Portuguese is ranked sixth among the world's languages in number of native speakers (over 200 million), and first in South America (186 million, over 51% of the population). It is also a major lingua franca in Africa. It spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th century as Portugal set up a vast colonial and commercial empire (1415–1999), spanning from Brazil in the Americas to Macau in China. In that colonial period, many Portuguese creoles appeared around the world, especially in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
Portuguese is often nicknamed The language of Camões, after the author of the Portuguese national epic The Lusiads; The last flower of Latium (Olavo Bilac); and The sweet language by Cervantes.
Portuguese is the first language in Angola, Brazil, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe, and the most widely used language in Mozambique. It is also one of the official languages of East Timor (with Tetum) and of the Chinese S.A.R. of Macau (with Chinese). It is widely spoken, but not official, in Andorra, Luxembourg, Namibia and Paraguay. Portuguese Creoles are the mother tongue of Cape Verde and part of Guinea-Bissau's population. In Cape Verde most also speak standard Portuguese and have a native level language usage.
There are two main groups of dialects, those of Brazil and those of the Old World. For historical reasons, the dialects of Africa and Asia are generally closer to those of Portugal than the Brazilian dialects, although in some aspects of their phonology, especially the pronunciation of unstressed vowels, they resemble Brazilian Portuguese more than European Portuguese. They have not been studied as exhaustively as European and Brazilian Portuguese. In various parts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas, Portuguese creoles are spoken, but they are independent languages which should not be confused with Portuguese itself.