Did You Know
Did you know that Portuguese is spoken in 8 countries - Angola, Brazil, Cape
Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé e Principe?
However, due to the many immigrant influences and the distance, both spoken and
written Brazilian Portuguese is distinctly different from the European Portuguese
used in the 7 Portuguese-speaking countries across the Atlantic.
So, in dealing with clients requesting a Portuguese translation, be sure to ask the
target country or countries. There is no such a thing as "neutral" Portuguese; it's
either European or Brazilian. So, if your client wishes to reach all Portuguese
speakers, the optimal solution is to offer translation in both European and Brazilian
Read the article below to learn more about the differences between the two Portuguese
languages. It was originally published in the American Translators Association Conference
Annual Proceedings of 1988, and is reprinted with permission.
Portuguese Languages: What is the difference?
By Mario D. Ferreira
Keywords: Brazilian Portuguese, Lusitanian or Continental Portuguese, Portuguese Orthography
and Accents. Abstract: Mark Twain referred to England and the United States as two countries
separated by the same language. There are obvious differences in written and spoken Portuguese
as used in Brazil and Portugal. As translators of the written word, we shall deal here only with
textual communications as we might encounter them in our daily work. What with Brazil's
present-day problems - including many thousands of its citizens emigrating to the "old continent"
and exposing the average "lisboeta" to the "other" Portuguese; Portugal's entry into the European
Common Market and expansion of its manufacturing and export capabilities; cultural exchanges,
including more recently in the area of TV programs, it would appear that we shall see some
narrowing of those differences in the future. Through the years various attempts have been made
between the two countries to arrive at a uniform "Vocabulário Ortográfico da Língua Portuguesa"
and, although both the Brazilian Academy of Letters and the Academy of Sciences of Lisbon have
agreed to a mutually acceptable "orthographic vocabulary" (1940 & 1942), this has not yet come
about in practice. Fortunately the "problem" is not catastrophic and we can "live with it", just as we
do with British and American English and to some degree Castilian and Mexican Spanish, or even
continental and Canadian French. It is important, then for translators handling texts intended for
either or both Brazil and Portugal to be aware of such differences / and orthographic variations.
1. WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?! Unlike many who perhaps were either brought up or
learned the language in a Brazilian environment or with Brazilian teachers, as
opposed to a continental-Portuguese environment or teachers, the writer first
encountered this "problem" at a very early age, the son of Brazilian and Portuguese
parents. My first Portuguese grammar and geography books were those that Dad
had brought with him from Brazil. Through the years, however, Mom appeared to
have exerted more influence with her Lusitanian Portuguese and, to this day my
"sotaque", or accent, sounds more 'lisboeta" than "carioca". Still, in those days, I
knew that when Dad said "Dou-lhe uma coça!" or Mom would threaten me with
"Chego-te a roupa à pele!" it would mean one thing: I was about to get a thrashing!
Later, as a professional translator. I encountered the Brazilian/
continental-Portuguese "problem" more seriously, when I became editor of
"Automobilismo", a Portuguese trade magazine with readers both in Brazil and
Portugal (and "overseas provinces", of course). What with Brazil's having been the
leading importer of U.S. automotive parts at the time, there was no question but that I
would have to slant the text to the Brazilian market, e.g.: freio or breque and not
"travão" (for "brake"); carroceria rather than "carroçaria" (for "[car] body"); etc. Over
the course of some 30 years as translator and manager of RCA's Translation
Services, the writer has handled some interesting Portuguese translation projects
and, of course, most of them intended for Brazil. In each case (involving millions of
dollars!) Brazilian terminology (state-of-the-art if you could find it!) and orthography
had to be used.
My "baptism of fire" at RCA was the NOVACAP system, a microwave hookup between
Rio de Janeiro and Brazil's new capital, Brasilia; later, in 1972, the installation and
inauguration of color-TV in the country, and, more recently, SATELBRAS (or
BRAZILSAT in English), the satellite-communications system. Many were the
instances in which, with the collaboration of Brazilian engineers, we were called upon
to coin terminology that was nonexistent and - I'm proud to say - some 95% or more
were legitimate Portuguese terms and not French or English borrowings (taking
today's "computerese" as an example, how is one to avoid English words such as
"software" and "hardware"?!). More recently, our one-year-old Metro-New-York
Portuguese Translators Group consists of Brazilians, "middle-of-the-roaders" such as
myself, and "Lusitanians".
We have discussed the question of differences between Brazilian and continental
Portuguese and have even helped one another out in converting translations from
Brazilian to European Portuguese. This, by the way, having been the "germ" for the
present paper and presentation. In my own case, at Lumar Translations, when doing
texts into Portuguese for clients, the first question we ask is whether the intended
audience is Brazilian or continental Portuguese ."The question usually surprises a
news client, but then, following the appropriate explanation, they appreciate the
A recent important translation was being directed to officers and other employees of
a US company with facilities both in Brazil and Portugal. The client was somewhat
surprised when we suggested there be two versions-one for Brazil and the other for
Portugal, but they accepted the reality of the matter and were appreciative of our
alerting them to the "problem". To be sure, continental or Lusitanian Portuguese is
easily read in Brazil and, conversely, Brazilian Portuguese is "acceptable" in Portugal
- with an occasional raising of eyebrows, of course - but for important business,
technical, legal or sales-promotion translations it is quite important to address the
reader in the local idiom.
2. SOME BACKGROUND AND CONSIDERATIONS The Treaty of Tordesilhas, dating
back to 1494, set the boundaries for Portuguese and Spanish colonization in the
Americas, with Brazil taking the easternmost part of the continent. When it later broke
away from Portugal in 1822, Brazil found itself surrounded by Spanish-speaking
neighbors. Add to that the influx of other Europeans, including Italians, and we have
a good basis for "outside" influences.
Take the case of pronoun placement, as in the Brazilian "Me dê esse livro, por
favor." Italian being the only Romance language placing the pronoun before the verb
in the imperative, it appears likely to be the origin of such a construction. A
Lusitanian prefers using the traditional "Dê-me esse livro..."
Differences in sentence structure and phraseology are worthy of a more detailed
review, so we shall devote ourselves here to spellings, accents and word usage. With
so many Spanish-speaking neighbors, there's a good possibility that the Brazilians
saw merit in adopting more of the open vowels so characteristic of those countries'
very phonetic language, rather than the more varied vowel pronunciation of
continental Portuguese, from the 'uh" of a closed a to the "oo" of a closed o; also, as
for consonants, the more sibilant s to the heavy "zh" of continental Portuguese, more
pronounced in the southern provinces.
3. WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE?!
There are several aspects to the "problem" of differences between Brazilian
Portuguese and continental Portuguese. First and foremost is the one of geography,
with a big ocean separating the two countries. Is it any wonder that, particularly
in the technical fields, there are important differences in spelling and word usage,
with continental Portuguese in some cases borrowing terms from nearby France, the
source in years past of cultural and technical innovations. Here are a just a few
There's a clear analogy between the foregoing differences and those between British
and American English, e.g.: the British "bonnet" for the American "hood" (on a car,
that is!), a "spanner" for a "wrench", and "windscreen" for the American "windshield";
likewise, divergent spellings such as "colour" for our "color", "tyre" for "tire" and
"cheque" for "check" and so on down the line.
3.1 Mind your "c"s and "p"s One of the most frequently occurring differences
between Brazilian and continental Portuguese spelling is the "superfluous" c or p in
Portugal (or, depending upon your viewpoint, the "missing" c or p in Brazil). The
man-on-the-street in Lisbon, on hearing a Brazilian visitor say: "É um fato bem claro"
may think that the São Paulo visitor is referring to a light-colored suit. Then again, a
knowledgeable Lusitanian would know that the Brazilian would not say "fato" for suit
but "terno" instead. So the Brazilian is really saying "It's quite a clear fact."
The question of the c and p has apparently been a thorny one in the discussions of
uniform orthography between the two Academies. The Lusitanian is quite adamant
about their use, while the Brazilian doesn't care for them. Etymologically they have
come down through the decades and, as a matter of fact, their use is still prevalent in
the other Romance languages. In continental Portuguese they are not always
pronounced. So, the Brazilian asks, why use them? The Lusitanian may not
pronounce them but they do serve to maintain the a, e or o open where, otherwise,
they would be pronounced as closed vowels. Here are some examples:
The Brazilian apparently feels that, since his/her pronunciation of the a, e or o is
already open in such cases, there is no need for a traditional c or p, particularly
when it is not pronounced at all. There are cases, however, in which use of the c or p
occasionally prevails in Brazil or the choice is up to the writer, to wit: aspe(c)to,
cará(c)ter, ó(p)timo, respe(c)tivo, etc. In all such cases the c or p is indeed used in
3.2 About those accents There are divergent views, too, in the matter of use of
accents and diacritical marks. In Brazil, the vowels a, e or o in an antepenultimate
syllable followed by an m or n take a circumflex (Antônio, econômico, prêmio) while in
Portugal the same words would have an acute accent (António, económico, prémio).
Where the Brazilians use the acute accent on words ending in "...eia" (assembléia,
idéia, platéia), the accent disappears in most cases in continental Portuguese.
3.3 The matter of "preppies" (prepositions "em" and "de") Something else that each
finds "odd" in the other's writings is that in Brazil one actually has a choice of
contracting or not the prepositions em or de followed by an indefinite article,
adjective or pronoun (em um or num, em este or neste, em outro or noutro), while
continental Portuguese generally opts for the contracted forms (num, neste, noutro).
The Brazilians frown upon the contraction of de um into dum but the latter is quite
common in continental Portuguese.
3.4 How is that spelled? What's the use? Lastly, there are differences in spelling and
of use, and there are no set rules or patterns to watch out for or to explain the
phenomenon (except, perhaps. the geographical dislocation already referred to).
The Brazilian spells "control" as controle while in Portugal it is controlo; a soccer
"team" in Brazil is equipe while across the ocean it is equipa and the players will
score a gol for the Fluminense (Rio) but a golo in the case of Benfica (Lisbon). Word
usage also presents us with variations between the two countries and, again, to learn
and be aware of them simply requires a great deal of reading and plain and simple
curiosity (isn't that, after all, what a good translator is constantly doing?!). Here are a
In his book "O que é português brasileiro", Hildo do Couto presents an interesting
breakdown of differentiations or what he terms "distortions" of Portuguese: -temporal
(or historic) -spatial (or regional) -social (or class) Temporal "distortions", he writes,
started with the medieval troubadors, progressed through the Age of the Discoveries
and the famous poet Camões, and ended up as present-day Portuguese. Spatial
"distortions", relate to the language as used in Portugal and former provinces of
Angola, Mozambique and others, and in Brazil; also, the language as used differently
within the countries, e.g. Rio Portuguese as opposed to Belo Horizonte Portuguese;
Lisbon Portuguese as contrasted with Coimbra Portuguese.
Lastly, social "distortions", starting with the upper class, often educated abroad; the
middle class; and, at the "bottom of the heap", the "favelados" (shantytown dwellers)
and "marginalizados" (social outcasts). Mr. do Couto constantly refers to how the
"rich, elite upper class imposes Lusitanian Portuguese upon all classes of Brazilians",
repeating this somewhat obsessively time after time, yet his book is quite well written
following traditional Portuguese! The point to be made is that a "standard-type"
Portuguese should continue to be taught and the orthographic committees of the two
Academies should go on with their efforts to narrow even further the differences
between the "two Portuguese languages".
1. Ellison, Fred P.; Games de Mato, Francisco, and de Queiroz, Rachel. "Modern
Portuguese" (Alfred A. Knopf, New York - 1971);
2. do Couto, Hildo. "O que é português brasileiro" (Editora Brasiliense, São Paulo -
Did you know that Swedish translator Ian Hinchliffe recently chastised the
translation community for not being more vigilant about the need to translate not just
language, but also culture? Translation is much more than replacing words. It
involves deconstructing messages, analyzing their content, and recreating them so
that they trigger equivalent ideas and create similar emotions in cultures with a
To learn more about translating culture, read the article by Edna Ditaranto that appeared in
Multilingual Computing & Technology Magazine in 2005.
By Edna Ditaranto
How far have we evolved in translating cultures? At the same time that the personal
computer and the internet have allowed great advances in translation, these powerful
tools also have caused the world to shrink, bringing diverse cultures face to face with
each other in a way we never could have imagined. One important outcome of
connectivity is that Americans who once thought translation meant "typing a
document into another language" now are coming to realize that documents written
for an American audience require not just a translation of language, but also of
Around the same time that the internet brought us just keystrokes away from any
location in the world, US corporations began to recognize that their customers, as
well as their employees, were becoming more and more diverse. In the late 20th
century, America developed a growing consciousness that people within the United
States are different, and that those differences deserve respect.
It quickly became apparent that understanding and then meeting the needs of these
diverse groups was not only the right thing to do but also wise in terms of the
financial bottom line. Different perspectives could bring new ideas and solutions and
keep a corporation ahead of the curve in a highly competitive and shrinking world.
Managers suddenly needed to know how to manage diverse groups effectively and
find ways to inspire their previously underappreciated employees to excel.
Corporations finally understood the need to train their employees to move away from
intolerance toward appreciation of differences. And although the learning curve has
been very bumpy, valuing diversity has become a bona fide American business
This internal awareness was joined by two parallel realizations: that the United States
is a unique country, different from any other country in many ways; and at the same
time, every other country is different and unique as well. Multinational US
corporations began offering culture-specific and country-specific training to those
who would represent them around the world. These individuals got crash courses on
business practices, etiquette, ethics and negotiation techniques that better equipped
them to navigate the foreign business arena.
INDICTING THE TRANSLATOR Even with all these realizations of difference under
our belt, we have yet to find a way to fully function within a common cultural
framework. And although cultural diversity is a natural component of translation,
translating culture is still more a goal than a reality.
Swedish translator Ian Hinchliffe recently chastised the translation community in
"Translating Feelings: Why Good Ads Make Bad Translations" (The ATA Chronicle,
January 2005), declaring that ". . . not only have we failed to explain to our clients
what translation really involves: worse still, we have also allowed them to believe that
translation is something much simpler than it really is." He goes on, "We have allowed
our clients to think that translation revolves around the replacement of words and
phrases in one language with words and phrases in another language, when in fact,
it is about deconstructing messages, analyzing their content, and recreating it in a
form that triggers equivalent ideas and arouses analogous emotions in cultures with
a different mindset."
Hinchliffe's indictment rings true when we consider that perhaps the biggest
challenge for a translator in the United States is that most Americans still write with
little regard for the rest of the world. Notwithstanding the internet, the physical
distance between countries still limits understanding of foreign cultures and ways of
life. Unless one has lived abroad, it is very natural when writing to express a cultural
myopia. And why not? The original audience of a piece of writing is usually the local
or, at most, a national audience, and our compatriots understand the colloquial
Yet when uniquely American texts need to be translated, it can be quite challenging.
Sometimes, with legal documents for instance, the translation should stay as close to
the original as possible, varying only when necessary to ensure the recipient's
understanding. One important tool for this type of translation is the use of sic, the
word that signifies that a mistake that was introduced in the original language is
being translated literally. In some instances, the identification of such an error can
make the difference in winning or losing a case.
Technical translations such as equipment manuals, patents and so on usually
require a minimal degree of cultural awareness. Yet it is when you least expect it that
the ubiquitous American football reference rears its ugly head in an innocuous
financial document. How many times has a translator attempted to translate the whole
nine yards or touchdown into a language that has only a vague idea of the sport? If
the key is communicating information effectively between cultures, you drop the
reference and convey the intent.
But marketing, health care, human resources and other similar materials require
extreme awareness of and attention to the differences between cultures, even when
translating documents into a language that is spoken in multiple countries, such as
Spanish (spoken in 21 countries) or Portuguese (11 countries). It is crucial to know
the colloquial references of each culture because an ordinary word in one culture
can take on unintended and even sexual connotations in another. For instance, in
most South American countries, coger means to grab something. But in Argentina,
coger means to have sex. While papaya in most places refers to a fruit, in Puerto
Rico it refers to female genitalia. In Portugal, bicha means line, while in Brazil it refers
to a male homosexual.
A TRANSLATION BY ANY OTHER NAME As the recognition of cultural differences
began to dawn on corporate America, a whole new terminology for discussing it
developed. By the end of the 1980s, the marketing term localization had become
familiar to the translation world. Today, the term has all but replaced the word
translation. My quick Google search netted 4,820,000 hits. Not too shabby when
compared to 25,100,000 hits for translation. What is localization? Alis Technologies
has distilled it this way: "Localization means adapting all aspects of a product to the
specific needs and cultural preferences of a target market, including content and
design as well as language." An example of localization is translating 3:00 PM as
15:00 (military time), since most countries do not have the concept of AM and PM.
Additional terms such as transadaptation and transcreation have been coined as a
way to reinforce the reality that if you want someone who speaks another language
to read and understand your message, you not only have to change the document's
language but also translate the world view inherent in the document into the world
view of the receiving audience.
Most multinational corporations have at least one story of what can happen when
one translates literally without considering the cultural context, but we'll save them
the embarrassment of repeating any of those well-known examples here. No matter
what you call the process, the bottom line is that translation must transform not only
the words but also the cultural meaning so deeply that the receiving audience feels
the same impact in their language as does the American audience when they hear
the original English message.
FLUENCY UNDER PRESSURE While it has not always been the case, bilingual
fluency is a distinct advantage today in the United States. Science has recently
confirmed what many adult Americans have learned the hard way: it's much easier to
learn a second language as a child. Being bilingual produces changes in the
anatomy of the brain, adding gray matter in the language region of the brain. The
earlier it's learned, the larger the gray area, and the larger the gray area, the greater
the proficiency. Learning a language as a child also provides greater opportunity to
learn and fully digest the culture that the language supports.
Yet even for someone completely fluent in a language and fully aware of its
accompanying cultural nuances, the task of having to translate 100 or more pages
within a very tight deadline can easily impair the translator's capacity to incorporate
all the cultural aspects of that language. Usually, the translator's primary focus is on
understanding the linguistic aspects of the original text - the grammar and syntax - to
ensure technical accuracy. So, even diligent language service providers must take
additional steps to guarantee that the end product, even though accurately and well
translated, also reflects the culture of the receiving audience.
BRINGING CULTURAL TRANSLATION FULL CYCLE A client for whom my company is
translating a brochure in several languages is fully appreciative of the cultural
diversity of each receiving market. And so we are guiding the client representatives
through a full translation cycle to ensure that the end product will clearly
communicates their message in each and every culture.
First, a focus group representative of each culture they are targeting was created to
allow them to learn more about each unique world view and how they can best
communicate the topic of the brochure. After studying the results of the focus group,
they created in English a different brochure (different colors, graphics and text) for
each different audience. Only then did we translate the brochures into the
appropriate languages. The last step of the translation cycle is to ask the focus
groups to review the brochures to ensure that they hit the mark.
Although this approach is revolutionary in the corporate world, you would think that it
sounds perfectly natural to a skilled translator. This kind of cultural due diligence is,
however, still rare in the world of translation.
For clients unable to go through the time and expense of focus groups, translation
services can develop their own internal focus group mentality that consists of three
main steps. First, distill the originating message into the emotions it sends and the
actions it hopes to create. Then identify the feelings and actions that are most similar
but also culturally appropriate in the receiving culture. Last, identify the linguistic
forms that can create the desired feelings and motivate the desired actions in the
receiving language. Often in this process, the translation will actually serve to
introduce some of the originating culture's sensibilities to the receiving culture. But it
doesn't stop there. True translation of culture actually negotiates the area between
cultures, introducing each to the other and sometimes creating places for them to
merge together into new ways of understanding the world.
At the time of publication, Edna Ditaranto was vice president of production at
Translation Plus, Inc. She can now be reached by email at
||veio de manivelas
||estrada de ferro
||caminho de Ferro
||chemin de fer
||táxi (1) espacial
|shoulder (of a
||pasta de dentes
|a male "hunk
|a female "dish"
||garota de fechar o
| And how about these two...
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