Do you have an upcoming trip planned to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival and are brushing up on your Spanish? Before going any further, it's important to remember that Brazil is the black sheep of its Latin American family, given that it is the only country in Latin America that speaks Portuguese. But why?
In the 15th century, Christopher Columbus and other explorers arrived in the Western Hemisphere, which led to Spain and Portugal fighting for possession of the newly discovered lands. In 1494, the two countries signed a document called the Treaty of Tordesillas, dividing the land mass in two. Spain was given rights to all lands west of the line of demarcation, while Portugal held claim to everything eastwards.
As you can probably guess, Spain came out best from the deal. Spain went on to colonize much of what is today Latin America, while Portugal received only a thin piece of land on the eastern coast of what is modern-day Brazil. Curiously, the Portuguese didn't do much with their claim until around 1530, when it was found out that this new territory was a rich source for precious Brazilwood. From this new source of wealth came Brazil's name.
The really valuable resource in the region, however, was sugar cane. Plantation owners began migrating inland in search of more fertile land, bringing the Portuguese language and culture with them. The discovery of gold in the 17th century brought people deeper into the western part of the territory. Over the next century or so, Brazil's modern borders were established and the country became a sovereign nation on September 7, 1822.
Portuguese remained the dominant language throughout all of these developments, with the language being enriched from the vocabularies of African slaves and other European settlers . Today, Brazilian and European Portuguese have slight differences in grammar and vocabulary -- and major differences in pronunciation -- but the languages remain very similar.
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