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Portuguese is a Romance language that originated in what is now Galicia and northern Portugal. It is derived from the Latin spoken by the romanized Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula (namely the Gallaeci, the Lusitanians, the Celtici and the Conii) around 2000 years ago. It spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal established a colonial and commercial empire (1415–1999) which spanned from Brazil in the Americas to Goa and other parts of India, Macau in China and Timor (north of Australia). It was used as the exclusive lingua franca on the island of Sri Lanka for almost 350 years. During that time, many creole languages based on Portuguese also appeared around the world, especially in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. Today it is one of the world's major languages, ranked 6th according to number of native speakers (between 191 and 230 million). It is the language of about half of South America, even though Brazil is the only Portuguese-speaking nation in the Americas. It is also a major lingua franca in Portugal's former colonial possessions in Africa. It is an official language in nine countries (see the table on the right), also being co-official with Cantonese Chinese in the Chinese special administrative region of Macau, Tetum in East Timor and Spanish and French in Equatorial Guinea. There are sizeable communities of Portuguese speakers in various regions of North America, notably in the United States (New Jersey, New England, California and south Florida) and in Ontario, Canada. Described as soft and melodic, phonetically Portuguese is similar to Catalan and French, with little of the harshness of Castilian while its delicacy is considered to be rivalled only by French. Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes once called Portuguese "the sweet language", Lope de Vega referred to it as "suave" while Brazilian writer Olavo Bilac poetically described it as a última flor do Lácio, inculta e bela: "the last flower of Latium, raw and beautiful". Portuguese is also termed "the language of Camões," after one of Portugal's best known literary figures, Luís Vaz de Camões.