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Portuguese goes Brazilian

From the International Herald Tribune, May 16 2008-

All the Portuguese speaking countries (Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé and Principe) have decided to standardise their spelling, based on the Brazilian standard. The main impact will be to remove silent letters from the standard spelling in Portugal.

For example, this will turn “óptimo” (great) into “ótimo” and “acção” (action) into “ação.” The new rules on hyphens and accents change “auto-estrada” (highway) to “autoestrada.” I suppose that “ideia” and “sinónimo” will become “idéia” and sinônimo too, since the accent rules are – should I say were? – different in Portugal too.

The IHT report wonders when Spanish and French will follow suit and standardise their languages, but the journalist has missed the point. The only thing being unified here is Portuguese spelling, and Spanish and French are already fully unified in this respect!

I feel a bit sorry for Portugal. I am not generally in favour of spelling reforms, which generally seem to cause far more problems than they solve. I have observed with amusement how much disruption Germany’s 1996 Rechtschreibreform has created and how little benefit.

This may have a small impact on translations. It is perfectly possible to produce Spanish and French translations which are readable everywhere those languages are spoken, though some compromises need to be made. This was a little more difficult with Portuguese because the spelling was clearly either European or Brazlilian. So now the only major cross-Atlantic language with two different spelling standards is English.

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