Copyright

The Portuguese People and Language

Ron Petrarca, Christopher Muscato
  • Author
    Ron Petrarca

    I received my bachelor's degree in history from George Washington University and later earned a master's degree in the same subject from Uppsala University in Sweden. I have been a writer and editor for more than two decades.

  • Instructor
    Christopher Muscato

    Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Learn about the demographics of Portugal and see what race Portuguese is. Find out Portuguese ethnicity and different minority ethnic groups in Portugal. Updated: 12/14/2021

Demographics of Portugal

Portugal is a country located on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. The country borders Spain and, like its neighbor, is a member of the European Union and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization.) Portugal has a surface area of approximately 35,603 square miles and a population of about 10.31 million people. Most people in Portugal are traditionally Catholic.

Portugal has a long and rich history. It was one of the first countries in Europe to emerge from the Dark Ages. Like Spain, Portugal was once controlled by the Moors, a Muslim power from Morocco. However, beginning in the 8th century, the Portuguese began taking back their country.

Portugal initiated the Age of Exploration. In fact, before working for the Spanish crown, Columbus had sailed under the Portuguese flag. Famous Portuguese explorers include Prince Henry the Navigator, Magellan, and Pedro Alvares Cabral. Portugal's unique location allowed sailors to travel to all parts of the globe. During the Age of Exploration, Portugal became rich due to trade with Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Portugal was a monarchy. However, the country became a republic in 1910. The last king of Portugal was Manuel II. Portugal spent much of the 20th century under the control of a dictatorship, but the nation returned to democracy in the 1970s. Today, the economy of Portugal is quite advanced compared to most of the countries of the world. Entry into the European Union has led to an economic boom.

Like all native Europeans, the Portuguese are part of what has been called the Caucasian (or white) race. The Portuguese language is a Romance language. All Romance languages descend from Latin, the language of the Romans. (The Latin word for Portugal was Lusitania.) Other Romance languages include Spanish, French, Italian, and Romanian. The Portuguese and Spanish languages are very similar. In fact, a person who speaks one can usually understand, at least in part, a speaker of the other. But, it is important to remember that Portuguese and Spanish are separate languages.

The Portuguese once had a vast overseas empire that stretched over much of the world. This spread the Portuguese language to South America, Africa, and Asia. The largest Portuguese-speaking nation in the world today is Brazil. not Portugal.

The capital of Portugal is Lisbon. Lisbon is considered to be one of Europe's great cities. Another famous Portuguese city is Coimbra, home to Portugal's oldest university.

Map of Portugal

Map, Portugal

Are Portuguese and Spanish the Same Race?

It is a common misconception that Spaniards and Portuguese are the same people. This misconception is based on the proximity of the two countries and the closeness of their languages and cultures. But, despite their similarities, the Portuguese and Spanish are separate people. Portuguese people, therefore, should not be considered Hispanic. "Hispanic" refers to people who speak Spanish as their native language.

With regard to race, both Portuguese and Spaniards are white. One must remember that not everyone who speaks Portuguese as their native language has Portuguese ancestry.

Is Portuguese an Ethnicity?

The word "Portuguese" can be used to describe a language or ethnicity. People whose ancestors came from Portugal are ethnic Portuguese. However, a person who speaks Portuguese may not be an ethnic Portuguese. This is similar to Americans who speak English as a native language but do not have English ancestry.

The overwhelming number of people in Portugal are ethnic Portuguese. In fact, Portugal is one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in the world. About 95% of the population is ethnic Portuguese. (Note: these statistics should be taken as approximations since the Portuguese government does not keep official statistics on ethnicity.)

  • Portuguese is both a language and ethnicity
  • People can speak Portuguese but not be ethnic Portuguese
  • Portugal is one of the most ethnically homogenous places in Europe

Ethnicity in Portugal

If you start in Spain and head west, where do you end up? No, it's not the Atlantic Ocean. On the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula is the nation of Portugal. It's a smaller country, and yet the former seat of one of the largest maritime empires in human history. So, who lives there? Well, obviously, the Portuguese do, but how about ethnic composition?

After a few centuries of fighting between various populations, the Portuguese government has actually forbidden the collection of statistics on ethnicity. They claim that asking people to identify by either race or religion encourages prejudice between groups. So, it's hard to tell exactly what their ethnic distribution is, but we don't really need exact numbers. That's because Portugal today has one of the most ethnically homogeneous populations in Europe. So, let's take a look into Portugal and see what makes the Portuguese ... Portuguese.

Flag of Portugal

Portugal Flag

Ethnic Groups in Portugal

Despite the fact that most people in Portugal are Portuguese, the Portuguese are themselves a blend of a number of other ethnic groups that have inhabited the country over the millennia, including Roman, Celtic, and Moorish. Each of these groups added something to the Portuguese genome.

Beginning in the 15th century, large numbers of Portuguese began migrating to other parts of the world. The most important destination was Brazil.

Today, due to immigration, there are small numbers of people in Portugal who come from other countries. These include people from former Portuguese colonies. Additionally, there are a number of people from other EU countries.

Portugal
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Portuguese Ethnicity

Like I said, Portugal has an extremely consistent population in terms of ethnicity. The vast, vast majority of people in Portugal are identified as belonging to the Portuguese ethnic group. In fact, most sources place this number somewhere around 95 percent of the total population. While the great number of people identify as this same ethnicity, this group itself does contain strains of various ethnic groups that migrated into Portugal over the centuries. Celtic tribes contributed a lot to this ethnicity, as did Northern African/Arabic people who traveled into Portugal and even invaded during the 8th century.

The population of Portugal has historically been very homogeneous.
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So, why is Portugal so greatly dominated by people of Portuguese ethnicity? Most European nations have at least a few substantial minority groups, but not Portugal. Well, if we look at Portugal on a map, you'll notice it's somewhat isolated. To get to Portugal, you either have to go through Spain, or you have to sail.

Until the 15th century, not many nations of Europe really sailed outside of the Mediterranean, except Portugal, which was one of the first great sailing nations of the continent. So, not many other ethnic groups have had a lot of opportunities to enter Portugal, and to this day the nation is one of the most homogeneous in the world.

Minority Groups

Realistically, all minority groups combined only compose a maximum of 5 percent of the total population, so no single ethnic group plays a major role in Portuguese society or politics. But, let's talk about these other ethnic groups who have established at least a small foothold in the nation.

One of the largest minority populations is African, largely composed of Cape Verdeans, or people from the Atlantic island chain of Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa. Cape Verde was one of Portugal's oldest colonies, and as Portugal decolonized in the 20th century, many residents from these islands resettled in Portugal itself. These Cape Verdeans, and other Africans from Portugal's former colonies, are the largest of the nation's minority ethnic groups.

Cape Verdeans compose a large part of the African ethnic group in Portugal.
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Additional Info

Ethnicity in Portugal

If you start in Spain and head west, where do you end up? No, it's not the Atlantic Ocean. On the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula is the nation of Portugal. It's a smaller country, and yet the former seat of one of the largest maritime empires in human history. So, who lives there? Well, obviously, the Portuguese do, but how about ethnic composition?

After a few centuries of fighting between various populations, the Portuguese government has actually forbidden the collection of statistics on ethnicity. They claim that asking people to identify by either race or religion encourages prejudice between groups. So, it's hard to tell exactly what their ethnic distribution is, but we don't really need exact numbers. That's because Portugal today has one of the most ethnically homogeneous populations in Europe. So, let's take a look into Portugal and see what makes the Portuguese ... Portuguese.

Portugal
null

Portuguese Ethnicity

Like I said, Portugal has an extremely consistent population in terms of ethnicity. The vast, vast majority of people in Portugal are identified as belonging to the Portuguese ethnic group. In fact, most sources place this number somewhere around 95 percent of the total population. While the great number of people identify as this same ethnicity, this group itself does contain strains of various ethnic groups that migrated into Portugal over the centuries. Celtic tribes contributed a lot to this ethnicity, as did Northern African/Arabic people who traveled into Portugal and even invaded during the 8th century.

The population of Portugal has historically been very homogeneous.
null

So, why is Portugal so greatly dominated by people of Portuguese ethnicity? Most European nations have at least a few substantial minority groups, but not Portugal. Well, if we look at Portugal on a map, you'll notice it's somewhat isolated. To get to Portugal, you either have to go through Spain, or you have to sail.

Until the 15th century, not many nations of Europe really sailed outside of the Mediterranean, except Portugal, which was one of the first great sailing nations of the continent. So, not many other ethnic groups have had a lot of opportunities to enter Portugal, and to this day the nation is one of the most homogeneous in the world.

Minority Groups

Realistically, all minority groups combined only compose a maximum of 5 percent of the total population, so no single ethnic group plays a major role in Portuguese society or politics. But, let's talk about these other ethnic groups who have established at least a small foothold in the nation.

One of the largest minority populations is African, largely composed of Cape Verdeans, or people from the Atlantic island chain of Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa. Cape Verde was one of Portugal's oldest colonies, and as Portugal decolonized in the 20th century, many residents from these islands resettled in Portugal itself. These Cape Verdeans, and other Africans from Portugal's former colonies, are the largest of the nation's minority ethnic groups.

Cape Verdeans compose a large part of the African ethnic group in Portugal.
null

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are Spanish and Portuguese ethnically the same?

No, they are of two different ethnic groups. However, they are very closely related to one another in geography, language, and history.

What is the main ethnicity of Portugal?

Most people in Portugal are ethnic Portuguese. This means that they speak Portuguese and their ancestors were from Portugal, as well.

Is Portugal considered Hispanic?

No, only Spanish-speaking countries are considered to be Hispanic. Portuguese is a different language from Spanish, even if it is closely related.

What race are Portuguese Brazilians?

Brazilians can be of any race, including mixed race. An ethnic Portuguese Brazilian is white. However, most Portuguese speakers in Brazil are of mixed race.

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