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Portuguese: Are there differences between the African, European and Brazilian formats of the language?

Portuguese, the sixth largest language in the world, is one of the most widely spoken languages in South America (Brazil – about 200 million mother tongue speakers) and Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe and Equatorial Guinea – about 50 million mother tongue speakers). According to estimates by UNESCO, Portuguese and Spanish are the fastest-growing European languages, after English, and the language has the highest potential for growth as an international language in southern Africa and South America.

Until the beginning of the 20th century Portuguese spoken in Portugal and Brazil had a standardised orthography (system for using a particular writing system to write a particular language such as rules of spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis and punctuation) was used. However, following the establishment of the Portuguese republic in 1911 there was a wide orthographic reform to the European version of Portuguese which was adopted and completely modified the face of the written language. Sadly, this reform was made without consulting with Brazil resulting in two entirely different orthographies.

In 1990 an attempt was made to bring all the Portuguese orthographies back to a standardized format where the proposal was to align the two major orthographical systems (Brazilian and European). In 2009 the new 1990 spelling reform went into effect in Brazil and Portugal, changing the rules of capitalization and hyphen usage, changing the diphthongs "éi" and "ói" into "ei" and "oi" and eliminated silent letters as in acção or óptimo, which are now spelled ação and ótimo.

In Portugal the change was signed into law on the 21st of July 2008, allowing for a 6-year transitional period, during which both orthographies will co-exist. The adoption of the new orthography will cause changes in the spelling of about 1.6% of the words in the European norm (also used in Africa, Asia and Oceania) and about 0.5% in the Brazilian norm.

Should clients translate their work into two different versions?

The short answer is that linguistically the two Portuguese versions are mutually intelligible and by the middle of 2014 the linguistic differences will be even fewer. However, the long answer is that a translation is not merely a linguistic representation of words, but rather speaking to the heart of a community (target audience) and their culture. Therefore, if you want to market your products in a specific target market it is always a good idea to localise your product into the local language taking into account nuances and characteristics.

The Language Inc. Team

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