In spelling, anyway, according to this Diário de Lisboa post (in Portuguese), which says:

O português é a terceira língua ocidental mais falada, após o inglês e o espanhol. A ocorrência de ter duas ortografias atrapalha a divulgação do idioma e a sua prática em eventos internacionais. Sua unificação, no entanto, facilitará a definição de critérios para exames e certificados para estrangeiros. Com as modificações propostas no acordo, calcula-se que 1,6% do vocabulário de Portugal seja modificado. No Brasil, a mudança será bem menor: 0,45% das palavras terão a escrita alterada.
[Portuguese is the third most spoken Western language, after English and Spanish. Having two orthographies confuses the propagation of the language and its use for international events. Its unification will facilitate the definition of criteria for exams and certificates for foreigners. With the proposed changes, calculations show that 1.6% of the vocabulary will be changed in Portugal. In Brazil, the change will be less: 0.45% of words will have their writing altered.]

You can see the details of the changes there; the odd thing is that “Portugal keeps the acute accent on stressed e and o before m or n, while Brazil continues to use circumflex in such words: académico/acadêmico, génio/gênio, fenómeno/fenômeno, bónus/bônus.” You’d think if they were going to unify, they’d go all the way. But as Antonios Sarhanis, who sent me the link, says, “It must be that the Brazilians are as attached to their hats as you are to yours.” Thanks for the link and the laugh, Antonios!

Antonios provides an interesting aside: “Only about 2% of East Timorese speak Portuguese, but it’s East Timor’s official language along with Tetum… And to make matters more confusing for the East Timorese, there were reports that Finnish was being learnt in East Timor.”


  1. there were reports that Finnish was being learnt in East Timor

  2. The Finnish Plan for World Domination: At my URL.

  3. Some scholars think that Brazilian and Portuguese are so different in grammar as to actually be considered 2 different languages. Not being an expert myself, I can’t support the claim, but I do believe that the Acordo is but a step and that unification (if we ever come to such a thing in the rebellious means of communication that is spoken language) is still very far away (and probably not really useful). BTW, keep the “hat on”: great blog, congratulations.

  4. Books are often translated from Brazilian Portuguese to European Portuguese and vice versa, but in this native English speaker’s opinion, calling them two separate languages is overdoing it.
    Many of the famous soap operas that Brazil produces are exported to Portugal unchanged and Brazilian music tends to inundate the Portuguese market, so there is a greater understanding of Brazilian Portuguese in Portugal than there is European Portuguese in Brazil, but with some minor acclimatising, they can usually understand each other.
    Actually, if I remember correctly, Saramago refused to have his most recent book translated into Brazilian Portuguese.

  5. Portuguese is flourishing in Japan, of all places. Brazilians here number a quarter million and growing; most of them speak only a little Japanese. There are Portuguese-language newspapers and shopping areas where all the clerks speak Portuguese. A few of the Japanese clerks at the immigration office even speak Portuguese.

  6. michael farris says

    Differences between spoken American and European Portuguese are IINM more extensive than English or Spanish and important involve morphological and syntactic changes.
    This is partly hidden by the diglossic situation where a lot of the important changes in spoken Brazilian aren’t reflected in the writing.
    I was recently reading a Portuguese grammar and it seemed to me that on purely linguistic grounds, it would be easy to re-shape written Brazilian to make it more in line with speech and the result could easily be called a separate language. It would be extremely difficult for non-linguistic reasons of course.

  7. PaulD
    Portuguese is actually making a comeback, I’d guess. In James Clavell’s Shogun, the lingua franca among foreigners (and between them and some Japanese) was Portubuese.

  8. michael,
    good point about Brazilian diglossia. John Holm even went so far as to include Brazilian Vernacular Portuguese among partially restructured languages (i.e. semi-creoles).

  9. When I was studying Portuguese about 30 years ago, I was taught that Brazilian Portuguese had two quite different pronoun systems (specifically with regard to the respectful forms of the second person), an archaic one in the interior and a newer one in the cities. Whether either was the same as the European Portuguese system I can’t remember.

  10. Huh. I did not know that about Brazilian Vernacular Portuguese. This blog is a continuing education for me.

  11. whether european and brazilian portuguese are to be considered different dialects or languages depends on the definition or parameters you use. but certanly the differences are greater than between european and american spanish or european and american english. once i counted the differences in pronunciation of all the letters, and i cant remember the number exactly, but it was fewer than 5 for spanish, a bit mor than 10 in english and mor than 20 in portuguese.
    i guess the most basic difrence is that the portuguese drop lots of vowels and no consonant, wile brazilians hav a balance between silent vowels and silent consonants, so it doesnt sound like a slavic language, without vowels. brazilian portuguese sounds like something between french and italian, wile european portuguese sounds like polish or russian (or albanian!).
    wen i drove taxi in munich, i used to guess wat languages the passengers wer speeking, and wen they got off i askd them if i was rite. i usualy was, but once i thaut for a wile that it was polish or russian. however, after lissening to it for a wile, i concluded it can only be albanian. then i herd after 15 minnuts or so a noen word, and soon after anuther noen word – oh no, thats my muther tung! they wer portuguese…
    i guess the worst case for misunderstanding is “a bicha do cacete”, which meens a line/queue for buying bunnies in the bakery in portugal, but means a gay with a dick in brazil.
    the sintax differences between european portuguese and official brazilian portuguese aint that great, but there are great differences when it comes to “street brazilian”, what people really speak on the streets. there you’ll hardly find conjugations (except for the first person singular), the plural is only in the article (‘os cavalo marron’ instead of ‘os cavalos marrons’ (pronounsed /us ka’valu ma’hong/)), ‘eu vi ele’ (‘i saw he’, instead of ‘i saw him’), etc. but all these differenses arent officialy recognized, so most brazilians will tell u that this isnt good portuguese (even if thats the way they say it).
    by the way, the difference in económico and econômico is not a matter of love for the one or the uther “hat”, it is the fact that the portuguese pronounse thoze e’s and o’s open, which nevver occurs in brazil, where the vowel is always clozed before nazal consonants (m and n).
    i have no idea wen i wil revizit this blog, so if sum-one has a comment to make and wud like that i reed it, u shud rite to mi personal e-male adress too…
    hav a good day

  12. Thanks, ze — I love the taxi story!

  13. Terry Collmann says

    I would agree with ze that European Portuguese sounds “Slavic”, rather than “Romance”, at least to this Englishman’s ears . . .

  14. michael farris says

    Once I was housesitting for a friend (in Warsaw) when I came across a strange station on the cable lineup.
    There was some sort of domestic drama with European looking actors and I was trying to figure out what language they were speaking.
    My first thought was Russian when I saw the letters RTP on the screen but I couldn’t make out any words, then I thought … Turkish? Wait was that a latinate root? Maybe Romanian? It wasn’t until a break I realized it was from Portugal. It was humbling when I thought that I used to be pretty fluent in Spanish and once took an accelerated course in Portuguese (but Brazilian).
    After about a week of compulsive viewing I started to be able to work some of the dialogue out but it was tough going … European Portuguese is not for the phonologically fainthearted.

  15. Ze’s site is worth a look, especially for someone fluent in German.

  16. Eavesdropping on foreign-language conversations was a pastime of mine on the NYC subway, and it took me a humiliatingly long time to figure out someone was speaking European Portuguese. I’ve picked out Armenian quicker than that.

  17. michael farris says

    Last summer I was in Bulgaria for vacation in a tourist place (not my thing, I’ve decided).
    Anyway, I amused myself at times by eavesdropping on random conversations (is that Norwegian or Swedish? wait, where is that Hungarian coming from?)
    Several times I was stymied far too long by an odd sounding nasal drawl to be surprised that mystery language was some variety of British (I’m not sure if one or several) whose phonology (including intonation) was pretty distant from anything I’d encountered in life, media or linguistic description.

  18. I’ve always wondered how the British learn those difficult Monty Python dialects. You have to have a lot of respect for them.

  19. Ze’s site is worth a look, especially for someone fluent in German.

    … who’s okay with the extra work needed to decipher his individual and varying orthography.

    I’ve always wondered how the British learn those difficult Monty Python dialects. You have to have a lot of respect for them.

    My experience and understanding is that the Pythons didn’t learn those dialects any better than they did American English, which, if you speak the latter, will mean “not particularly well.”

  20. Andrew Dunbar says

    Actually, if I remember correctly, Saramago refused to have his most recent book translated into Brazilian Portuguese.
    I have a copy of A caverna which was published in Brazil but uses Portuguese orthography and there is a note in the front matter to say it was done this way at the request of the author if I recall correctly.
    And I have to say that I much prefer my British, Australian, and American novels to retain the orthography and regionalisms of the author or translator. The British Murakami novels I have read changed many American words to British words and you can sure feel it – yuck!

  21. michael farris says

    I dunno … I liked the punched up Americanized ‘Smilla’s Sense of Snow’ better than the British version ‘Miss Smilla’s Sense of Snow’ (was the Danish original title that … clunky?)
    I also liked the American title of the Miss Marple novel ‘What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!’ better than the original ‘4:50 from Paddington’ – which may have connotations for British readers that are lost for Americans.

  22. marie-lucie says

    Years ago (in France) I sat on a course in Portuguese for Spanish majors (which I was not). The course met on Saturday mornings, and every second Saturday the teacher brought a recording of a song – mostly from Portugal, but also from Brazil. Several years later, after I had moved to Canada, I heard a strange song on the radio: the words sounded as if someone had taken a French text, chopped it up into syllables and put the pieces back together at random. I was very puzzled: this could not be Canadian French, otherwise the sounds would be somewhat different but I would understand the words – this sounded like my own brand of French, but I could not understand a single word! The song seemed quite popular as I heard it on a number of occasions. One day I recognized one word: coraçao! (sorry, I forgot how to do the tilde). It was (I think) Carlos Jobim.

  23. Aidan, I was admiring the ability of simple illiterate peasants and coal miners to speak so quaintly, instead of lazily expressing themselves in a simple,natural way like normal people, and the extra effort they put in after a grueling day’s work to teach themselves these obsolete dialects.
    The Pythons are, of course, poseurs.

  24. Brazilian Portuguese is showing signs of turning into English!
    Essentially, it’s a much more isolating language than any of the other Romance languages.
    As Ze pointed out, eu vejo ele (I see he directly translated) is standard, but it’s also standard in print. The European Portuguese way, that would construct the phrase either as “o vejo” or “vejo-o” depending on its position in the sentence, is seen as archaic and far too formal.
    Now, because the subject pronoun is also used as as the object pronoun, the word order is extremely important to make sense of a Brazilian Portuguese sentence.
    The object pronoun therefore must always come after the verb in BP because it can easily get confused with the subject pronoun.
    “ele entende” can only be “he understands”, whilst “entende ele” can only be “he/she/it understands him”.
    This is more easily noticed in sentences like “I want to see you”, which in BP would be rendered as “quero ver voce”, whilst in EP could be either “te quero ver” or “quero ver-te”.
    The object pronoun though in BP can’t be changed from its position at the end of the verbs, because if it was placed before the verbs, it could possibly be confused with the optional subject pronoun.
    And if you notice, the sentence structure, subject pronoun-verb-object pronoun, of BP is the sentence structure of English.
    Furthermore, like French and English, BP is moving more and more towards always stating the subject pronoun. In EP, there are the following forms:
    eu + verb form (I)
    tu + verb form (you singular informal)
    ele/ela/voce + verb form(he, she, you singular formal)
    nos + verb form (we)
    vos + verb form (you plural informal)
    eles/elas/voces + verb form (they, you plural formal)
    In BP, “tu” is used only rarely, and “a gente”, especially in Sao Paolo, is being used instead of “nos”, so that the following is said:
    eu + verb form (I)
    ele/ela/voce/a gente + verb form (he, she, you singular, we)
    eles/elas/voces + verb form (they, you plural)
    So as a result of this, the subject pronoun becomes increasingly important to make sense of a sentence because the verb form is losing its power to distinguish the subject.

  25. michael farris said he herd somebody speaking and thought it must be swedish or hungarian, at the end he found out it was some variety of english. once i was listening to two guys in australia and trying to localize them linguistically. i went in my hed thru all european languages, but there was no similarity. still i thought it was indo-european, so i went down to asia and thought it must be persian, but then i herd one or another english word and concluded it must be a pakistani or indian language. i askd them, and they sed they’r from liverpool.
    i agree with antonios, brazilian portuguese it becoming a sort of “english” romanic language. by the way, eeven in the few reegions ware they say ‘tu’ insted of ‘você’ (usualy /se/), they tend to conjugate it like ‘você’ and the others: tu quer (not ‘tu queres’, you want), tu vai (not ‘tu vais’, you go). and the plural for vocês/eles is offen droppd too, especialy among the lower classes: ‘vocês querem café?’ is offen pronounced /seis kE ka’fE/, ware /kE/ stands for ‘quer’. thus yu end up with 2 basic forms: ‘quero’ for the 1st person singular and ‘quer’ for the rest. the mor edducated peeple dont say that, but thare arnt menny edducated peeple in brazil, and they’r a race in danger of extinction ennyway…
    stil not as radical as afrikaans, wich made of a conjugated dutch the single form like “ek is, jou is, hy is, ons is, julle is, hulle is”…

  26. since we’r at it, i’d like to ask u how u see this spelling i’m using heer:
    is it:
    very hard to reed?
    hard to reed?
    rather hard to reed?
    rather eesy to reed?
    eesy to reed?
    very eesy to reed?
    and do u think it is
    a catastrofic idea?
    a bad idea?
    a rather bad idea?
    a rather good idea?
    a good idea?
    a very good idea?
    and to no who likes or dislikes wat:
    ar u a very good speller?
    a good speller?
    a rather good speller?
    a rather bad speller?
    a bad speller?
    a very bad speller?

  27. michael farris says

    Eesy enuff for mee to reed, thank yu
    I was wonce a pretty good speller but I’ve gotten worse with age and not living in the US (I don’t no how much can bee blaimd on the latter (corrolasion is not causasion, after all)

  28. I’m a native Portuguese speaker and I couldn’t figure out what the characters in Meirelles’ Cidade de Deus were saying without subtitles…
    Also, despite thinking that it sounds a lot like Romanian, the most amusing description I found of what the Portuguese language (euro version) sounds like comes from a lonely planet phrasebook: “a drunken Frenchman trying to speak Spanish”.
    Regarding Japan: some Japanese words are derived from the Portuguese like tempura (seasoning/tempero) or syapon (soap/sabão). I suppose the inflow of Brazilians is giving birth to new ones.
    Despite being Portuguese, I always found the idea of using the umlaut (or whatever it’s called in english) pretty clever and dreamed of it being imported into my Portuguese. And now they’re dropping it. An example:
    Linguiça – you’re supposed to vocalize the u – leengooeessa.
    Português -You’re not supposed to vocalize the u – like in “Portuguese”.
    The clever brazilians use the umlaut on the words you’re supposed to read the u. Lingüiça. Handy.

  29. My (British) edition of the Smilla whodunnit is titled “Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow” which seems a fair translation of the Danish “Frøken Smillas Fornemmelse for Sne”. Whether the original is clunky, I couldn’t say – but I snow-ploughed my way through the English translation of that over-rated wodge of tosh with sinking heart as I realised that the book was never going to improve.
    On the Agatha Christie question, I’d say that the title “4.50 from Paddington” would give the average British reader a foretaste of plot (train) and time of day (evening probably drawing in). I’d suggest that perhaps Christie might have been playing on expectations of a readership familiar with the railway timetable school of detective fiction as exemplified by Freeman Wills Crofts (who incidentally died the year that book came out – 1957).
    Nothing to add on Portuguese though!

  30. David Marjanović says

    i askd them, and they sed they’r from liverpool.

    Oh yeah, those people. At long last they seem to have noticed what they’ve missed and are now belatedly catching up on the High German consonant shift: I’ve been told they’ve turned /p t k/ into [pP ts kx~xkx~x:]. Add h-dropping, and hook becomes [u:x:].
    BTW, great to read that there’s one movie title that was accurately translated into German! Fräulein Smillas Gespür für Schnee. (Erm… never mind that Fräulein is hopelessly outdated.)
    ze, your spelling is a bit hard to read. That’s because it’s inconsistent. If you want to make it phonemic, then do it. If you want to save time typing, then learn to touch-type with 10 fingers already. It’s not that hard.
    I consider myself a very good speller in English — because I’m geeky enough to understand both German ones (commas included, har har), and because I’m not a native speaker of English.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Ah, now I understand the title! English is moving closer and closer to monosyllabic Classical Chinese. Why else not spell out “lusitanophone”?

  32. marie-lucie says

    No doubt because the root of the word is lus- not lusitan-.
    The Latinate form Lusitania has the same suffix as Aquitania (the region of Southern France now known as Aquitaine), Occitania (the region of Southern France where the native speech, Occitan – before the official imposition of French from the North – used “oc” to mean “yes”) and also Mauritania (the country of the “Maures” or Moors). There might be other such words that I don’t know or remember, but all of these are of regions in Southwestern Europe and neighbouring North Africa.
    A famous Portuguese classical poet wrote an epic known as the Lusiades, again with the root lus- which must be part of the ancient name of the inhabitants of Portugal.

  33. My interest in Portuguese was first piqued after I lived for a few months in Macau. Many signs are in Portuguese (it seems to be legally required) and you will also run into Portuguese speakers in the lifts, sounding like Slavic speakers as others have pointed out.
    Apparently many Portuguese have come back to Macau, having left after the handover, and quite a few have cushy well-paid jobs in the public service, to the resentment of the local (Cantonese-speaking) Chinese. As far as I know a little Portuguese is taught in schools, but it’s hardly a widely-spoken or useful language — as a foreign language, English is much more popular!
    There is apparently a local creole but I’ve never heard it. The true Macanese are not terribly numerous and appear to have been swamped by Cantonese-speaking Chinese, many of whom have come from the Mainland in quite recent times.

  34. “(Erm… never mind that Fräulein is hopelessly outdated.)”
    But so is the danish “frøken” -probably more so, as Sietzen and Dutzen went out of danish linguistic fashion decades ago. In danish the title doesn’t sound clunky as much as quaint because of it.

  35. goes into detail on the differences.
    ‘Incidentally, a marked fondness for enclitic and mesoclitic pronouns was one of the many memorable eccentricities of former Brazilian President Jânio Quadros, as in his famous quote Bebo-o porque é líquido, se fosse sólido comê-lo-ia (“I drink it [liquor] because it is liquid, if it were solid I would eat it”)’
    ‘”MacDonald’s”, for example, is rendered [makiˈdõnawdʒi], and the word “rock” is rendered as [ˈhɔki]… this makes BP have a phonology that strongly favors open syllables, as in Japanese.’

  36. david,
    my use of the house stile of the Simplifyed Spelling Society is consistent, but wen i’m new in a group i tend to start from TS (traditional spelling) and cut/insert the necessary A’s in the first sentence, B’s in the seccond, etc, until Z. it is not fonetic, it just cuts redundant letters, reggularizes short and long vowels and spels f for /f/. but i kant imajin that it is mor difikult too reed than a mor or less fonetik speling liek Nu Speling, for instens, sins it just chaenjes 20% ov the werds insted ov 60%. havving a sensible spelling isnt only a matter of riting faster, it is a matter of lerning to spel much faster, lerning to pronounce words (a big problem for foreners, but also for english speeking kids and eeven for edducated adults (eeven they pronounce hundreds of words the rong way, but usualy they dont no it)).
    … and not to forget janio quadros sentence “fi-lo porque qui-lo”, a sentence most brazilians wouldnt understand.
    brazilian portuguese has like japanese a prefrence for open sillables, but as in japanese menny vowels ar “def” (thus in japanese truck becums torakku, but this word can be pronounced trak as wel). wether the vowels ar ritten or not, brazilians need “suport-vowels”, wich tend to be “def” (u hav the intention to pronounce them, but then u dont realy do it, stil the preceeding consonant keeps the “cullor of the vowel” – “copo” is usualy /kOp(u)/, wich meens that the u isnt utterd but the P has a U-cullor). so it dusnt matter wether u spel ‘sport’ or ‘esporte’, the pronunciation wil be /(i)spOrtsh(i)/. u can pronounce the vowels cleerly, def or absolutely silent, nobody wil notice ennything rong with your pronunciation. a brazilian that starts lerning german mite say ‘pack’ as /paki/ and in the next sentence ‘blume’ (/blumE/ or /blum@/) as /blum/. it just depends on the hurry and the branes mood and the situation in the sentence.
    if mcdonalds ended with a d, (mdconald) it would be /mak(i)donawdzh(i)/, but ‘ds’ or ‘ts’ tend to keep together, thus /mak(i)donawds/ or /mak(i)donawts/. like the citty of santos, wich usualy becums /sânts/, or the number 200 (duzentos), wich becums /dzents/. altho agen /ts/ has the U-cullor, so u just say /ts/ but with a closed mouth as if u wer saying an /u/.
    thats how i see it, altho the term “def” isnt mine, i red the term “def vowel” in a portuguese-sumthing dictionary.
    and the sentence “acho que você está louco” can be pronounced /sh k s ta lok/…

  37. marie-lucie says

    about “def” vowels:
    Last night I saw the beautiful film Mahaleo, made in Madagascar and giving a picture of the country through following this fantastic group of very popular musicians, most of whom have other careers (there are several doctors among them). Most of the talk and all of the songs were in Malagasy, with some of the dialogue in French, and the whole thing was subtitled in English. I had never heard Malagasy spoken, but Malagasy names as written tend to be very very long, and it was a surprise to hear short words (two or at most three syllables) corresponding to the long strings of letters shown on the screen. As a not quite typical example, the name of the group, Mahaleo, which came up frequently, sounded like “malio”. No doubt the long words can be pronounced as such when speaking very slowly, but most of the vowels seem to be elided in pronunciation. I now understand why the French name of the language (and people) is malgache, as this is what the word Malagasy sounds like (but the sy is similar to shi in Japanese).
    The film, made in 2004 by a French-Belgian-Malagasy team, seems to have limited distribution but it is really worth seeing if you get a chance, whether your interest is music (very beautiful songs) or Madagascar (a word in which all the vowels were pronounced, ending with a strong rolled r).

  38. David Marjanović says

    my use of the house stile of the Simplifyed Spelling Society is consistent

    Your use of i and y in this half-sentence is not consistent.

  39. Those soft Japanese u’s and i’s are referred to as “devoiced” (I’m linking Wikipedia article from my signature below)

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