“It makes no difference whether it is Brazilian or European Portuguese”

10 05 2013

REALLY? I read this on an e-mail from a prospect client today and literally felt like crying. Basically, the client was saying that there is a difference when translating into these two languages, but not from either of them into a third language. Again, really?

Hence, I have decided to settle the issue once and for all! Brazilian and European Portuguese, or other variants (I have heard African Portuguese) are so-called because they ARE very different. Firstly, let’s put it into perspective. Listen to about 1 minute of each video below to have a feel for the languages:

Brazilian Portuguese

European Portuguese

They sound very different don’t they? In fact, they are more different than different accents in English speaking countries and it can be hard even for native speakers to understand their non-native variant.

Next, there are vocabulary differences, such as:

English Brazilian PT Portugal PT
Can opener abridor tira-cápsulas
Butcher’s açougue talho
Flight attendant (female) aeromoça hospedeira de bordo
Workbook apostila sebenta
Candy bala rebuçado
Bathroom banheiro casa de banho
Box caixa, caixinha boceta (this in PTBR is equivalent to the “C” swear word)
Panties/ knickers calcinha cueca (This in PTBR is the word for men’s underwear)
Identity Card carteira de identidade bilhete de identidade
Driver’s license carteira de motorista carta de condução
Mobile/cell phone celular telemóvel
Convertible conversível descapotável
Pedestrian Crossing faixa de pedestres passadeira
Line/cue fila bicha
Fridge geladeira frigorífico
Stapler grampeador agrafador
Comic história em quadrinhos banda desenhada
Injection injeção pica
Socks meias peúgas
Bus ônibus autocarro
Pedestrian pedestre peão
Bus Stop ponto de ônibus paragem
Private tutor professor particular explicador
Sandwich sanduíche sandes
Ice cream sorvete gelado
Juice suco sumo
Train trem comboio
Shop window vitrine montra
Saucer xícara chávena

Source: SO Portugues

Grammar, orthography and general writing are also different. So different, in fact, that in 1990, Portuguese Speaking countries signed an orthographic agreement in an attempt to align/unify the rules for written Portuguese across Portuguese speaking countries. In addition to unifying language, the aim of the agreement was to improve cultural exchange, reduce the economic cost of book production and translations, and promote bibliographic exchange between these countries. This has been met with such controversy that it was due to become obligatory from 2008 and now, at least in Brazil, its obligatory enforcement has been postponed to 2016 – i.e. both the old and the new grammar and orthography rules are currently acceptable in Brazil. Source: Brasil Escola

The aforementioned differences are naturally significant, but the most significant difference is a lot more subtle – i.e. culture. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, Portugal, Mozambique, Angola, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Equatorial, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe and Macau. All of these countries harbor very different cultures that are reflected in how the language is spoken and, more importantly, how meaning is construed through language. This is particularly true in technical fields, legal and medical terminology is completely different in Brazil and Portugal, because there are different regulations and practices in place.

Most opponents of the orthographic agreement argue that you couldn’t possibly contain all these different manifestations within a single set of rules. One couldn’t possibly contain such a fluid language spoken in such vibrant cultures in a unified grammar book.

Back to the business of translations, it is easier for native Portuguese speakers to learn variants of Portuguese other than their native ones than learning a new language. However, this learning is not automatic and requires cultural awareness. If a translator is not knowledgeable about the culture where the source Portuguese file is from or intended Portuguese translation is targeting, there are bound to be misunderstandings! My advice: always look for an expert on the specific variant of Portuguese being used in your project.