and early 13th centuries, Portuguese acquired nearly 800 words from Arabic by influence of Moorish Iberia. They are often recognizable by the initial Arabic article a(l)-, and include many common words such as aldeia “village” from الضيعة alḍai`a (or from Edictum Rothari: aldii, aldias),[86] alface “lettuce” from الخس alkhass, armazém “warehouse” from المخزن almakhzan, and azeite “olive oil” from الزيت azzait.

Starting in the 15th century, the Portuguese maritime explorations led to the introduction of many loanwords from Asian languages. For instance, catana “cutlass” from Japanese katana and chá “tea” from Chinese chá.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, because of the role of Portugal as intermediary in the Atlantic slave trade, and the establishment of large Portuguese colonies in Angola, Mozambique, and Brazil, Portuguese acquired several words of African and Amerind origin, especially names for most of the animals and plants found in those territories. While those terms are mostly used in the former colonies, many became current in European Portuguese as well. From Kimbundu, for example, came kifumate > cafuné “head caress” (Brazil), kusula > caçula “youngest child” (Brazil), marimbondo “tropical wasp” (Brazil), and kubungula > bungular “to dance like a wizard” (Angola). From South America came batata “potato”, from Taino; ananás and abacaxi, from Tupi–Guarani naná and Tupi ibá cati, respectively (two species of pineapple), and pipoca “popcorn” from Tupi and tucano “toucan” from Guarani tucan.

Finally, it has received a steady influx of loanwords from other European languages, especially French and English. These are by far the most important languages when referring to loanwords. There are many examples such as: colchete/crochê “bracket”/”crochet”, paletó “jacket”, batom “lipstick”, and filé/filete “steak”/”slice”, rua “street” respectively, from French crochet, paletot, bâton, filet, rue; and bife “steak”, futebol, revólver, stock/estoque, folclore, from English beef, football, revolver, stock, folklore.

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