Brazil Ditches Portuguese and Adopts Brazilian as Official Language

Portugal's royal family arrives in Rio, Brazil, in 1808 When Brazil's President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, marks Independence Day on September 7 he will announce that the country intends replacing Portuguese as its official language with its own language to be known as Brazilian. 

The move, highlighted in a recent cover story by the magazine Carta Capital, which is known to be close to the Lula administration, will shortly be announced by Brasí­lia and reflects a widespread view that the language spoken in Brazil is so far removed from that spoken in Portugal that it is best to accept the obvious and declare linguistic independence.

It also brings to the surface a deep resentment by many Brazilians against the Portuguese whom they believe exploited Brazil's natural resources and gave nothing in return. 

The events marking the 200th  anniversary this year of the arrival of the Portuguese royal family in Rio de Janeiro to escape Napoleon's army highlights for many Brazilians how their country eventually overshadowed Portugal in terms of its importance.  

While magazines and television have been celebrating the event, others have complained that it is of no relevance to modern Brazil. 

"Why should we be marking the arrival of a bunch of parasites who only came here because they were not brave enough to stay at home and defend their country against the invaders? Instead of fighting the enemy, they jumped on English ships which took them to Brazil and in return they gave the English exclusive rights to exploit Brazil's resources," said Solange Civeta Mesquita, Professor of Brazilian history at the University of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Ms Mesquita is widely respected abroad and won a Pulitzer prize for her 10-part series on Brazilian independence which appeared in the New York Times in 2000 to mark the 500th anniversary of the "discovery" of Brazil.  

"Look how the Dutch developed the part of Brazil they held for 20-30 years – building canals in Recife, establishing schools and bringing skilled technicians to undertake technical projects instead of using the country as garbage dump for convicts, as the Portuguese did," she added.  

Brazilians and Portuguese regularly complain about how badly the others speak what is supposed to be a common language. Brazil's popular soap operas, known as novelas, are shown all over the world with subtitles – even in Portugal since the Portuguese can barely follow what the Brazilians have done to their language.

In turn, Brazilians find the Portuguese spoken in Portugal to be antiquated, creaky and quaint. The Portuguese are the butt of a million jokes and if any Brazilian wants to win a cheap laugh all he has to do is imitate a Portuguese.

Lula himself is a perfect example of how Brazilians have taken the language and changed it to suit their ends, regardless of laws of grammar and pronunciation. Lula is often accused of not even speaking Portuguese.  

Wilberto Bloch, a Brazilian who teaches Latin America linguistics at John Hopkins University, says: "The Brazilian snobs who make this complaint about Lula – generally from São Paulo – do not realize that the language he speaks is separate from the one they were taught at school with its references to Camões and Eça de Queiroz."     

This is one of the reasons why Lula is believed to be particularly keen on the idea of declaring linguistic independence, Bloch claims. "Lula is originally from the interior of the Northeastern state of Pernambuco and knows that the language he speaks has developed from its surroundings in a vast disparate territory which covers half of South America and not a tiny sliver of coastline thousands of miles away huddled along the Atlantic," he said.   

Brazilian Portuguese not only reflects a language which was developed by people who were not Portuguese – Indians, Africans and the great mixture of people which have made Brazil one of the most racially-mixed countries in the world – but who also had dozens of Indian languages to provide "le mot juste," particularly for their natural surroundings. 

The strength of this natural language is seen in the fact that around 30% of the language spoken in Brazil has indigenous or African roots, says Diego Haldebrecht Santini Frias from the linguistic department of the University of Paraná whose own name shows his German, Italian and Portuguese ancestry.

He thinks it is time for Portuguese to be scrapped and says that if history had gone the other way the national language would have been the Indian language Tupi. He recalls how his own grandfather, the son of German immigrants to southern Brazil, conversed in various German dialects as did everyone else in a predominantly German areas. Most people barely spoke Portuguese. His great grandmother was Italian and never learned Portuguese. 

"It was the fascist dictator Getúlio Vargas who stopped German, Italian and Japanese schools teaching in their native languages and enforced Portuguese on a large number of people. This was done when Brazil entered the war on the side of the Americans. If this had not happened, Brazil would be a multilingual country. In hindsight, it would have been better if he made everyone learn English."

A different view comes from Mauro da Silva Pereira who helped establish the Museum of the Portuguese Language which opened in São Paulo two years ago and has been a great success with Brazilians.

"Of course there are many differences. That happens anywhere. Look at the different varieties of English spoken in the US, Canada, Australia and even among the English themselves. Remember "My Fair Lady" which is all about different ways of speaking what is supposed to be the same language," he said. "Portuguese is the language of Brazil and Brazil is the language of Portuguese. I admit I may be biased as I am Portuguese."

The change will require an alteration in the Constitution but the government is certain that it will win the three-fifths majority required. The debate is likely to be interesting since some politicians, such as Senator Eduardo Suplicy of São Paulo who is an avid Anglophile, thinks Brazil should adopt English since it is the global language.

"My favorite song is Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and I would love it to be Brazil's national anthem," he said. "Wouldn't be great to speak a language that the whole world understood instead of an obscure tongue that no-one has ever heard of?"

Gilberto Gil, the culture minister, who is one of Brazil's best-known singers and attended ceremonies marking the arrival of the Portuguese royal family, was also laid back about the idea. When I spoke to him by telephone over the Easter period and asked him what he thought of the idea of scrapping Portuguese, he replied in excellent English: "Cool dude. Way to go!"

Gil's contemporary Caetano Veloso is fluent in English and spent some time living in London during the military dictatorship when he even wrote one of his most famous songs in English "London London". I managed to have a brief word with him before he left on a European tour and asked him what he thought.

"You know I'm a mulatto from Bahia. You might not think so but if you compare my eyes with Gil's you'll see that mine are darker. I think I have a greater affinity for playing the guitar and dancing than he does but, at the same time, I have a kind of melancholy which Gil doesn't have and I think I got that from my European ancestors who were probably Portuguese. I would be happy to say goodbye to Portuguese because it is a sad, heavy language that does not fit in with our temperament. Let's be Brazilian and speak and sing Brazilian!"

Model Giselle Bündchen, who lives in New York, and is of German origin said having Brazilian as a language made sense. "After all, if the Germans speak German, the English English and the French French why shouldn't Brazilians speak Brazilian?" 

TV personality Luciana Gimenez, best known abroad for her affair with Mick Jagger, said: "I speak six languages fluently. This means I can now add another and tell everyone I speak seven."       

Portugal is understandably upset but, faced with an offspring of Brazil's size, there is nothing it can do. At least it can take some comfort that one of the world's smallest and most wretchedly poor nations – East Timor – decided to have Portuguese as it official language when it became independent from Indonesia.

April Fool's! Interviews, author, and much of the info are ficticious.

Fulton Phillipson is Professor of Semantics at the Inuit University of Manitoba, Canada. He has identified 250 separate indigenous languages and written a number of books including "Tupi or Not Tupi – Finding an Indigenous Brazilian Language", "Toppling the Tower of Babel", "Phonemics and Classicism in Creole Speech in the Caribbean", and "Sexism in Language – Language in Sexism". He has also written about the discrimination practiced against Brazil's population of Eskimo/Inuit descent.


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