Identification. Discovery of the uninhabited archipelago of the Azores was a starting point for Portugal's fifteenth-century overseas empire; five centuries later Portuguese Culture continues to dominate its economic, social, and political life. The Azores are named for a seabird ( açor ), displayed on the regional flag beneath an arc of nine stars representing the archipelago's inhabited islands: Sao Miguel, Terceira, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Santa Maria, Graciosa, Flores, and Corvo. Most islanders continue to think of themselves as Portuguese. Some push (clandestinely) for independence and some suggest becoming America's fifty-first state.
Location. The nine islands of the Azores straddle the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between 36° and 39° N and 24° and 31° W, some 3,200 kilometers east of New York, and about 1,300 kilometers west of Portugal. Proximity to the Gulf Stream moderates a climate characterized by narrow temperature range, ample precipitation, and dense mists. A prevailing anticyclone (high-pressure) system, which deflects storm fronts, engenders weather stability. A diverse ground cover of Indigenous and imported flora is uniformly verdant. Periodic volcanic activity has endowed the land with natural attractions.
Demography. Soon after discovery, crop and stock raising were introduced as members of Portugal's underclass and donatários (grantee/landowner class with royal connections) began to settle the islands. The still-pervasive class system originated at that time. Italian, German, and English merchants, Spanish priests, a scattering of Moors and Blacks (slaves), baptized Jews (Conversos), and Flemish peoples came later. The Azore population is around 240,000 and declining. The three major ports are also population centers: Ponta Delgada (22,000), Angra do Heroísmo (14,000), and Horta (7,500). Azoreans emigrate to find employment, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to Brazil, more recently to Canada and the United States.
linguistic Affiliation. The language of the Azores is Standard European Portuguese (SEP). SEP follows Romance Language Family conventions, is spoken by continental elites, and is classified as inflective, synthetic, and stresstimed (Brazilian Portuguese is syllable-timed). SEP is used by the media and literati and overlies Azorean regional "folk" speech. Distinctive accents and intonations often mark social status in the class-stratified society.