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Portuguese owes its importance—as the second Romance language (after Spanish) in terms of numbers of speakers—largely to its position as the language of Brazil, where in the early 21st century some 187 million people spoke it. In Portugal, the language’s country of origin, there are more than 10 million speakers. It is estimated that there are also some 8 million Portuguese speakers in Africa (AngolaCabo VerdeEquatorial GuineaGuinea-BissauMozambique, and Sao Tome and Principe). Portuguese is also spoken by about 678,000 people in the United States, with large communities of speakers in the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Brazilian Portuguese varies from European Portuguese in several respects, including several sound changes and some differences in verb conjugation and syntax; for example, object pronouns occur before the verb in Brazilian Portuguese, as in Spanish, but after the verb in standard Portuguese. Despite differences in phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, Portuguese is often mutually intelligible with Spanish.There are four main Portuguese dialect groups, all mutually intelligible: (1) Central, or Beira, (2) Southern (Estremenho), including LisbonAlentejo, and Algarve, (3) Insular, including the dialects of Madeira and the Azores, and (4) Brazilian. Standard Portuguese was developed in the 16th century, basically from the dialects spoken from Lisbon to Coimbra. Brazilian (Brasileiro) differs from the Portuguese spoken in Portugal in several respects, in syntax as well as phonology and vocabulary, but many writers still use an academic metropolitan standard. A Judeo-Portuguese is attested in 18th-century Amsterdam and Livorno (Leghorn, Italy), but virtually no trace of that dialect remains today.