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Sunday, May 18, 2008

This post sponsored by the letters k,w & y

Who knew three simple letters could kick up such a fuss?

The Portuguese government on Friday voted to add 3 new letters to the alphabet -- k,w and y. The measure will also phase out hyphens, eliminate silent consonants and standardize the use of accents. Thus, from here on in, it's spelled "otimo" (and not "optimo") to say "great" in your next flirty chat session with a Portuguese beauty. Capite?

Why the sudden changes? Because the Portuguese language is under siege by globalization, Google searches and the ascendancy of its former colony, Brazil. Thus, the humble Portuguese decided last week to adopt Brazilian Portuguese as the official state language, to be phased in over the next six years. Defenders of the original Portuguese collected a rather underwhelming 33,000 signatures protesting the move.

Never mind that Brazilian Portuguese is spoken by at least 190 million of the world's 230 million Portuguese speakers. For linguists, this is an historic moment: one of the original Romance languages is ceding its position as an "official" language to its upstart former colony. Could other languages be next? British English maybe?

1 comment:

ze said...

It might be a little too much saying that the Portuguese have adopted the Brazilian Portuguese as state language! This is about having a more unified orthography of a language spoken by 200 million people. And the Brazilian are also making changes: they're also adding the three letters k, w and y and eliminating accents in certain words. The protocol, dated from 1990, had already been signed by other Portuguese-speaking countries, as Brazil, Cape Verde and Sao Tome e Principe. Portugal has finally accepted, not without opposition and critics from a lot of people, including writers and teachers. But this just a different way of changing a language that is always evolving. I accept that the Portuguese have interest in keeping the language next to the Brazilian, much more strong in international terms. But to say that this is the metropole being colonized by its former colony just shows that this idea of Empire is still very much in the mind of the British.