Ring and Rhyme

Ring and
  Rhyme

Brazil and all other nations that speak Portuguese are once again
bracing for an orthographic reform. They will be negligible but disturbing enough to make
millions of books obsolete. At least some people are welcoming the changes: book
publishers.
By Alessandra Dalevi

After English and Spanish, Portuguese is the most widespread language in the West.
There are 219 million people speaking it in four continents, 161 million of them in
Brazil. While the members of the several communities that use Portuguese can understand
each other, they have been trying to unify the way the rich-in-accents language is
written.

After eight years of discussions, the CPLP (Comunidade dos Países de Língua
Portuguesa—Community of Countries of Portuguese Language) has agreed on a set of
rules. The decision has been criticized both by those who deemed any change unadvisable
and people who wanted a much more radical approach to simplify the way Portuguese is
written. For Brazilians, it will be much ado about almost nothing. One of the few changes
will be the elimination of the umlaut, a diacritical sign that many people are already
doing without. It means that a word like tranqüilidade from now on will be written
tranquilidade. The new rules, however, don’t change the way words are pronounced
and they can be quite different from one country to the other.

According to the just-signed agreement, the acute accent over words ending in ‘eia’,
‘eio’ disappears. So idéia (idea) becomes ideia and ministério
(ministry), ministerio. It also eliminates the circumflex accent in words with
repeated letters like vôo (flight or I fly) or vêem (they see). Another
eliminated accent is the acute sign over the ‘u’ in words like argúo (I argue).

Publishers, mainly those dealing with dictionaries and didactic books, are happy with
the new editions they will have to print, but others decry the hassle and the expenses
they will incur. In Portugal and the African countries that speak Portuguese (Angola,
Cape-Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and São Tomé and Príncipe) the ‘c’ and the ‘p’
will be removed from words in which they are not pronounced, something Brazil has
practiced for 30 years now. So, people from Portugal will write excecionalmente
(exceptionally) instead of excepcionalmente as Brazilians do.

(By the way, to those who complain and insist that Brazil should be written Brasil with
an ‘s’, in the United States, the country’s name was Brazil with a ‘z’ until 1943, the
year of one of several orthographic reforms in this century and nothing prevents it from
being Brazil again in some future orthographic amendment. The lesson: the s or z are nor
intrinsic to Brazil, but just a cabinet decision by lexicographers.)

From now on letters ‘k’, ‘w’ and ‘y’, which were considered foreign, will be
incorporated into the language. For not having ‘y’, ‘k’ and ‘w’ many Brazilians write Nova
Iorque instead of New York. The present orthographic rules were established in 1943 and
tinkered with in 1971. There were other attempts of change, however, that never quite
caught up. The new half-hearted reform was concocted by Brazilian renowned linguist
Antônio Houaiss (he translated James Joyce’s Ulysses into Portuguese) and
Portuguese linguist João Malaca Casteleiro.

Commenting on the changes in the Espírito Santo state daily, A Gazeta, José
Augusto Carvalho, professor at the Vitória’s School of Law, wrote:

"The main difficulties remain: they are the little rules that determine how to use
the hyphen and many absurd incoherences in the writing of many words. Estender (to
extend) is with an ‘s’, but extensão (extension) is with an ‘x’, pêssego,
which derives from persicu has two ‘ss’ because the Latin ‘rs’ becomes ‘ss’, but almoço
is with a ‘ç’, although it derives from admorsu, also with ‘rs’. The suffix ‘ecer’
sometimes is ‘escer’, sometimes ‘ecer’. We have amadurecer (to ripen) and rejuvenescer
(to rejuvenate). Bahia (northeastern state) is with an ‘h’, but not baiano (someone
from Bahia), tecido (tissue) is with ‘c’, but tessitura (tessitura) is with
two ‘ss’. And we haven’t even mentioned different letters that have the same sound (x, ch,
s, z, x, etc.) and are always a headache for anyone writing.

"How can you take seriously an accord that allegedly wants to make the language
uniform, but adopts two spellings, and wants to simplify but keeps the orthographic
complications and the stupid rules for the use of the hyphen? The ideal is that teachers,
journalists and writers, schools, newspapers and publishing houses simply ignore the
agreement, even if it becomes law after being ratified by Congress. Until we get an
intelligent, ample and definitive reform."

Ring and
Rhyme

Inspired by the Académie Française, the ABL (Academia Brasileira de
Letras—Brazilian Academy of Letters) is best known for the afternoon teas it promotes
among its 40 more-or-less mummified members. It was a delightful surprise last year when
then Academy president, Nélida Piñon, who has never used a computer, decided to
computerize and internetize the institution.

In another step to make the Academy less elitist and raise some funds in the process,
the organization has just started a 900-number service offering poetry read by a narrator
or the author himself. The service is called Disque Poesia (Disk Poetry) and people pay
around $2.50 for the minute. The initial batch of verses offers love poems by Castro Alves
("Os Três Amores"—The Three Loves), Gonçalves Dias
("Desejo"—Desire), João Cabral de Melo Neto
("Poesia"—Poetry), Lêdo Ivo ("As Rosas Vermelhas"—Red
Roses), and Olavo Bilac ("Canção"—Song). Melo Neto and Ivo are still
alive and are immortals, as the Academy members call themselves.

The idea, according to ABL’s president, Arnaldo Niskier, was to popularize poetry. And
apparently it is working, judging from the brisk initial interest. On the first day the
service was offered, there were hundreds of calls, 197 of them from people who wanted to
listen to romantic Baiano (from Bahia state) poet, Castro Alves. There will be new
poets every month and they don’t need to belong to the Academy. Ready to call? The number
(in Brazil) is 0900 21777. The money raised will help finance the Disque Língua
Portuguesa (Disk Portuguese Language) service, another 900 initiative that will have 50
Portuguese teachers on the phone answering questions about the correct usage of the
language. The new service will cost the same as the poetry one and should start in
November.

Here’s the most requested poem, "Os Três Amores" by Castro Alves:

Minh’alma é como a fronte sonhadora
Do louco bardo, que Ferrara chora…
Sou Tasso!… a primavera de teus risos
De minha vida as solidões enflora…
Longe de ti eu bebo os teus perfumes,
Sigo na terra de teu passo os lumes…
—Tu és Eleonora…
Meu coração desmaia pensativo,
Cismando em tua rosa predileta
Sou teu pálido amante vaporoso,
Sou teu Romeu… Teu lânguido poeta!…
Sonho-te às vezes
virgem…seminua…
Roubo-te um casto beijo à luz da lua…
—E tu és Julieta…
Na volúpia das noites andaluzas
O sangue ardente em minhas veias rola…
Sou D. Juan!… Donzelas amorosas,
Vós conheceis-me os trenos na viola!
Sobre o leito do amor teu seio brilha…
Eu morro, se desfaço-te a mantilha…
Tu és Júlia, A Espanhola!…

Recife (state of Pernambuco),
September 1866

My soul is like the dreaming front
Of the crazy bard, who cries Ferrara
I am Tasso!… the spring of your laughs
Flowers my life’s solitudes..
Far from you I drink your perfumes,
I follow on earth the lights of your steps…
—You are Eleonora…
My pensive heart faints
Mulling over your favorite rose
I’m your pale misty lover
I’m your Romeo… Your languid poet!…
I dream about you sometimes
virgin…seminude…
I steal from you a chaste kiss by the moonlight
—And you’re Juliet…
In the voluptuousness of Andalusian nights
The fiery blood rolls in my veins…
I’m Don Juan!… Loving damsels,
You know my dirge on the guitar!
Over the love bed your breast shines…
I’ll die if I undo your mantilla
Your are Julia, The Spaniard

 

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