Mozambican Portuguese

Mozambican Portuguese

Mozambican Portuguese (português moçambicano in Portuguese) refers to the varieties of Portuguese spoken in Mozambique. It is the official language and, according to the most recent census[1], is spoken by approximately 40% of the population, mostly as a lingua franca, with only 6.5% speaking it natively. As Mozambican Portuguese is an emerging variety of the language, there is not nearly as much data on its use as there is for Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese.

Several variables factor into the emergence of Mozambican Portuguese. The linguistic norm is based on that of Portugal. Brazil's linguistic influence in Mozambique takes two forms: people who are there for work or tourism, and a media presence. Mozambique's own linguistic diversity also enriches the Portuguese language with new words and expressions.



According to the 1997 census[1]:

  • 39.6% of the total population speak Portuguese
  • In terms of gender, this breaks down to 50.4% for men and 20.7% for women.
  • Geographically, this breaks down to 72.4% urban and 36.6% rural
  • In terms of native speakers, 6.5% identify as mother tongue speakers.
  • 8.8% of Mozambicans reported using Portuguese as the primary home language.

One consequence of the civil war was the internal migration of refugees southward and the increasing urbanization of Mozambique's population. Maputo, Mozambique's capital, is a case in point according to recent data. As of 2007, 55.2% say that Portuguese is the primary home language and 42.9% claim Portuguese as their mother tongue.[2]

Historical and social context

Portuguese is a post-colonial language. Imposed during the colonial era, Portuguese was selected as the official language of the new state as it was ethnically neutral. It was also the common language of the elites who received their post-secondary education in Portugal. Portuguese played an important role in the rhetoric of the independence movement, being seen as a potential vehicle for the articulation of a national identity.

Mozambique has extraordinary enthnolinguistic diversity, with no one language dominating demographically. Portuguese serves as a lingua franca allowing communication of Mozambicans with fellow citizens of other ethnicities, including especially white Mozambicans. Of those Mozambicans who speak Portuguese, the majority are non-native speakers, thus spoken with accents of African languages. The lack of native speakers is due, in part, to the exodus of massive number of white Mozambicans to places such as Portugal, South Africa, and Brazil and to the fact that the country is far from the rest of the Lusosphere. This left very few native speakers of Portuguese in Mozambique.

The growth of Portuguese as Mozambique's national language is happening in tandem with the increasing importance and appeal of English. English is an official language of every nation that borders Mozambique, creating incentive for English instruction, and the government has increased provision of English in schools.


European Portuguese is the norm of reference in Mozambique. In terms of pronunciation, however, Mozambican Portuguese shows several departures, which are due to the influence of other languages of Mozambique and Brazilian Portuguese:[citation needed]

  • The suppression of unstressed vowels is not as strong as in Portugal.
  • The elision of word-final 'r' (for example, estar as [eʃˈta] instead of [eʃˈtaɾ])
  • Occasional pronunciation of the initial and final 'e' as [i] (for example, felicidade as [felisiˈdadi] instead of [felisiˈdadə] or [fəlisiˈðaðə]).
  • Pronunciation of 'b', 'd', and 'g' are pronounced as they are in all positions.

These tendencies lead to a sound reminiscent of Brazilian Portuguese. The above tendencies are stronger in vernacular speech and less marked in cultivated speech.


There are many words and expressions borrowed from indigenous languages of Mozambique into Portuguese. Examples include:

  • chima from the Emakhuwa, Cisena and Cinyungwe languages, is a type of porridge
  • xituculumucumba from Xirona is a type of bogeyman
  • machamba from Swahili refers to agricultural land
  • dumba-nengue from Xirona is a term used for informal trade or commerce
  • madala from Xichangana is a person of high status or esteem
  • nhamussoro from Cindau is a person who can mediate between the living and the dead

Mozambican Portuguese also borrowed words of Arabic origin, because of national Islamic presence.

  • metical (Mozambican currency, from mitķāl, an Arabic unit of weight, from taķāl', weigh).

One also finds neologisms in Mozambican Portuguese such as

  • machimbombo the word for bus also shared with other lusophone African countries.
  • cronicar, the word crónica turned into a verb
  • desconseguir meaning 'to fail' a negation of the verb conseguir using the prefix 'des-' rather than não.
  • despressar instead of ir depressa
  • agorinha instead of agora mesmo
  • tirar dinheiro meaning financiar, 'to finance'
  • tirar lágrimas meaning chorar, 'to cry'
  • assistir televisão instead of ver a televisão
  • comer dinheiro ('eat money') meaning 'to embezzle'
  • mata-bicho ('kill the beast') meaning 'breakfast'

There are also words which, as a result of semantic expansion, have acquired additional meanings:[citation needed]

  • estrutura which in addition to 'structure' also means 'authority'
  • situação which is used to mean 'conflict' or 'war'.
  • calamidade can mean clothes donated to victims of natural disasters or conflict. It also refers to divorcées and widows who have begun a new relationship.
  • nascer, 'to be born' has the additional meaning of 'to give birth to'

Many of these words came to Portugal, which was settled by returning Portuguese refugees after Mozambican independence. These words were also brought to Brazil again by Portuguese refugees after independence.

See also


External links

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