The revenge of the Portuguese colonies

More than 240 million people use Portuguese as their mother tongue, but to gain the global status that she deserves, the language of Pessoa doesn’t have to count on Portugal, but on Brazil.
Portuguese is the official language in ten countries, spread over five continents: Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea Equatorial, Mozambique, São Tomé and Principe, Macau and East-Timor. At estimate, more than 240 million have Portuguese as their mother tongue, which puts it to number six on the world ranking of most spoken languages. Today, more people speak Portuguese than French, German or Italian.
To gain the global status that she deserves, the language of Pessoa doesn’t have to count on Portugal, but on Brazil. In 2006 a Museum of the Portuguese Language opened in São Paulo. It is only the second one of its kind. First there was the Museum of Afrikaans Language in South Africa.

In South America, the dominant position of Brazil in Mercosur – the economic trade organization of South America – has lead to the inclusion of Portuguese in the school programs of Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Venezuela. In Uruguay it recently became an obligatory subject.

An extraordinary obstacle in the internationalization of Portuguese is the difference in writing between Portugal and Brazil. There are a lot of practical and financial reasons to deal with that, amongst others separate dictionaries and language manuals. From the 1980s onwards the Portuguese speaking community is negotiating a new uniformity in spelling. One of the renewals is for example the expansion of the alphabet of 23 to 26 letters. Finally there was an orthographic agreement, Acordo Ortográfico, in 1990.
Until now only three lusophonic countries have signed the agreement: Brazil, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Principe. Especially Portugal was hard to convince, although it recently promised to accept the new spelling. When the linguistic agreement is carried out, 1.6 percent of the vocabulary of Portugal will change, whereas for Brazil’s vocabulary only 0.45 percent will change. Portuguese linguists warn about the abrasileiração, a ‘brazilification’ of the written language.

Not all Portuguese take it that seriously. ‘Rediculous,’ is how the writer and Nobel Prize Winner José Saramago calls the language Puritanism of his compatriots. ‘I love my language the way I write her, but I can’t force 150 million people to accept my preference.’ Says Saramago. ‘Portuguese is not victimized like Hungarian, trapped between boundaries from which it can’t escape. We have to quit thinking that we own this language. The owners are those who speak the language.’

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