04 November 2013

Americanisms in Portuguese (Part 2)

Last week I talked about the English words and expressions that have been seeping into the Portuguese language, and which have been warmly embraced by most Brazilians. But don’t think it’s all moonlight and roses. Plenty of Brazilians find themselves on the other side of the linguistic divide, wishing these estrangeirismos, as they are called, could be extinguished once and for all. But unlike in France, where this fight is valiantly fought by the august Académie Française, the Academia Brasileira de Letras keeps mostly to its mission of promoting Brazilian literary arts. The Academia may be the paramount authority over the Portuguese language, but it has no legal oversight. That job has been turned over to politicians.

Aldo Rebelo
One politician in particular, Aldo Rebelo, has sunk his teeth into efforts to ban the English-language interlopers with a certain gusto. Back in 1999, while serving in the lower house of the Brazilian Congress, he proposed legislation to prohibit the use of foreign words in all official government documents and requiring that businesses using foreign words or expressions in ads and on Web sites, etc., also provide the Portuguese translation. The proposed law has slowly wound its way through the system, and seems to have been approved at some level in 2008. But I can’t swear to where things stand right now. If such a law was passed and published at the national level, no one told me. (However, as the current Minister of Sports, Rebelo has succeeded in getting his staff to substitute rede mundial de computadores for "internet," portal or sítio for "site," and informações para imprensa for "release" in all Ministry documents. That must be a relief to him.)

In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, legislation approved in 2011 now requires all official documents or communications to include a Portuguese translation of any foreign word or expression used. However, because the law did not include fines for non-compliance, most observers feel that in the long run the law won’t stick. And in the city of Rio de Janeiro, a similar law was approved in 2009 (with fines included). A judge overturned that law in 2011, alleging that the city’s legislators had overstepped their jurisdiction. For a short time, though, shopping mall storefronts were so covered with words: "Sale! Liquidação! Discounts! Descontos! Reduced prices! Preços reduzidos!" that you couldn’t see the products.

Will all this lawmaking and anti-estrangeirismo finally take hold? Given the long history of how languages have infected and affected and enriched each other, I doubt it. Here’s a cartoon that confirms with lots of good humor why such prohibitions usually backfire. (Translating the cartoon will ruin the joke. But anyone with a modicum of romance language in them will get it.)

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