Spelling Changes: Brazilian Portuguese

25 01 2009

I have a deep passion for my mother tongue: the spoken Brazilian Portuguese is musical, suave and deliciously illogical. In my first month living in Canada, while unemployed and looking for some extra income, I decided to teach Portuguese 1-on-1. In the first class, my student-turned-guinea-pig asked: “Why do you say ‘Eu moro no Brasil’ and “Eu moro no Japão”, but you use ‘Eu moro em Portugal’ and ‘Eu moro em Moçambique’?” There was never a second class, as both sides agreed they would be better off with me sticking to bits and bytes instead 🙂 .

While in São Paulo for the holidays, I learned that, as of January 1st, 2009, Brazil adopted new spelling rules for the Portuguese language. The changes are supposed to eventually be implemented in all the other seven Portuguese-speaking countries: Portugal, Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe. Granted, this list is no G7 club, but it’s worth to mention that Portuguese is the 6th language in the world in number of native speakers, way ahead of popular languages such as French, German and Japanese.

You can find more details about the spelling reform here and here. And test your knowledge here.

Not everybody is happy, as you can tell. In my case, it was as if my mother had just deserted me. In this case, it was actually just my mother tongue, but still I felt a bit betrayed after all those years learning when to use diacritics, accents and hyfens. Then I found that the Portuguese alphabet had grown to 26 letters, adding K, W and Y. As a kid in kindergarten it annoyed me that I could not spell my own name using the letters in the wood blocks. So it’s not only bad news after all.

It’s nonetheless disturbing that in today’s world a language can be officially changed by some kind of political decision. Trying to standardize the written language across countries is even worse: it’s like the Roman Empire trying to outlaw Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Romenian or French. Languages evolve differently and there’s no going back. Just let it be.

P.S. –  If I could, I would add a song track to this post: Língua, by Caetano Veloso (full lyrics and sample audio can be found here).

Gosto de sentir a minha língua roçar a língua de Luís de Camões
Gosto de ser e de estar

E quero me dedicar a criar confusões de prosódias

E uma profusão de paródias

Que encurtem dores

E furtem cores como camaleões

Gosto do Pessoa na pessoa

Da rosa no Rosa

E sei que a poesia está para a prosa

Assim como o amor está para a amizade

E quem há de negar que esta lhe é superior?

E deixe os Portugais morrerem à míngua

“Minha pátria é minha língua”

Fala Mangueira! Fala!

Flor do Lácio Sambódromo Lusamérica latim em pó

O que quer

O que pode esta língua?




2 responses

25 01 2009

Here in Germany, we underwent a major spelling reform about nine years ago which was followed by a reform of the reform about six years later.

Both reforms went through and are now legally binding. And all this was possible despite all opposition by famous writers and even top executives in school administration. The ensuing massive concerted resistance was to no avail. For years, the prestigious FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) continued to publish according to the old rules and so did other media before caving in.

The ulterior motive is, as many have speculated, purely economical because of the business resulting from reprints, especially of school text books.

There are even some people like for instance Günther Grass, the Nobel prize writer, who openly say that we have no democracy any longer.

26 01 2009

Hey sanchopansa (sorry, couldn’t figure out your actual name), thanks for letting me know about the German reform. I just found more about it in Wikipedia. It gives me a glimpse of how the Brazilian version of it is likely to develop. I’m not sure if in Brazil there’s any way to enforce the changes other than in school books. Newspapers have been adopting their own guidelines for many years now, regardless of the official rules, and I think that will remain the same for the foreseeable future.

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