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People speak Portuguese in Brazil because Brazil was a Portuguese colony.
Though this fact is well-known in some circles (loyal blog readers and Portuguese language learners, for example), one may be surprised how many well-educated people either don’t know that Portuguese is spoken in Brazil, or don’t know why! It is actually pretty common to hear “Oh, you are going to Brazil? How great! Do you speak Spanish?”, even from relatively wordly individuals; I certainly have heard this one many times!
In any case, on to the task at hand, which is to provide a useful summary of the events leading to Brazilians speaking Portuguese…
European discovery of Brazil occurred at the beginning of the 16th century, common era. The Portuguese court became interested in exporing the natural resources of Brazil beginning around 1530. Early efforts to find precious metals were unsuccessful, but agriculture (particularly sugar) became a valuable Brazilian export for the Portuguese crown. By the end of the 18th century, private explorers had located vast mineral reserves in Minas Gerais (Uai!) much the the crown’s delight.
The colonial period came to an end around this time, and the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in 1808, as they fleed Napolean and his army, marked the beginning of the age of the Brazilian Empire. When the King of Portugal, João VI, left Brazil in 1821, he left his son, Dom Pedro I in charge. Through a serious series of events, Dom Pedro I and others were able to secure independence from Portugal in 1822.
Dom Pedro I reigned as emperor until 1831, when he was forced to step down and return to Portugal. His son, Dom Pedro II (pictured above) was left behind to assume the throne. The only problem was that Pedro Segundo (as he was known) was only 5 years old at the time. A tumultuous period followed until Pedro Segundo was old enough to rule; he was crowned emperor in 1840.
This is a very simplified summary of only one period in Brazil’s history. I encourage you to look further and read more about Brazilian history if it interests you. The 20th century was particularly eventful, and it wasn’t until 1985 that the country was truly a modern democratic republic.
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