Fwd: English in Brazil

Margaret Lee mlee303 at YAHOO.COM
Sat May 26 08:22:15 UTC 2001

This is rather long but interesting.

> Rio Journal: Too Much English Is Spoken in Brazil, Some Say
> If Aldo Rebelo gets his way, it will soon be illegal for Brazilians
> to go to
> a
> "drive-in" for a "hot dog" and "milkshake," entrust their cars to
> "valet
> parking,"
> or invest their money with a "personal banker." The activities
> themselves
> will
> not be prohibited, mind you, just the use of the English-language
> terms by
> which they are commonly known here.
> Mr. Rebelo, a member of Congress, decided to take action after he
> took
> offense at the proliferation here of stores with English-language
> names,
> like "The Pet From Ipanema"; "Love, Sex and Money", a boutique;
> "World Top
> Lock"; "Fashion Mall"; "Bad Kid"; "Video Market"; and "Sweet Way".
> "Why should Brazilians have to feel embarrassed in their own
> country
> because they can't pronounce these names?" said Mr. Rebelo, a
> member
> of the Communist Party of Brazil.
> In a burst of what opponents disparagingly call "verbal
> nationalism," Mr.
> Rebelo is sponsoring legislation that would outlaw the introduction
> and use
> of foreign words in this nation of 170 million people. It was
> initially
> considered little more than a crank bill. The goal of his bill, he
> said, is
> "to
> boost the self-esteem of the people in relation to Portuguese and
> show
> them that it is not a language that is ugly, underdeveloped,
> backward or
> useless, as some people might imagine."
> Mr. Rebelo said he was particularly alarmed by the use of
> English-language
> terms in business and technology when "there are perfectly adequate
> Portuguese-language substitutes."
> Brazil has the largest computer and Internet industry in Latin
> America, and
> English-derived verbs like startar, printar, attachar or deletear
> and the
> nouns homepage, e-mail, site and mouse are standard usage.
> "I think he and the whole idea are nuts," retorted Ricardo Gouveia
> Botelho,
> a 28-year-old Web site designer shopping at a computer store. "We
> use those
> words because everybody in the world understands them. And what
> does he
> plan to do, send the language police to the office to bust us?"
> But the proposal was approved by the lower house of Congress on
> March 29,
> and business and advertising groups are lobbying intensely to
> defeat it in
> the Senate. The lower house passed the bill in an atmosphere of
> wanting to
> distract attention from a growing political corruption scandal, and
> it is
> not
> known when the Senate will get around to dealing with it. If the
> Senate
> passes
> the bill, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso will have to decide
> whether to
> sign it.
> Though French and Arabic have historically been the main sources of
> foreign
> words used in Portuguese, the language of Brazil, the initiative is
> clearly
> aimed at English, which Mr. Rebelo said he regarded as an
> instrument of
> "the economic and commercial hegemony of the United States."
> Businesses have already begun reacting as though they expect his
> bill to
> become law. Major banks have ended programs with names like Hot
> Money,
> Federal Card and Home Banking, while stores have begun taking down
> signs
> that advertise a "sale" or "20 percent off" and replacing them with
> others
> announcing a "liquidação." In a show of support for Mr. Rebelo,
> posters
> listing
> Portuguese-language substitutes for English words have gone up over
> this
> cosmopolitan city, which sets styles for the rest of the country.
> They were
> put up
> by the Movement for the Valuation of Brazilian Culture, Language
> and Riches,
> a
> nationalist group.
> But most language professionals maintain that the legislation is
> too extreme
> and that it underestimates the absorptive capacity of Brazilian
> Portuguese.
> Brazilians have proven so creative in adapting English to their own
> needs,
> in fact, that native speakers of English are often baffled by the
> usages
> they encounter here. To Brazilians a shower stall is a "box," a
> billboard
> is an "outdoors," to go jogging is to "cooper" (after a doctor who
> introduced
> it here), a razor blade is a "gilete" and the steroid-fueled weight
> lifters
> who
> pick fights in nightclubs are "pit boys."
> Taken literally, the measure would also appear to outlaw much of
> the
> vocabulary of soccer, the national sport, starting with the name of
> the
> game itself, "futebol", and including such terms as "gol" and
> "pênalti". But
> Mr.
> Rebelo said he was willing to grant an exception for words that had
> already
> been or were being assimilated into Portuguese.
> "We don't want to control the evolution of the language," he said.
> "What we
> want is to avoid abuses." And the best way to do that, he contends,
> is to
> punish violators with fines or by "sending them back to school for
> Portuguese classes."
> The legislation calls for the Brazilian Academy of Letters to
> determine
> which foreign words can be used legally, or as Mr. Rebelo puts it,
> "granted
> a residence visa," and which cannot. But the academy, which already
> sets
> the rules for spelling here, seems to have reservations about the
> expanded
> role envisioned for it.
> "The congressman's concern for the health of our language is
> praiseworthy,"
> said Tarcísio Padilha, president of the 40-member group. "But this
> problem
> is a cultural one of great complexity, and it seems to me to be
> more a
> matter for public debate than one which should be regulated by laws
> and
> decrees."
> Sérgio Nogueira Duarte, a professor of Portuguese who writes a
> weekly
> column on language for the daily Jornal do Brasil, said: "Foreign
> words are
> present in any language, and often for good reasons. To use the
> word
> 'dumping'
> for example, is better than wasting a whole line to explain in
> Portuguese
> that
> you are talking about selling a product below cost so as to damage
> a
> competitor."
> One reason Mr. Rebelo's proposal may be flourishing is Brazil's
> status as
> the only Portuguese-speaking country in the Western Hemisphere,
> which feeds
> a sense of isolation and fear that the language will be overwhelmed
> by
> others. The drive to protect Portuguese is not the only such
> movement.
> France has
> passed numerous laws in the last decade to try to protect the
> French
> language; in fact, Mr. Rebelo said his measure was modeled on
> those. Quebec
> also has passed laws to assure the supremacy of French.
> Portuguese may be the seventh most widely spoken language in the
> world, but
> outside Brazil it is the mother tongue of fewer than 50 million
> people, the
> bulk of whom live in five very poor countries in Africa —
> Mozambique,
> Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and São Tomé e Príncipe.
> As a result, there was a flurry of concern last year when Steven R.
> Fischer, an American linguist, predicted that "within 300 years
> Brazil will
> be
> speaking" a different language.
> That forecast came on the heels of a government decision to make
> the study
> of Spanish obligatory in Brazilian schools to help forge closer
> ties with
> the rest of Latin America, which often dismisses Portuguese as
> nothing more
> than "Spanish, badly spoken." "Brazil is surrounded by countries
> that speak
> Spanish," Dr. Fischer said in an interview with the newsmagazine
> Veja. "As
> commercial exchanges and contacts increase," he said, "there will
> be much
> pressure" to abandon Portuguese. "Due to the enormous influence of
> Spanish,
> it is quite likely that a type of Portunhol will emerge," he added,
> combining the
> Portuguese words for Portuguese and Spanish.
> In an effort to fortify the language internationally, Brazil has
> stepped up
> its financial support for the Community of Portuguese-Speaking
> Nations,
> created in 1996. The Brazilian government has also pushed for
> Portuguese to
> be used as an official language at the United Nations and taken the
> lead in
> trying
> to revive the use of Portuguese in East Timor, where use of the
> language was
> harshly restricted during 25 years of Indonesian rule.
> But Brazilians should not "feel threatened or go tilting at
> windmills on
> some sort of Don Quixote quest that doesn't make sense," Dr.
> Padilha
> counseled. "Any language is a living organism that is evolving, and
> our
> language, thank God, is one that has always shown a capacity to
> accept the
> foreign words it wants and to reject the ones that it doesn't
> want."

Margaret G. Lee, Ph.D.
Associate Professor - English and Linguistics
 & University Editor
Department of English
Hampton University, Hampton, VA 23668
e-mail:  mlee303 at yahoo.com  or  margaret.lee at hamptonu.edu

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