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