Oceans Apart – the Portuguese of Portugal and Brazil

23 06 2014

“Brasileiro” is the word European Portuguese speakers use for the version of Portuguese that is spoken in Brazil. In fact, the two languages are so much different that transl ators may re-write a document from scratch into the desired Portuguese, rather than translating it from one to the other.

These two main branches diverge in spelling, phraseology, sentence structure, accents, infinitive and gerund use, object pronouns, and even vocabulary, such as the use of “voce” vs. “tu” for “you”. Why? To start with, there are oceans – of time, space, history, and culture, as well as water – between South America and Europe. And while Brazil is surrounded by Spanish-speaking countries, Portugal has been influenced by Italian, French, and other European languages, in addition to Spanish.

Portuguese translationsWith a population of about 200 million people (versus Portugal’s 10.5 million) Brazil is by far the largest Portuguese-speaking country, mainstreaming its language into the global Portuguese community with such exports as their “novelas” – soap operas—in the way that Hollywood spread American English in the 20th century.

Brazil’s World Cup this year and Olympics in 2016 will no doubt establish “brasileiro” even more widely as a standard in the global community. If you have plans to attend either, and possess a familiarity with European Portuguese (EP), you will want to remember to watch for surprises. The EP phrase for “bathroom”, for instance – casa de banho – is replaced by one banheiro. And if a policeman wants to see your identity card, he or she will ask for your “cedula” not your “bilhete”.

Efforts at official standardization have been made and continue. Since the 1980s, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) has been working toward the development and implementation of a unified orthography, addresses spelling variances, if not the other issues. The result has been the Orthographic Agreement of 1990, and while discussions and controversy have accompanied this agreement, it was finally signed into law in 2008 in Portugal with the cushion of a six-year transitional period, and in Brazil it was adopted in 2009.

J. McShulskis


Traditional or Simplified? On Mainland China, Simplify.

3 02 2014

The population of mainland China is well over one billion now*, and millions of people in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and widespread overseas communities also speak Chinese. But this single language is represented by two different written languages, “Traditional” Chinese, and “Simplified.”

Chinese TranslationAdopted in 1949 in order to increase literacy and ease communication with the outside world, Simplified Chinese is comprised of about 2,000 characters which are stripped-down, more geometrical forms of the Traditional characters, and the total number used is also reduced. Taught in schools and used throughout mainland China and Singapore, these characters are either commonly used abbreviations of the Traditional, portions of Traditional characters, or compacted characters that phonetically resemble the originals. Some of the Simplified characters represent several different Traditional ones.

A practical and political problem with Simplified Chinese is that it is not used in Malaysia, Taiwan, Macau or Hong Kong. For this reason, as well as aesthetic and scholarly inclinations, there are Chinese speakers who oppose Simplified Chinese, and Traditional Chinese is often still chosen for communication that seeks emotional impact, such as slogans, signs, advertising, and artwork. But for most text intended for an audience in mainland China or Singapore, Simplified Chinese is the language to use.

This is not a new issue raised by a more global and industrial society; simplified versions of Chinese have existed for over 2,000 years, and criticism of the complex, abstract Traditional Chinese has ranged from declaring it the “writing of ox-demons and snake-gods”** to blaming it for the country’s economic problems.

Both versions have, however, been integrated into modern life, as evidenced by the development of computer code for each: GB for Simplified, and Big5 for Traditional. As it happens with languages – all of which carry forgotten histories in their forms as they morph to our needs – some of those computer-encoded characters descend from Oracle Bone Script used more than 3,000 years ago to divine answers about weather, hunting, warfare, and the best days to hold sacred ceremonies.

*2010 census: 1,339,724,852
**FuSinian, a leader of the May Fourth Movement

J. McShulskis

Read more on Skrivanek’s Chinese Translations here



Season’s Greetings in all languages – please help!

10 12 2013


We want to collect here Season’s Greetings in as many languages as possible.
Will you help us?

Leave Season’s Greetings in your language below!

Which country hosts the largest number of living languages?

25 11 2013

It is estimated that nearly 7,000 languages are still alive on Earth today. In the United States about 330 languages are spoken or signed, with over half of those labeled as indigenous; English claims the most speakers, Spanish the second. In India there are an estimated 780 languages, and in China there are 129.

But these are huge countries with populations in the hundreds of millions (China’s passed 1.3 billion in 2013). Surprisingly, the country with the most living languages on the planet is one with just 3.9 million people. An island off the north coast of Australia, Papua-New Guinea’s population speaks 832 different languages!

Distribution of the remaining thousands of languages suggests fascinating histories of human choices and dynamics over millenia. For instance, the ongoing linguistic research project Ethnologue reports that while 230 living languages exist in Europe, there are 2,197 in Asia.

Often many of these are related; so what is the difference between a distinct “language” and a “dialect”? It turns out that this is a somewhat controversial subject involving not only linguistic features, but also political and social considerations. Tangled “families” of languages exist with branches across borders and time, and disagreements about labels continue. Yet from a biologist’s point of view, human languages are strikingly alike, according to a report by the Linguistic Society of America, with fundamental shared features that are completely unique among the communication systems of every other living organism on the planet.

J. McShulskis

☺ in Japanese = ☺ in Czech = ☺ in Spanish

18 06 2013

What project takes 800+ people approximately 1,055 hours and the use of Mechanical Turk to accomplish? Translation of Herman Melville’s class Moby Dick into emoji, the graphic communication shortcuts that started in the 1990s in Japan. Emoji Dick creator Fred Benenson conceived, crowd-sourced and Kickstarted the literary project to its completion: you can buy a black and white soft cover for $40 and the full-color hardback for $200. Before you assume that Emoji Dick is nothing more than a novelty item, note that as of February 2013 you can find it at The U.S. Library of Congress – the first 100% emoji translation to be accepted there. Who knows, maybe it’s the humble beginning of a trans-cultural literary language.emoji

J. McShulskis