Over 200 Languages Spoken in Brazil *Aren’t* Portuguese

There are 216 languages spoken in Brazil. And 215 of them are spoken by 1% of the population.

Portuguese is by far the most spoken language in Brasil. In fact, 99% of the population speaks it. You’ll hear and read Brazilian Portuguese in school, business, and government.

Other languages spoken in Brazil include those of indigenous Amerindian groups and various immigrant populations. These speech communities are much smaller, though.

Brazilian Portuguese

Brazil’s use of Portuguese stands alone in the Spanish-speaking Americas, a direct result of the country’s colonization and development. Settlers from Portugal began coming to Brazil as early as 1500.

languages spoken in Brazil, map and flag

The language blended with native tongues such as Tupinambá, but then spread over the next several generations. Why? The immigrant population grew and moved farther inland.

Today, there are notable differences between European Portuguese and its Brazilian cousin. (Words that come from Tupi, for example, are now part of Brazilian Portguese.) Companies that do business with Brazil may need documents translated into Brazilian Portuguese.

Other Notable Languages

Because the vast majority of the population speaks Portuguese, the other 215 languages spoken in Brazil have far fewer speakers. As is often the case with colonization and large-scale movement of groups of people, later arrivals to Brazil from Western Europe, Africa, and the Middle East adopted Portuguese after a few generations.

But German-speaking immigrants were more reluctant to give up their native tongue. As a result, about 1,500,000 Brazilians still speak standard German today.

Other European languages spoken in Brazil by smaller groups include Italian, Polish, and Ukrainian. There is also a fairly large Japanese immigrant population in São Paulo. In fact, a Japanese-language newspaper has been printed there since the early 1900s.

languages spoken in brazil, Copacabana

Indigenous Languages

Many Brazilians are bilingual. In less urban areas of the country, people speak an indigenous language in addition to Portuguese. Most of these come from the Amerindian groups who call the Amazon their home.

But the use of these languages is on the decline. Many of them are listed as “severely endangered” in the Endangered Languages Project.

Today, only 25 of Brazil’s indigenous languages are spoken by groups of more than 5,000 people. That’s a tiny fraction of the country’s 205 million people.

Take Pirahã, Kashinawa, and Mamaindê, for instance. Only a few hundred people speak each of these languages. As a result, they may go extinct in a few generations.

Ka’apor Sign Language

An example of the bilingualism of the Brazilian people lies in a tiny community in the region of Maranhão. Here, people use a sign language called Ka’apor.

Records show a fairly high rate of deafness among the 500 residents there. Because of this, the villagers typically grow up bilingual. They learn both a spoken language and the Ka’apor sign language.

This skill proves valuable when dealing with people from other remote villages. Though they may not share the same language, they are still able to communicate.

Languages Spoken in Brazil: An Uptick?

The linguistic diversity in Rio de Janeiro is just a bit higher right now than elsewhere in Brazil. Why? Athletes from all over the world have arrived for the 2016 Summer Olympic games, bringing their native languages with them.

languages spoken in Brazil, Olympic Rings, Rio 2016

Such a local uptick won’t show up in linguistics journals because it’s so fleeting. But while’s there’s no trend, the Olympics always highlights the need for language professionals such as translators and interpreters.

Of course, the language of elite athletics is universal.

Sources:
“Brazil,” Ethnologue.
“Languages of Brazil,” Wikipedia.
“These Days in Brazil,” Povos Indigenas No Brasil.
“Languages in Brazil,” The Endangered Languages Project.
“Ka’apor Sign Language,” Wikipedia.

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