RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - In Brazil's shopping malls, the massive
consumerist shrines formerly known here as centros comerciais, windows
that used to advertise a Promoção now trumpet
50 percent off, and the upcoming collections that
were once billed as primavera/verão are now touted as
A hairdressing salon calls itself Exuberant; a watch store is named
Overtime; a restaurant goes by the name New Garden. In Brazil, the
largest Portuguese-speaking nation in the world, English is taking
over. And Deputy Aldo Rebelo says
It is time to fight this disrespect of our language, says
Mr. Rebelo, the author of a new bill designed to
defend the Lusitanian language.
People feel humiliated and offended by having to pronounce words in
a language that is not theirs. But they are obliged to, because shop
owners or other people want to exhibit a false knowledge, Rebelo
This is the public domain; people need to buy things, to go
into shopping centers, but people cannot communicate fluently because
of the abuse of foreign expressions in our language.
Rebelo's tongue-lashing against linguistic invasion is a reaction to
globalization's march. He is not alone in the defense of mother
tongues. Poland recently passed a law to enforce language purity by
banning foreign words from everyday transactions unless Polish
translations are provided alongside. A Polish language council will
catch violators, who could face stiff fines. Poland's campaign has
been compared to the notorious French effort to stamp out
With 178 million native speakers worldwide, Portuguese ranks seventh among most-spoken native languages after Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, English, Arabic and Bengali.
Rebelo's bill, which unanimously passed the first committee stage last
month, rejects the increasing influx of English expressions and
requires that Brazil's native tongue be used in business, formal, and
social situations. While those strictures are laughed off by many as
unenforceable - one envisions
language police monitoring cafe
chatter and the like - Rebelo's bill thunders that those not
respecting Portuguese are
damaging Brazil's cultural patrimony.
PORTUGUESE ONLY, PLEASE: Reporter Andrew Downie sympathizes with the
Brazilian effort to curb the use of English. He sees it as a form of
linguistic elitism. Upper-class Brazilians watch
Mad About You
Seinfeld in English and see the use of English as chic and
natural. But when I interview the average Brazilian, they have no idea
what these English terms, like
personal banking or
The linguistic outlaws would face as yet undecided punishment - perhaps classes in Portuguese, Rebelo has suggested.
One goal of the bill is linguistic purity among government officials,
Rebelo says, citing the offenses of President Fernando Henrique
Cardoso, who recently used the English expression
fast track in
The bill would particularly affect the worlds of finance and commerce, where throwing up a sign in English is seen as a trendy way of grabbing potential customers' attention. According to a recent study, 93 of the 252 stores in São Paulo's Morumbi shopping center featured English words in their names.
That would change under Rebelo's law. The owners of Laundromat would
have to wash their hands of the name. Hot dogs would be off the menu,
and personal trainers would have to find a new way to describe their
services. The Banco do Brasil's
Personal Banking would need to
translate itself, and the Rock in Rio music festival would have to
dance to a different tune.
Children's clothing store Kid Smart would lose its exotic appeal in a country where most people do not speak English.
Although Rebelo recognizes that in today's fast-paced and shrinking
world, words like
entered Portuguese almost overnight, he says the rush to use English
words ignores the fact that in many cases perfectly good Portuguese
ones already exist.
We can say entrega a domiçilio because everyone knows what it
means, so why use the word 'delivery'? Rebelo asks, highlighting
one recent fad.
Restaurants use 'valet parking,' but why not use maniobrista? This
law will prohibit these abuses.
Linguistic experts agree and point to the richness of Portuguese. Used as an official language in seven countries outside of Portugal, Portuguese boasts 24 vowel sounds, compared with five in English, and includes more than 350,000 words derived primarily from Latin, Arabic, and Iberian tribal languages.
Antonio Olinto, an author and member of the Brazilian Academy of
Letters, says that, although it is impossible to legislate how people
talk, the proposal has value because it has created a debate about the
use of foreign words in Brazil. While stopping the trend is
impossible, he says, Brazil can counter the linguistic invasion by
adapting its language, just as it did with the word
(soccer), which over time became futebol.
Globalization exists, and I don't think there is any way of
escaping it, says Mr. Olinto.
But in time, words will be
adapted into Portuguese, and things will get better.
Rebelo acknowledges that the desire to speak English may eventually ebb, but he called on Brazilians meanwhile to use their mother tongue whenever possible.
The legislator advises those tempted to utter or write foreign words to consult the style book of O Estado de São Paulo, one of the nation's biggest newspapers, which offers the following wordy wisdom:
But it's the cash register, not linguistic pride, that inspires lingerie store manager Silvana Cannone when she's looking for just the right word.
We cut the letters out ourselves, and 'Sale' is shorter than
Promoção, so it's easier, she explains.
Nowadays, everyone knows what 'sale' means. And besides, it sounds