For years now the defenders of the French language, the Académie Française, have fought valiantly against the insidious contamination of French by English-language words and expressions. The Académie believes that French is rich enough not to need terms like "un briefing" (they prefer une réunion préparatoire), "prime time" (l’heure de grande écoute) and "éco-friendly" (respectueux de l’environnement), among many, many others. I once took quite an interest in that fight, but find myself tuning out the longer I live in Brazil. Of much more immediate interest to me are the Americanisms that are constantly popping up in Portuguese. These English words have their detractors here, too, and I’ll touch on the efforts being made in Brazil to contain the spread of English in next week’s blog. Today I’ll concentrate on the eagerness of regular Brazilians to receive these invaders with open arms.
Most Brazilians know that these adopted words come from English, but the words have so insinuated themselves into everyday usage that it doesn’t even seem to matter anymore. I enjoy tripping over them while reading some article or other: "numa sala cheia de objetos vintage," "o cover une todos os estilos," "carros para levar e trazer o staff," "para mim, é um hobby," and"empresas com know-how e experiênça." The list is enormous and ever-growing: sale, upgrade, test drive, check-up, offshore, hub, show, recall, hit, DJ, skate, chip, royalty, penalty, ranking, piercing, mouse, tablet, pen drive, site and personal trainer. In most cases there are Portuguese equivalents, but no one feels the need to use them.
But Mark and I have sometimes gone from being amused to being downright puzzled. There are some English words that are spelled and pronounced as if they were Portuguese, and many people don’t even know that they are from English. So it often takes those of us who are native speakers of English a few beats before we realize what’s being discussed. In this group we have "blecaute" (pronounced blehk-OUCH-ee) for blackout, "nocaute" (nauk-OUCH-ee) for knockout, "picape" (pick-AHP-ee) for pickup, and my all-time favorite, "raquear" (HAHK-ay-ar), to hack, though it took me quite some time to figure that one out, forgetting as I momentarily did that in Portuguese the initial "r" is pronounced like a hard "h."
There are also English words that are spelled the English way, but pronounced as if they were Portuguese. So when we just hear the word, instead of seeing it written, we really have no idea at first what’s being said since we’re not expecting to hear English in a Portuguese-language conversation. "Don’t buy a new bath cleaner," my cleaning woman tells me. "Just buy a HEE-fiu." A what? I desperately want to get her what she needs to clean, so . . . a what? HEE-fiu, HEE-fiu! I ask her to write it down. A refill! Oh . . . And while doing some new electrical wiring in the house, I remember being asked if we wanted a JIM-ehr. Here we go again . . . a what? JIM-ehr, JIM-ehr! We were in the electric supply store, so the electrician pointed the product out. Aha! A dimmer!
Another English word that’s been cropping up here of late is "bullying." Fine as long as it’s written in a newspaper article. But when it’s just pronounced, even enunciated carefully by a news anchor? Takes a while before the penny drops. You’ve got two "Ls" there in the middle, which in Portuguese are pronounced, but very, very softly, and the "y" and the final "g" are simply ignored. So what’s left? Something that sounds like BULH-eenh. I think that in this case the Brazilians might consider sticking to their very own "intimidação física e psicológica" — even though it lacks the punch that "bullying" packs!