Portuguese

Where is the problem in using the term “Portugal’s Portuguese?” 

It may be an odd expression for my English-reading public, but there is such a thing, as we need to differentiate our dialect from the variations existent in the former colonies.

I cannot point out an obvious and concrete problem with the term. However, I have the intuition that using it is a little wrong.

There is a small voice in the back of my head that says: it sounds a bit nationalistic. That voice tells me: use “European Portuguese” instead.

But is it really so problematic, declaring a language variant as belonging to a country?

Perhaps this is a sensitivity peculiar to me, but I associate the term “European” with a certain pretentiousness. After all, nobody calls the Portuguese spoken in Brazil “South American Portuguese.” In Europe, there is only one country where Portuguese is the official language – and it is Portugal!

I don’t feel uncomfortable saying “Brazilian Portuguese.” In fact, it bothers me more to say that a person speaks or writes in “Brazilian.”

A Brazilian is a person from Brazil.

“Speaks Brazilian” is like saying that someone “speaks like a Brazilian.”

This way of saying it implies a comparison and a comparison implies a value judgment.

Language is a changing thing. The original is original; originality is something of value. We like original things because we recognize a certain merit, an inalienable quality. An act of creation “from nothing” is a divine act.

Of course, the Portuguese language did not come “from nothing.” It evolved from a rich lineage of dialects that have mixed and unmixed over a hemisphere-spanning spoken and written journey. But such a language has its own flavor.

On the other hand, the variant also has merit, it has its own, different qualities. Brazilian Portuguese is more experimental, with its incorporation of indigenous and English words.

It is a language that has recovered a little of the passion and musicality that Portugal’s Portuguese lost when diverging from its Iberian relatives.

“Amo-te” (I love you) emphasizes the verb to love.

“Te amo” (rather more awkwardly translated directly to “you-I-love”)  emphasizes the subject.

It is a more personal, less formal dialect.

And perhaps the distinction is becoming increasingly irrelevant. When I was twenty years old, I had never met a person from Brazil. I had only heard Brazilian Portuguese in soap operas.

Fifteen years later, I had already worked with many Brazilians. The dialect became such a part of my daily life that I found myself mixing the two types of Portuguese with some frequency.

I don’t like 1990’s orthographic agreement, I never did. I have a natural aversion to the idea that institutions can tell me how to speak or write. As for the natural and organic development of the language, I have the greatest respect and admiration.

Over the years, as we all get richer, we find it easier to travel. On the other hand, the world is turning more digital by the day. The result is that the various language variants start to become consolidated.

Perhaps one day, this essay will be irrelevant.

Maybe that day is coming, the day of a single, unified Portuguese language.