World Portuguese Language Day and the Sense of Belonging

Fernanda Rodrigues

5 May 2023

As a teacher, writer and eternal student of the use of words, one of the things that fascinates me the most is to think about how much our identity, as people, can be shaped by our mother tongue and the languages we learn throughout our lives. This fascination arises from the selection of a word for a poem to the famous dilemma I am faced with every time I try to explain to a foreigner the broad and yet singular meaning of the word “saudade”.

In 2019, UNESCO, an arm of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, chose 5th May as the date to celebrate the World Portuguese Language Day. According to the organisation’s own website, Portuguese is the most widely spoken language in the global Southern Hemisphere, the fifth most used in the world and, by the end of the century, it will have over 500 million speakers. 500 million people who, within their linguistic variants, will have the same starting point to present ideas, develop culture and make dreams come true: the last “Flor do Lácio” (Flower of Lazio). 500 million people who will feel “saudades” (yearning) and will be able to express it at least once in their lives.

We are a Community

This is no small number, especially when I look at the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa, CPLP). In fact, this sense that we are more than just countries, we Portuguese speakers form a community that cooperates together to promote culture, makes me particularly proud and engaged. Proud to teach the language, write books and to be able to foster dialogue with both native speakers and foreign students, and engaged to learn more about the cultures of the other Member States that form the CPLP.

There are nine of them (Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Portugal, São Tomé and Príncipe and East Timor) and they are located on four continents — Europe, America, Africa and Asia. This is equivalent to 7.2% of the planet. The numbers really are huge, as are the types of music, literature, theatre, cinema, all the other art forms and the educational actions that stimulate the production of culture in the Portuguese language. They are far more than just fundamental ways of celebrating our language.

The fact that the Portuguese language is so widespread throughout the world creates room for some meeting points. Personally, I have a favourite: trips to the Museum of the Portuguese Language. In fact, this museum exists not only to record the evolution of the Portuguese language over the years, but also to celebrate it in all its beautiful complexity.

Immateriality that is Heritage

Located in São Paulo, Brazil, the Museum of the Portuguese Language aims to present to its visitors how language belongs, above all, to those who speak it. Therefore, it is alive, evolving and rich. Exhibiting it from its Latin origin to the current slang and subjectivities, the space brings together linguistics, art and technology with the aim of provoking a meaningful immersion. The museum also makes it possible to see how the Portuguese language has been incorporating knowledge from other languages — whether African, indigenous, Asian or European — to build and rebuild its own repertoire.

Being in the museum shows us how language serves, above all, to connect people. Although language is not something concrete that can be touched, like a pencil or a pen, it is one of the most important assets we have, since it permeates everything — from the smallest thought to major negotiations. Our language is our bridge to one another and to ourselves.

Living is Also a Celebration

Only those who actually experience a language understand the extent of what it is like to feel it. So, the key to understanding the feeling of experiencing “saudade” is in learning the culture of Portuguese speakers. To say that feeling “saudade” is “missing something, a place or someone” is such a shallow definition that it fails to account for what it really means to feel “saudade”. Behind this word there is a concept that goes beyond yearning to a pain and/or a melancholy that unfolds, even from expressions of the imagination of those who learn the language — as evidenced in the songs of the Brazilian bossa nova, for example the classic “Chega de saudade” (No More Blues) by Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, and of the Portuguese fado, such as the song “Fado da saudade” (Song of Yearning), by Amália Rodrigues — and this has led to the very popular Brazilian expression “saudade do que nunca vivemos” (yearning for what we never lived through). I think it is practically impossible to listen to these songs and not experience what “saudade” is in one’s own body.

Whether feeling “saudade” or not, commemorating the existence of a language is not just about celebrating its current existence. It is more than that: it is celebrating its past, understanding its present and planning its future. As the Portuguese Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Francisco André, said for UNESCO: “We cannot forget that Portuguese is the language that José Saramago wrote in, that Chico Buarque, Cesária Évora and Matias Damásio sing in, and is the language in which Mia Couto continues to write. It is a very important language in terms of culture and development.” Looking at such instrumental names reminds us that we, speakers born in the CPLP countries or students of Portuguese as a foreign language, cannot only honour what has already been done, but also be agents that produce culture, whether through writing, as I do, recording videos or podcasts, signing business contracts or starting families. And that’s what it’s really worth!

Celebrate by finding out more!

If you want to know more about the Portuguese language and its cultures, here are some tips:

  1. Film: For those who like the big screen, the documentary Línguas: Vidas em Português (Languages: Lives in Portuguese) is a must-see! The 105-minute film features testimonials from famous and anonymous speakers from six Portuguese-speaking countries around the world. The work is directed by Victor Lopes.
  2. Book: Latim em pó (Latin in Powdered Form) is a journey through the formation of the Portuguese language. Written by one of Brazil’s greatest translators, and in addition to retrieving the historiography, the book aims to provoke reflection in the reader on how they use their own language. The work was published by Companhia das Letras.
  3. Book: for those who want to know more about the Portuguese spoken in Brazil, the book Viva a língua brasileira! (Long live the Brazilian language!) by Sérgio Rodrigues, published by Companhia das Letras, is an amusing almanac that records the history of the variant in the country and, in some cases, compares it with the European Portuguese variant — as in the use of the “porquês” (whys). In addition to having an informal nature, the work is an excellent manual that serves as a reference in moments of doubt when communicating.
  4. Courses: one of the coolest ways to celebrate a language is by communicating through it. Foreigners can learn Portuguese in Altissia’s courses. Portuguese speakers can study 24 other languages (Bulgarian, Canadian French, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, North American English, Polish, Romanian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish). And all these at a high quality and without having to leave home!


Companhia das Letras. Latim em Pó. Accessed 16 March 2023.

Companhia das Letras. Viva a língua brasileira! Accessed 16 March 2023.

CPLP — Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa. Estados Membros. Accessed 16 March 2023.

Museu da Língua Portuguesa. O Novo Museu da Língua Portuguesa está de volta com novas experiências para um contato emocionante com o nosso idioma. Accessed 16 March 2023.

Secretaria da Educação do Estado do Paraná. Língua - Vidas em Português - Dimensões da Língua Portuguesa. Accessed 16 March 2023.

UNESCO. Dia Mundial da Língua Portuguesa destaca crescimento no idioma. Accessed 16 March 2023.