Posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The differences in the Portuguese language spoken in Brazil and Portugal are roughly comparable to the differences between British and American English. While this may seem small, it’s important to address these differences when translating and interpreting the Portuguese language, for both practical and cultural reasons.
Pronunciation and Vocabulary Differences
As with British and American English, the greatest Portuguese differences stem from pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling.
Although the two styles of Portuguese are mutually intelligible, pronunciation varies. Brazilian Portuguese, for instance, is often noted for its more open pronunciation of vowels.
Vocabulary differences are also evident in the Portuguese spoken in Brazil and Portugal. As is the case with Spanish language differences found between Europe and Latin America, this is largely due to geography contributing to diverse influences. For instance, the word for “pineapple” in European Portuguese is “ananas,” similar to other European languages, including the German “Ananas,” French “ananas” and even the Hungarian “ananasz.” In Brazil, on the other hand, the Portuguese word for pineapple is the quite different “abacaxi.” The Brazilian Portuguese in this case was heavily influenced by native Amerindian languages of the region.
Spelling Differences and Steps Toward Uniformity
The spelling differences found in the Portuguese of Brazil and Portugal stem in part from the way words are pronounced in the two countries. Steps are being taken to bring the two types of Portuguese closer together, however — in terms of spelling at least. In fact, an orthographic agreement was established between Portuguese-speaking countries in an attempt to unify spelling of the language on a global level.
Brazil, which houses the largest number of native Portuguese speakers worldwide and was the first country where the reforms took effect, instituted the agreement on January 1, 2009. The reform consisted of multiple elements, including the addition of three letters (k, w and y) to the alphabet, and the removal of silent consonants so that words are spelled in a more phonetic manner. The word for “great,” for instance, changed from “optimo” to the simpler “otimo.” A number of accent marks were also eliminated from letters, further simplifying spelling.
Differences Still Matter to Translators and Interpreters
Despite the recently-instituted reforms toward greater Portuguese linguistic unity, translators and interpreters still need to differentiate between the Portuguese of Brazil and that of Portugal. One reason is that the orthographic reforms are still in a transitional state and not yet fully accepted: Portugal only accepted the reforms in 2010.
Differences in pronunciation remain and are unlikely to change, since dialects are so heavily influenced by geography. Even within Brazil, an enormous country, many different types of Brazilian Portuguese dialects can be found. Due to the Portuguese differences that continue to exist in Brazil and Portugal, it’s important to determine which variety of Portuguese is needed before hiring a translator or interpreter.