[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J28, 2000/2 p24-26]
[See journal and newsletter articles and Personal View 11 by Zé do Rock and about Portuguese.

The Spelling of Portuguese.

Zé do Rock.

Born and educated in Brazil, Zé do Rock's polyglot credentials are founded on his 11-year hitchhike around the world that inspired his orthographic travelogue fom winde ferfeelt (written in German, reviewed in JSSS 23, pp24-27) and his science-fiction book UFO in der Küche ('UFO in the Kitchen'). Amongst his publications since then has been 'An Excursion into Icelandic Orthography' (JSSS 26, pp25-26). Most recently he monitored an SSS email discussion group in developing a new proposal for regularizing English spelling based on the currently dominant sound-symbol correspondences, and the present article represents the first published example of the system in use. See links.

Origins of portuguese.

Nobody noes wat was the first language thay spoke in Portugal. Probbably sumtime in the past thay spoke sum kynd of "neandertalish", and the first language with a related language wich is stil alive was a sort of proto-basque. Later the celts came and finally the romans. Probbably for the first period of the roman domination the loer peeple stil spoke a celtic language but finally oanly latin was spoken. Probbably this latin the loer classes spoke was nevver pure, since the "barbarian" latin spoken in Portugal kept sum words from the old proto-basque and from celtic. Befor the "barbarian" latin was reccognized az portuguese, the peninsula was invaded by germanic tribes and receeved lots of germanic words, like guarda 'tu gard' (cf, ward), guerra( cf, war), branco 'wite' (cf, blank). Befor the locals recuvverd from that, the arabs conquerd the area. Arabic became the oficial language in Spain and Portugal, altho peeple kept speeking bad latin. The Reconquista pushing the arabs bak tu Africa began from the North, and it took a wile until the arabs, or at leest the moslems wer drivven out from Portugal. In the south a nue language had been born, calld moçarabe, a mixture of portuguese and arabic, wich eventually dyd out but stil gave the barbarian latin spoken in Portugal a good number of arabic words. In 1185 this language was oficialized az portuguese.

Evolution of portuguese spelling.

Maybe becuz latin was the mane ritten language in moast of Europe in the Middle Ages, the portuguese didnt care much about their own language and the tendency was tu spel it acording tu the pronunciation. After that, with the decline of latin, the rize of the national languages, the invention of printing and evry printer wanting tu hav his "label" in the spelling, sumthing happend that was paraleld in menny european cuntries: the spelling started tu get mor complicated and based mor on etymology. But very offen, az in uther european languages, the etymology was rong. Menny Y's apeerd where there was no reezon for them, as in my (moddern me 'me'), ty (moddern ti 'thee'), latym (moddern latim), dysse (from latin dixit 'he sed'). Dubble consonants apeerd, as in fallar (from latin fabulare 'tu speek'), h's prolifferated, as in h~uu [tilde ritten over the U], later hum (from latin unus 'wun'), hontem (from latin ad noctem 'yesterday'), and menny wer inserted after consonants: cathegoria, contheudo 'contents', sepulchro 'grave'. Latin M or N, unless folloed by a vowel, became nasal as in french, and sumtimes it was reprezented by the tilde, '˜', over the vowel, thus tornã 'thay turn'. But az there was no oficial spelling, moast words cood be spelt in sevral difrent ways, like nam, non, não 'no', 'not'.

Boath types of spelling livd tugether for neerly 4 centuries, the rather fonetic and the rather (sudo)-etymological, wich dusnt meen that sum peeple speld absolutely fonetically and uthers absolutely etymologically: usually peeple mixd boath, sum of them prefering the mor fonetic way and uthers prefering the mor etymological. But the "etymological" was the domminant stile.

The first portuguese spelling reform.

Az time went by, a slite tendency tu spel mor and mor fonetically, or at leest mor logically, cood be observd. In 1911 the first reform was fixd in Portugal, and brazilians wer outraged, since Portugal hadnt askd Brazil. How cood Portugal alone decide wat the portuguese language shood look like, wen Brazil, tho not the cradle of the language, was much bigger and mor poppulus?

The first portuguese reform elimminated Y's, useless dubble consonants (oanly RR and SS remaned, since thay hav a fonetic function) and all the redundant meedial H's, wether etymological or not (categoria, conteudo, teatro, ritmo 'rithm', caos, leeving just initial (always silent) H's (unless uzage had alreddy bannishd it az in erva 'herb'). The tilde, indicating nazalized vowels, was restricted tu the endings ÃO, ÃES, ÃOS, ÕES and stressd Ã; elsewair M or N wer uzed to indicate nazalization of the preceeding vowel as in bebem 'thay drink', bom 'good'. But the spelling receevd a load of nue axents tu make the stress cleer and for diferentiations between open and closed A, E and O, as in se (/sə/ in Portugal and /si/ in Brazil 'if', 'self'), (pronounced as english say 'be!') and (/se/ with E as in english set 'catheedral'). There was stil the grave axent, tu sho a contraction of the prepozition a 'tu' and the femminin deffinit article a, thus Eu vou à cidade 'I go tu the citty'. This grave axent didnt hav a fonetic function, since the À was just pronounced /a/. And there was a dieresis ("umlaut") on U's wen pronounced after Q: freqüente (utherwize QU wood be pronounced /ke/).

Az H remaned oanly in initial pozition, thay rote humano, but neggativ inumano. Silent letters disapeerd: prompto, comptar became pronto, contar. The spellings CE/CI from latin CI/TI (latin initium, socialis, Portuguese inicio 'beginning', social) remaned CE/CI, wile SE/SI from latin SE/SI remaned SE/SI (Latin sensus, controversia, portuguese senso 'sense', controversia 'controversy'). Latin SS remaned SS in portuguese, wile the SS /s/ from arabic and indian (ie, nativ brazilian) languages was spelt CE, CI or ç (folloing uzage). For the sound of english SH there wer 2 spellings: CH for words having CL, FL, PL in latin (chamar 'to call', chama 'flame', chover 'to rane' from latin clamare, flamma, pluere); but when this sound came from arabic or indian languages it was spelt x (oxalá from arabic Inshah Allah 'so God wil'; abacaxi from guarani [nativ brazilian] 'pineapple').

Menny /z/ sounds wer respelt with S: Brazil became Brasil. Eeven surnames with -EZ wer respelt with -ES, so in Brasil there ar no Rodriguez or Alvez, oanly Rodrigues and Alves (unless thay'r of spanish desent). Portuguez changed tu Português, wich in my opinnion wasnt so good, since the final Z usually shoed that the last sillable was stressd, but final S forced them tu put a circumflex on the E to sho the stress. In sum uther cases where the Z shoed the stressd sillable, it remaned (eg, rapaz 'yung man', nariz 'noze'), altho Paris and Jesus didnt becum Pariz, Jesuz. It was argued that thees forms with z look tu strainge, forgetting that for an englishman Londres 'London' and for an italian Milão 'Milano' arnt much better.

Portuguese vs. brazilian spelling.

Brazil remaned without an oficial orthografy eeven after the 1911 reform in Portugal, altho menny spellings had been simplifyd by uzage. In Portugal there wer sum ajustments in 1920 and 1929. In 1931 the Academia de Sciencias de Lisboa and the Academia Brasileira de Letras at last reechd an agreement. Brazil axepted a common spelling sistem for most but not all words. Sum simplifications wer restord tu their older form, like inumano tu inhumano. The word for 'muther', wich had been mäe, became mäi, wich coresponded tu the pronunciation, but sumhow this spelling got lost, since nowadays the spelling is mäe (pronounced mor or less /mɜʟŋ/). In Portugal there ar menny words with open E or O befor M or N, wich nevver happens in Brazil, so that the portuguese spel económico (with stressd O as in english boss) wile brazilians rite econômico (with stressd o as in british english AW). There ar pairs of words where in Portugal wun has an axent just tu sho a difrence in sense, altho thay'r pronounced the same: gostamos 'we like' and gostámos 'we liked'. This difrence in spelling dusnt exist in Brazil. In coloquial brazilian there ar hardly enny conjugations ennymor (oanly the first person singular is cleerly difrent).

Neerly all apostrofies wer elimminated in 1931: d'este 'of this', n'aquele 'in that' became deste, naquele. The dygraf SC for /s/ was dropped where it has no function in enny of the variants (in portuguese sumtimes it is pronounced as english SH), thus ciencia, cetro (preeviusly sciencia, sceptro 'septer').

There wer stil considrable difrences between Portugal and Brazil, and in 1943 the two sides again tryd tu harmonize the 2 orthografies, but without suxess. In 1945 again: this time boath acaddemies sined the agreement, but the brazilian parlament rejected it. Brazilians had alreddy been riting açäo 'action', diretor for portuguese acção, director for quite a long time, and the portuguese didnt pronounce the C either; however, usually unstressd vowels ar a sort of shwa in Portugal, but not in thees cases, and the C shoes that. But an unstressd A in Brazil is an /a/, an unstressd E is an /e/ or an /i/ without the silent C influencing the pronunciation.

Anuther issue was the elimination of the diferential axent, uzed tu diferentiate words where the oanly difrence was a closed or open E or O. This is quite handy in sum cases, but in uther cases it is difficult: todo 'all', 'the whole' (masculin form) had no axent, but tôda (the femminin form of todo) had wun, becuz of a bird calld toda, with open O, which no wun had herd of exept sum ornithologists. So tu be able tu spel perfectly, the uzer was forced tu no the hole vocabbulary of the language. Oanly in a fue cases the axent was kept, az in the pair pode/pôde 'can/cood', with open or clozed o) or in vem 'he cums', vêm 'thay cum', vêem 'thay see' (the 3 words hav the same pronunciation), or in pelo 'by the', pêlo 'boddy hair', pêlo 'i peel'. In Brazil pelo and pêlo ar pronounced the same (/pelu/), wile in Portugal pelo is pronounced /plu/ in normal speech.

In the end, oanly Portugal adopted this reform. Brazil decided tu elimminate the diferential axent in 1971 and axept quite a fue feetures Portugal had adopted in 1945, but it adopted sum uther chainges that again opend the gap between the tu cuntries: havving 'oanly' (adjectiv) and prá(c)tico 'practical', the uzage was tu rite sòmente 'oanly' (adverb) and prà(c)ticamente 'practically'. Brazil elimminated this axent, since it didnt hav enny fonetic function in Brazil, but it did hav wun in Portugal, to make cleer that the unstressd sillables ar not shwas or a very week /u/ (in the case of somente, this spelling woodnt be pronounced soment but sument or s'ment.

Agreements and compromizes.

In 1973 Portugal adopted sum of the chainges made in Brazil tu yeers befor. In 1975 and 1986 there wer uther atempts tu unify boath orthographies, without suxess. Howevver, in 1990 Portugal, Brazil and a delegation from the portuguese speeking cuntries in Africa sined a nue agreement, wich reduced the difrences between Brazil and Portugal tu 2% of the vocabbulary. But then the guvverment of one african cuntry didnt aproov it, altho it was aproovd in the uther cuntries.

Wich wer the latest chainges? The letters k, w and y wer oficially introduced bak tu the language, altho in practice that didnt chainge ennything: there wer lonewords with k, w and y (kilo, watt, etc) befor, eeven if the portuguese alfabet oficially didnt hav them, and thay remaned. The "umlaut" (dieresis) was abollishd, wich makes spelling eezier (menny peeple didnt uze it ennyway) but reeding mor difficult for L2 lerners. Howevver, there arnt menny words where this ocurs. The meedial h in compound words was elimminated again: inábil 'unable' (despite hábil), desarmonia 'disharmony' (despite harmonia).

Silent consonants wer elimminated where thay'r not pronounced in enny of the cuntries (diretor, batizar 'director', 'baptize'), and if it is pronounced in wun but not in anuther of the cuntries, the spelling becums optional. Peeple can rite facto or fato 'fact', recepção or receção 'reception', az thay like, wichevver cuntry thay liv in (brazilians dont pronounce the C in facto, tho the portuguese do, while the brazilians pronounce the P in recepção, tho the portuguese dont). Certainly it will be a long time befor the portuguese rite fato since this meens 'a suit' in Portugal.

Today 98% of the words hav a uniform spelling, but there ar huge difrences in vocabbulary, manely becuz either the brazilians or the portuguese expeerienced a development wich the uther side of the Atlantic didnt, but also becuz of a considrable number of indian and african words in brazilian dialect, and later words of italian or german origin in suthern Brazil, especially in slang. Tecnical terms ar az difrent az Spanish and Polish (a slite exageration), and Brazil imports words without eeven dreeming of "portuguesizing" them, wile Portugal trys it very offen. Brazilians say hovercraft, but the portuguese say aerodeslizador. The computer mouse is mouse in Brazil, but rato in Portugal. Brazilians say Internet or Net, the portuguese say Inter-rede.

Sound-simbol corespondences.

Pronunciation is very difrent tu. Wile brazilian sounds like a mix of french and italian, portuguese sounds like a slavic language, manely becuz moast vowels ar swalloed, the R's ar trild and the S wich is not folloed by a vowel is pronounced as english SH. Also the grammar is quite simplifyd in coloquial brazilian.

Portuguese spelling is not az bad az english or french, but not az good az spanish or italian.

The letter A has 2 vallues in Portugal (/a/ and mor or less /ə/, also stressd) and 4 vallues in Brazil (/a/, /ɜ/, /ai/ and /u/, but thay'r all lernable, since thay depend on the pozition in the word).

B is always /b/ in Portugal, but in wun case it is silent in Brazil (também 'also' is /təmeiŋ/).

The letter C is soft befor E and I (/s/), absolutely reggularly, wich is eezy for reeding but not for spelling, since /s/ can also be spelt SE and SI (the same problem az in english). The strings SA, SO, SU can also be spelt ÇA, ÇO, ÇU, exept word-initially.

Unstressd DE and DI ar pronounced /dʒi/ (cidade 'citty' is pronounced /sidadʒi/, or just /sidadʒ/, in Brazil).

Unstressd E is /i/ (but offen silent) at the end of a word in Brazil, but in Portugal it is shwa in evry unstressd pozition (or silent): beleza 'buty' can be pronounced /bəlezə/ or /blez/.

The digraf EI is very offen pronounced as a simple vowel /e/ in Brazil, wile in Portugal it becums /əi/.

The letter G is soft (/ʒ/ az in french général) befor E and I (where soffening of G to // normally ocurs in english), so the spelling problem with G/J persists (do i rite geografia or jeografia?).

Initial H is silent.

In Portugal an L wich is not folloed by a vowel is dark az in english; in Brazil it is /w/, so in Brasil it is pronounced /braziw/.

Both M and N, when not folloed by consonants, ar nazals az in french (bom 'good', canto /kãtu/ 'song').

In Brazil, a final unstressd O is /u/, or, as offen, silent (Zé do Rock is pronounced /ze du hok[i]/). This is eezy tu spel, if the word is wel pronounced (with an unstressd /u/). If u want it stressd, just rite U. If u want the O stressd, spel with Ô (avô 'grandfather', pronounced az in brittish english "AVAW"), or Ó (avó 'grandmuther', az in american english "AVAW". In Portugal all unstressd O's ar /u/ (or, as offen, silent). In Brazil the meedial unstressd o is sumtimes /o/, sumtimes /u/, without a rule for it. But meedial vowels ar rarely silent az in Portugal.

Wile portuguese R is trild, in Brazil the initial and dubble Rs ar pronounced /x/ az CH in scottish loch wen wel pronounced, but oanly as /h/ in normal speech), thus Rio is pronounced /hiw/, mor or less as english hew. The final R in Brazil is silent in the infinnitiv (eg, dar /da/ 'tu giv', comer /ko'me/ 'tu eet'), and amung the loer classes, especially in the por reegions of the Northeest, in enny final pozition (eg, popular /popula/).

Intervocallic S is always /z/, but this sound can be spelt with Z tu. In Portugal, S wich is not folloed by a vowel is pronounced as english SH, az Z is tu. In Portugal, for os carros 'the cars', u say /u ʃ karr(u)ʃ/, in coloquial brazilian /us cah(u)/ (the plural S is oanly pronounced in the article).

In Brazil unstressd TE and TI ar pronounced /tʃi/, so that abacate 'avocado' is pronounced /aba'katʃ(i)/.

The letter X has 4 vallues in Brazil: /ʃ/, /ks/, /s/, /z/ (as in xarope 'sirrup', taxi, experimentar, exame), and 3 in Portugal: /ʃ/, /ks/, /z/.

The letter Z is very trustworthy: it has always the sound /z/ - exept at the end of a word, where it has the sound /s/. Exeptions to this exeption arize when the next word starts with a vowel or a voiced consonant, in wich case is pronounced /z/ again.

Verdict on portuguese spelling.

In portuguese it is not suficient to lern all the rules: u hav tu lern the exeptions tu, becuz there ar mor exeptions than rules - exept for exeptions. Dont blame me, i didnt invent all this.


Academia Brasileira de Letras, Castelo, Rio di Janeiro.

Camara, Joaquim Mattoso (1972) The Portuguese Language, University of Chicago Press.

Estrela, Edite A Questão da Reforma, Lisbon: Editorial Noticias.

Sociedade de Lingua Portuguese, Lisboa.

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