Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese

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By FLAVIO BRANDÃO-SILVA & MARCELO MODOLO*

The use of words from the Brazilian vocabulary in Portugal has caused controversy

“I like to feel my tongue brush Luís de Camões’ tongue / I like being and being / And I want to dedicate myself to creating confusions of prosodies / And a profusion of parodies / That shorten pains / And steal colors like chameleons […] What you want
What can this language? […]" (Caetano Veloso, Language)

the song snippet Language, by Caetano Veloso, used as the epigraph of this article, in a way reflects a little of the controversy that has occurred in recent weeks involving Brazilian Portuguese (BP) and European Portuguese (EP), the so-called “Portuguese from Portugal”. In an article published on 10/11/2021 in the Portuguese online newspaper Diário de Notícias, parents and educators are concerned about the fact that “there are Portuguese children who only speak 'Brazilian'”. Such concern suggests the belief in a supposed “Brazilian language”, which could “threaten” the integrity of European Portuguese. Here in Brazil, there was repercussion in the media.

According to the Portuguese publication, due to the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus, children have been exposed to content produced by Brazilian digital influencers and made available on online platforms for a long time. As a result of this exposure, they began to frequently use words and expressions from the BP lexicon: “They say grass instead of grass, a bus is a bus, candy is candy, stripes are stripes and milk is in the fridge instead of the fridge”. The issue divides the opinions of parents and specialists, since there are those who see the fact with concern and there are also those who believe that it is just a phase. As Grolla assesses, although children may suffer lexical influence, this would not actually lead to a change in the language, as this change would depend on deeper issues.

In any case, it is noteworthy that the use of words from our Brazilian vocabulary has caused such controversy. In reality, this situation leads us to reflect on some important issues, such as: the conception of language, the valuation attributed to languages, the fear of a colonialist movement in reverse through language, among others.

In the history of civilizations, disputes over territory and power led many people to war, as happened, for example, to the Greeks and Romans. Once a territory was conquered, both that territory and its population passed to the domain of the victorious people, who imposed their laws and their culture, including their language. In this sense, language is understood as an instrument of power and domination. The Alexandrian Greeks, fearing the “contamination” of their language by the influences of the speeches of subjugated peoples, began a process of standardizing Greek, based on the classic texts of vernacular literature, in order to maintain their own hegemony. It was no different among the Romans, given that Latin became the official language of all Roman colonies.

More recently, during the overseas expansionist process undertaken by the Portuguese and the Spanish, the languages ​​of these peoples were also imposed on their colonies. This process even contributed to the development of a standardizing movement for Portuguese and Spanish, which made these two languages ​​the first to have their grammars systematized. Here in Brazil, the definition of the standard norm, extracted from the Portuguese writing of the XNUMXth century, and its propagation as a model of linguistic correction contributed to highlight the prevalence of a socially prestigious group over another group, which, for not having access to goods cultures, or having restricted access to them, is stigmatized.

Those historical facts evoked here corroborate, therefore, that language is not restricted to being an instrument through which we interact with each other and communicate. There are relations of power and domination that are established through language, as well demonstrated by Pierre Bourdieu, in The economics of language exchanges.

In the episode related to BP and EP portrayed here, it is possible to observe that there is, firstly, a distorted view of what language would be. The article cites the use of elements from the BP lexicon, which, in fact, presents differences in relation to the EP lexicon, which is justified by the very formation of these two varieties. There is, however, no mention of the use, by Portuguese children, of morphosyntactic structures that were different from the European variant. This suggests that what is being understood as “Brazilian language”, or “speaking Brazilian”, are, only, lexical differences, which, by themselves, are not enough to characterize a language. We could only speak in different languages ​​if there were many differences at all levels of description (phonetic-phonological, morphological and mainly syntactic), which is not the case with BP and EP. Although with variations, the grammatical structure of the two linguistic varieties presents many more similarities than differences.

Variation is a natural characteristic of languages, as defined by William Labov, in the work Sociolinguistic patterns. Linguistic diversity comes from different uses, which are all legitimate and linguistically possible. It happens that, due to non-linguistic factors, such as the social class of the speakers, a variety can be prestigious or stigmatized.

Finally, it is worth adding an important point to this discussion: the concern that, somehow, the lexical variety of BP can “corrupt” the “purity” of EP. In the episode reported here, we noticed a rather negative valuation of “speaking Brazilian” by some. As portrayed, the lexical influence suffered by Portuguese children is threatening and harmful and, therefore, must be fought, as observed in the speech of a mother, quoted in the article: “His whole speech is as if he were Brazilian. […] Right now we are in a process of treatment as if it were an addiction”. They are evaluated as “bad” linguistic uses, due to the fact that they are from Brazil. There is in this question the fear of a possible colonization in reverse.

Perhaps, for some Portuguese, Brazil is still a colony of Portugal. In this case, it would be demerit that “the language of the colony”, in some way, tainted “the language of the metropolis”, as well as sedge (from the Tupi language). tiri'rika, according to Antenor Nascentes, gerund of tiri'ri, “drag yourself”) because it is a creeping plant that spreads and must be fought.

In fact, the lexicon is epidermal and would never transfigure the structure of a language. It just enriches it, contrary to what many might think.

*Flávio Brandão-Silva Professor of Linguistics at the State University of Maringá (UEM).

*Marcelo Modolo Professor of Philology at the University of São Paulo (USP).

Originally published on Journal of USP.

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