A solution for handling accents on a Mac

17 01 2010

In the never-ending Mac versus PC discussion, I often find myself slightly favouring the Apple side for better hardware-software integration and for consistently bringing innovative and elegant solutions for some of the personal computing usability pain points. But it has never been a slam dunk for his Steveness, as Macs are not perfect either. By the way, my MacBook freezing problem is still there, making me likely the person who had the most problems with Mac computers in the world: video card, keyboard, trackpad, battery, optical drive, cooling fan, hard drive, and LCD screen (this one was my own fault).

My number one pet peeve on the Mac world ***WAS*** the way Mac OS handles accents when you have a US keyboard and want to write in one of the European languages that need accents and other special characters. I often write things in Portuguese, and in Windows, after you configure it properly, the keyboard just mimics the way typewriters handled accents: for example, to type the <é> in “Pelé” or “café”, you just type the key <‘> and then the letter <e>. On a Mac, once you configure it to use “Brazilian” as the Input Source, to type <é> you have to do something very awkward: type <Option>+<e>, then type <e>. Basically, <Option>+<e> is the acute accent, <Option>+<i> is the circumflex accent, <Option>+<n> is the tilde and so on.

Of course, the point here is not to mimic a typewriter – a large part, if not the majority, of people using computers today never used a typewriter. The point is that the US keyboard has keys with the acute accent, the circumflex accent and the tilde, so why not use them? <Option>+<e> is not intuitive at all, and you have to use three keystrokes instead of two, slowing you down enough to break your typing rhythm.

But there is a solution and I just found it yesterday! If you want your Mac to handle accents the Windows / typewriter way, try the following:

  1. Google “brasileiro.bundle teclado” (the original file in Geocities is no longer available). I found it here.
  2. Unzip the file and double-click the .dmg to mount it
  3. Copy the file Brasileiro.bundle to the folder /Library/Keyboard Layouts
  4. Log out and log in
  5. In System Preferences, go to Language & Text and then select Input Sources
  6. On the left panel, you should now have Brazil and Brazilian, with round Brazilian flag icons
  7. Enable Brazil if you are using a US keyboard, or Brazilian if you are using a Portuguese keyboard
  8. Enable Show input menu in menu bar
  9. In the menu bar at the top of your Mac, you should now see a flag with your default input language (in my case, it’s Canadian English). Just switch that to Brazil or Brazilian when typing in Portuguese. It also should work with all accented characters in Spanish and most in French (except the ligature ones: ae and oe; for those, I suspect you still have to resort to <Option>+<‘> and <Option>+<q>, or get a French.bundle file).

Input Menu with "Brazil" and "Canadian English"

I hope this helps the 0.01% of you for whom this is a Mac annoyance. And I hope that Apple fixes that in the near future to come as a default input source instead of hack.

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?

Accent reduction and the Brazilian way of speaking English

3 08 2008

Almost 10 years ago, I took some courses on accent reduction at IBM. If you know me in person, you must be thinking – that didn’t work, I still can’t understand you 🙂

In fact, I don’t think my accent is any different now, but the course was good to raise awareness on the English words Brazilians have the most trouble with. I’ve lost count of how many times I heard fellow Brazilians saying something like “people from China/Korea/Japan/India/Russia have such a hard time learning how to speak English, I can’t understand what they say”. There’s a subtle prejudice in that line of thinking that most people don’t realize.

One of the instructors in the accent reduction course had a good explanation for that. Imagine 3 people: John, a native English Canadian speaker, Ana, and Wong. Both Ana and Wong have been living in Canada for 5 years, learned English as adults and speak their respective mother tongues at home. Ana is Brazilian and Wong is a Cantonese-speaking Chinese. John understands most of what Ana and Wong say, but occasionally misses things here and there during a conversation. The same can be said for Ana and Wong towards John. But Ana has a hard time understanding Wong and thinks that’s because his English is not very good, as she can perfectly understand Carmen and Adrian, her Colombian and Romanian colleagues, speaking English.

Of course, one possible explanation is that Wong’s proficiency in English is not that good. But often what happens is that they all speak English equally well – or equally poorly – from John’s perspective. But Wong’s flavour of English is very far from Ana, Carmen and Adrian. Clear as mud, eh? Here’s what I mean, in a picture:

One can make a credible case that Portuguese, Spanish and Romanian are all Latin or Romance languages, and English is heavily influenced by Latin – arguably 60% of the English vocabulary has its roots in Latin – so it’s ok to assume that Asians would have more difficulty with English than we do. I agree that’s probably easier for a Portuguese-speaking person to learn a workable English vocabulary, but accent is a different story altogether. Cantonese has much more phonemes than Portuguese, so in theory Wong could be better equipped to notice the many nuances of spoken English.

Here are some of the English language traps Brazilians – including me – have a particular hard time with. I added links to Dictionary.com in case you want to check the pronunciation (you have to click on the gray audio icon).

1. Vowels
bat (morcego), bet (apostar), beet (beterraba), bit (pedaço), but (mas) – they all sometimes sound the same, so you have to rely on the context to tell what’s being said. Particularly embarassing is when I try to say “sheet” or “beach” without blushing everybody in the room 🙂 . There are many other cases: sheep and ship, super and supper, man and men, etc.

2. T
The letter T in English sounds a bit different from Portuguese with a discreet sibilant sound, but it’s definitely not like “tch”. So, it’s common to have Brazilians pronouncing “tea” like “chee”, and “two” or “to” like “chew”. Think Herbert Vianna from Paralamas do Sucesso singing “Uma Brasileira”: One more time. That’s a good “t”.

3. Assuming similarly spelled words are pronounced alike
Nike does not rhyme with Mike. Nike is pronounced Nai-kee.
Other examples of tricky pairs are:

4. Voiceless Consonants
This is a very peculiar thing in Brazilian Portuguese. When we say “pneu” (tire) we kind of pronounce an “i” between the p and the n: “pineu”. The same happens with “cacto”, “subtrair”, “gnomo”: we say “cáquito”, “subitrair” and “guinomo”. For example, pay attention to Chico Buarque saying “subtraída” in “Vai Passar”. English is full of voiceless consonants, and we tend to do the same when we say things like cryptography, dogma, verdict and others.

Naturally, I’m completely overextending myself here, so please correct me if you noticed anything wrong on what I said above. I remember a roommate of mine from Peru telling me in Portuñol: “Yo no comprendo como tantos Latinos viven dos, tres anos en Brasil y no aprenden a falar português”. I may as well be doing the same in this post. Also, there are plenty of Brazilians who speak English very well, and English itself is spoken in different ways around the globe, so my observations can’t be generalized. When I say “we”, I actually mean “those Brazilians who, like me, are totally inept to speak English well”.

One problem in learning English in Canada is that most people are too polite to correct me, so I probably say things the wrong way all the time without realizing it. You would be doing me a big favour by correcting me, so please don’t be shy. I promise I won’t be offended 🙂

Updated: Added a reference to “beach” – thanks Alan!

Updated again: I forgot to include one important item to the list above:

5. Intonation.

Brazilian Portuguese has much less variation in the way we speak. For example, we typically say a very soft, flat “Congratulations”, the same way we would say “Parabéns”. In North America, when you say “congratulations”, you can almost see all the whistles & bells, a festive cake with 1000 candles and the clown parade that go along with it. If you say anything that way in Brazil, people will think that you are trying to sell them something expensive.