Language policy in Portuguese colonies and successor states

Bernard Spolsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


In studying language policy, it is not enough to look at central government management, but also at the influence of managers at levels ranging from the family to international organizations. Actual cases reveal that there are also non-linguistic forces such as demography, war, civil strife, and economic breakdowns which have major effects. This paper summarizes a study of the Portuguese empire and its aftermath. The empire enforced the hegemony of Portuguese as the civilizing force that would remedy deficits in conquered peoples. Because settlers were usually males, intermarriage with local women or slaves was common. However, colonial policy and acceptance by the leaders of independence movements as a unifying language, recognizing the benefits of elite closure, meant that postcolonial successor states kept Portuguese as the language of instruction and government, and did not use indigenous languages. Civil strife, warfare, corruption, and economic breakdown after independence prevented the improvement of education in many cases. Thus, while Portuguese provided access to an international language and served as the unifying symbol for Lusophone organizations, it was at the cost of the stigmatization of indigenous languages and left a social gap between the urban elite and the rural citizens limited to local languages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-97
Number of pages36
JournalCurrent Issues in Language Planning
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


This work has been supported in part by a publications grant from the University of South Africa. This paper acknowledges the contribution of Richard Baldauf Jr. and Robert Kaplan to the field of language policy, as my interest in this topic arose out of reading some polities papers in the journal that they founded, Current Issues in Language Planning. I am grateful to the comments and suggestions of the editors and the anonymous readers who pointed out problems in an earlier version, and also to suggestions for improvement from Robert Kaplan. I also acknowledge the enormous help of the scholars whose research I have depended on, and of Google Scholar in helping me find it. After Indian independence in 1947, Portugal refused to cede the area, but it was conquered by the Indian army in 1961. In a paper dealing with the use of heritage architectural objects in the Old City of Goa as a defense of Portuguese rights, Santos (2016) describes the ideological arguments of the Portuguese dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar. The Indian Congress Working committee and its leader, Jawaharlal Nehru declared in 1947 that Goa was Indian territory occupied by a foreign power. In response, Salazar argued about the importance of the historic past of the Portuguese Empire. Supported by the ideology of lusotropicalism, Salazar justified the occupation as under the trinity of “Deus, Pátria e Família” (God, Nation, and Family). It was a serious blow when the Vatican forced the Portuguese government to give up its privilege of Padroado Português do Oriente (Portuguese Patronage of the East), but they held out for several years, even as India invaded and occupied portions of Goa. In 1987, Goa became India’s 29th state.

FundersFunder number
Google Scholar
Language Planning
University of South Africa


    • Ideology
    • education
    • immigration
    • lusotropicalism
    • slavery


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