Portuguese in Africa

The PALOP, highlighted in red

Portuguese is spoken in a number of African countries and is the official language in six African states: Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe and Equatorial Guinea. There are Portuguese-speaking communities in most countries of Southern Africa, a mixture of Portuguese settlers and Angolans and Mozambicans who left their countries during the civil wars. A rough estimate has it that there are about 14 million people who use Portuguese as their sole mother tongue across Africa, [1] but depending on the criteria applied, the number might be considerably higher, since many Africans speak Portuguese as a second language, in countries like Angola and Mozambique, where Portuguese is an official language, but also in countries like South Africa and Senegal, thanks to migrants coming from Portuguese speaking countries. Some statistics claim that there are over 30 million Portuguese speakers in the continent. Like French and English, Portuguese has become a post-colonial language in Africa and one of the working languages of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Portuguese co-exists in Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Principe with Portuguese-based creoles (Upper Guinea and Gulf of Guinea Creoles), and in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau with autochthonous African languages (mainly Niger–Congo family languages).

In Africa, the Portuguese language experiences pressure and possibly competition from French and English. Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Príncipe are all members of La Francophonie and Mozambique is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations and has observer status at La Francophonie. Conversely, Equatorial Guinea has announced its decision to introduce Portuguese as its third official language, in addition to Spanish and French, and has made a request for membership in the CPLP. Mauritius and Senegal have also joined the CPLP as associate observer members.

Geographic distribution

The nation-states with Portuguese as an official language in Africa are referred to by the acronym PALOP (Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa) and include the following: Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe. Portuguese is a primarily urban language having a reduced presence in rural areas, except for in Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe, where the language is more widespread.

South Africa also has approximately 300,000 speakers of Portuguese, primarily settlers from Madeira and white Angolans and Mozambicans who emigrated from 1975 onwards, following the independence of the former colonies. The civil wars in Angola and Mozambique also resulted in more recent migrations of refugees (some of whom speak Portuguese) to neighbouring countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa. Other migrations involved returning Afro-Brazilian ex-slaves to places such as Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Angola and Mozambique. There are also some returning white Portuguese African refugees and their descendants from Brazil, Portugal, and South Africa to their former African controlled territories, mostly to Angola (up to 500,000) and Mozambique (350,000), and most importantly, there is the arrival of Portuguese post-colonial settlers in Angola in the recent years, because of Portugal's economic interests and the Angolan economic boom.

Senegal has its own Lusophone connection with a significant community of Cape Verdeans in Dakar and speakers of Guinea-Bissau Creole in its southern region of Casamance, which was once part of the Portuguese colonial empire. Portuguese is taught as a foreign language throughout the country.[2] In 2008, Senegal became an observer nation in the CPLP.

Equatorial Guinea, at one point a Portuguese colony, is home to a Portuguese-based Creole and is a member nation in the CPLP. Portuguese is now an official language in Equatorial Guinea, although it is practically not used.

Mauritius, a multilingual island in the Indian Ocean, has strong cultural ties with Mozambique. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to encounter the island. In 2006, Mauritius joined the CPLP as an associate member.

As a fellow member of the SADC, Zambia has introduced Portuguese language instruction in its primary school system, partially due to the presence of a large Angolan population there.[3]

The role of Portuguese in Africa

As an official language, Portuguese serves in the realms of administration, education, law, politics and media. Given the existing linguistic diversity of the PALOPs, Portuguese also serves the purpose of lingua franca allowing communication between fellow citizens of different ethno-linguistic backgrounds.

Additionally, Portuguese connects the PALOP countries to one another and to Portugal, East Timor, Macau and Brazil, itself a former Portuguese colony.

Music is one way in which the linguistic profiles of PALOP have increased. Many recording artists from PALOP, in addition to singing in their maternal languages, sing in Portuguese to one degree or another. The success of these artists in the world music industry increases international awareness of Portuguese as an African language.

As a literary language, Portuguese has a strong role in the PALOP. Authors such as Luandino Vieira, Mia Couto, Pepetela, Lopito Feijóo, Luis Kandjimbo, Manuel Rui or Ondjaki have made valuable contributions to lusophone literature, prompting an African scent and ideas to the language and creating a place for the Portuguese language in the African imaginary.


Portuguese is the language of journalism, which serves as a vehicle for the dissemination of the language. Literacy being an issue, radio serves as an important source of information for Lusophone Africans.

BBC Para África, RFI and RTP África have regular services in Portuguese for listeners in Africa.

African varieties of Portuguese abroad

As a result of immigration to Portugal various varieties of African Portuguese have influenced contemporary speech in Portugal. In the 1970s, it came from white people from the former colonies (referred to as Retornados). More recent immigration from the PALOPs has resulted in a visible demographic of black and brown Portuguese who have strong links to Lusophone Africa.

In Brazil, many of the indigenous African languages that influence African Portuguese had the same influence historically on the formation of Brazilian Portuguese during the colonial period, especially lexically.


Any discussion of the role of the Portuguese language in Africa must take into account the various Portuguese creoles that have developed there. These languages co-exist with Portuguese and, in the countries where they are spoken, form a continuum with the lexifying language.

In Cape Verde, Crioulo levinho refers to a variety of Cape Verdean Creole which takes on various features of Portuguese and is a result of processes of code switching, bilingualism and diglossia in the archipelago. In Sāo Tome e Principe, Santomense Portuguese is a variety of Portuguese strongly influenced by Forro in syntax and vocabulary. Since the lexicons of those languages are derived from Portuguese, even creole-speakers who do not speak Portuguese have a passive knowledge of it.

In addition, Portuguese creoles have often been (and often continue to be) written using Portuguese orthography. An important issue in discussions of standardization of creoles is whether it is better to devise a truly phonetic orthography or to choose an etymological one based on Portuguese.

See also


  1. "The Future of Portuguese". BB Portuguese. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
  2. Over 17,000 Senegalese learning Portuguese
  3. Zambia to introduce Portuguese into school curriculum

External links

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