Tupi Language

18 de July de 2022

Hi there! Are you ready to get to know more about Brazilian culture? Today’s Dica will be all about Tupi, an ancient indigenous language! Did you know that many words in Portuguese have their origins in this language? But what, exactly, does it mean ”tupi” Guarani? And are there still any Tupi people left in Brazil? Let’s discuss all this right now, and learn more about Portuguese and Brazil!

Tupi, the Language

The Tupi language was a language spoken by various groups of indigenous people who inhabited most of the Brazilian coast in the 16th century. The language was very common back then, and the Portuguese even tried to learn the language in the Brazilian colony.

However, learning Tupi proved to be so complicated and demanding that the Portuguese created something simpler. They decided to include Tupi words and expressions in their Portuguese. This mixture was called Nheengatu, lingua geral, lingua geral Amazรดnica, or even lingua Brasรญlica.

This new language was spoken by the majority of colony’s population until the 18th century. In that century, the Marquรชs de Pombal – a very important Portuguese nobleman – banned that mixture of Portuguese and Tupi.

But what does Tupi-Guarani mean then?

Tupi-Guarani is a set of several indigenous languages. It is one of the most important linguistic branches in South America. When the Portuguese arrived in Brazil in 1500, most of the indigenous tribes spoke languages of the Tupi-Guarani family.

Tupi, the People

tupi language: get to know more about tupi guarani and tupi people in brazil
Homem Tupinamba. John White (1585). British Museum, London

As stated before, Tupi was one of the first official languages of Brazil. But who were the Tupi people? Well, they were not a single tribe for sure. The Tupi people are the different tribes who spoke the Tupi language: tupinambรกs, tupiniquins, caetรฉs, tamoios, potiguaras, temiminรณs and tabajaras. They mostly lived in the coastal areas of Brazil, and that is why they were the first ones to have contact with the Portuguese.

Did the Tupi Language go extinct?

While linguists agree that the original language went extinct, the Tupi-Guarani languages influenced Portuguese a lot, and some variants are still alive. Until the 20th century, people in the interior spoke a Tupi variant derived from Sรฃo Paulo. In the Amazonian Rio Negro valley people still use Nheengatu to this day.
The Tupi language is also present in the daily lives of Brazilians. Did you know that several Portuguese words are loanwords borrowed from Tupi? These are often names used for geography, native animals, and plants. Let’s look at some examples!

  • States, cities and neighborhood names:
    • Araraquara (Araras’ nest);
    • Guaratinguetรก (Many Egrets);
    • Jacareรญ (Alligator River);
    • Paquetรก (Many Pacas);
    • Sergipe (Crab River).
  • Commonly used adjectives and verbs:
    • cutucar (poke);
    • jururu (sad);
    • pereba (wound);
    • pindaรญba (difficulty);
    • torรณ (rain).

So, that was it! Can you believe that the ancient Tupi language left such a mark on Brazilian Portuguese? Remember, you can always come to one of our RioLIVE! activities and have fun discovering and using Tupi related words! They are everywhere once you start noticing them. And don’t forget to check out our Youtube!


Click on the links below to see more related Dicas
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Rio de Janeiro History

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