4000 BC - 1400

A journey into the portuguese language

Museu da Língua Portuguesa

Portuguese Language Museum

Hello, welcome!

We invite you on a journey: it is one of the many trips possible through the construction of the Portuguese language. Our tour begins around 4000 BC and goes until the 16th century.

Here you will find pictures, videos and texts which tell the dynamic and the changes that have led to the Portuguese language being spoken in many parts of the world today.

Changes do not happen immediately, even in restricted places. To consider this change we must take into account people, time, and diversity of cultures.

We hope you enjoy our tour, have a nice trip!

The (im)materiality of the Indo-European 

It is believed that around 4000 BC a number of civilizations with similar dialects migrated to different regions of Europe, influencing both reality and communication in these places. This linguistic group is called Indo-European.

This does not establish a common origin for all languages, but enables some of comparisons that allowed this classification. More than justify that (im)materiality, the Indo-European demonstrates a common past to the inhabitants of the North and Northeast of Europe, far beyond the barriers that currently exist.

Map: Indo-European expansionism
The similarity between different words from different places could imply the same linguistic ancestor. Even with words of non-Latin origin

Migration and Construction of the Archaic Latin

As time went by, cultures with similar dialects occupied almost the entire European continent. One of these groups concentrated itself on the Italian peninsula. The permanency of this group in one territory demanded and allowed fewer variations in its culture, especially in its common customs. This more similar culture shaped the Archaic Latin.

According to the legend, a she-wolf feeds twin brothers Romulus and Remus, who, when grown-up, would become the founders of Rome.
Map: Italian peninsula occupation
Map: Roman dominance at 270 b.C

The Roman Empire and the variations of the Latin

Language was an important tool for the expansion of the Roman Empire. Creating roots in almost the entire known world, Rome choose Latin as its official language.

The large territory added to the contact with different cultures across borders, allowed two known forms of the Latin: classical and vulgar.


Spoken by a small group, the classical Latin represented the minority of the Roman Empire. Its speakers were members of the elite and of the power of the Rome region. The vulgar Latin instead was used by most of the population. The contact between vulgar Latin and local languages favored the origin of different and new languages.

Did you know that the existence of two languages (a cultured and a popular one) occurs in most cultures?

Rome and the fragmentation of the Empire

Rome was the center of the Western world for several centuries. Its influence can be seen in the arts that served as inspiration for future generations, in the buildings across Europe, and also in its language. It is enough to observe the number of languages that has Latin as one of their roots (Portuguese, French, Italian, among others).

The variations of Latin, among other factors, may exemplify the inequalities and contradictions existing in the vast Empire.

This territory of large proportions, which had diverse cultures, and centralized only in Rome, faced its fragmentation in the early 15th century AD.

Iberian Peninsula and Arab presence 

In addition to the size of the territory, the local cultures had always been a major obstacle to the effective conquest by the Roman Empire. The Iberian Peninsula was a great example of this.

With the fall of the Roman rule and the fragmentation of the western side of the empire, a long struggle for power took place until the 8th century, when the Arab culture settled itself there.

The long Arab occupation influenced the peninsula in all sectors: buildings were modified, different foods were introduced and consumed, new words were incorporated and reproduced, and a strong scientific development occurred.

Did you know that 'One Thousand and One Nights' is the title of one of the most famous works in Arabic literature, which was directly translated into Portuguese in 2005?

Disputes and education of Galician-Portuguese 

The Christian kingdoms of northern Iberia fought and expelled the Arabs off the peninsula. The centralization of power, in addition to religious thought, motivated the nobles of the County of Portugal to conquer the rest of the territory.

In this conquest, the victorious language was the Galician-Portuguese. This language – with all the traces of the previous ones – was the basis for the construction of the Portuguese.

“Ondas do Mar de Vigo,

            Se vistes meu amigo!

                  E ai Deus, se verrá cedo!”

Excerpt from a 13th century Friend's Song.

          “Ondas do mar de Vigo,

           Se vires meu namorado! 

      Por Deus, (digam) se virá cedo!”

Translation into contemporary Portuguese.
Friend's Song. Page from the book 'Cancioneiro da Ajuda', published in the 12th century.
Did you know that the book 'Don Quijote de la Mancha' addresses subjects similar to those of Galician-Portuguese lyric Friend's Songs?


Unification and the Archaic Portuguese

The unification allowed a more effective control of the language by the publication of several normative documents. The process which followed that model created the necessary conditions for the development of Portuguese-Archaic.


Portuguese in the World

The addition of some internal factors (the food crisis, high population density and the privileged position next to the sea) led Portugal, already unified politically, to seek a new way for other business relationships. These approaches would facilitate contact with different cultures and different languages, which certainly is nothing strange in its history.

The letter by Pero Vaz de Caminha registers the new contacts made by the Portuguese language in the 15th and 16th centuries.


We arrived here on our last stop on this short trip. In 1500, Portugal reaches an unexplored territory by Europe. Today this place is the country where there are more Portuguese speakers in the world. However, as history went by, this language is already quite different from that of the 16th century. But this may be another trip...

We hope you enjoyed this tour through history of the construction of the Portuguese!

Credits: Story

Curadoria /Curators — Renato Silva dos Anjos e Marcos Paulo Amorim - Núcleo Educativo
Núcleo de Documentação Pesquisas e Exposições / Document, Search and expositions — Júlia Serra Y. Picchioni, Rafael Lumazini e Simone Vieira de Moraes. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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