Spelling reforms of Portuguese

Spelling reforms of Portuguese

This article is about the spelling reforms of the Portuguese language.

Historical background

Portuguese began to be used regularly in documents and poetry around the 12th century. In 1290, King Diniz created the first Portuguese University in Lisbon (later moved to Coimbra) and decreed that Portuguese, then called simply the "Vulgar language" would henceforth be used instead of Latin, and named the "Portuguese language." In 1296, it was adopted by the Royal Chancellary and began to be used for writing laws and in notaries.

The medieval spelling of Portuguese was not uniform, since it had no official standard, but most authors used an essentially phonemic orthography, with minor concessions to etymology common in other Romance languages, such as the use of "c" for IPA|/ts/ before "e" or "i", but "ç" otherwise, or the use of "ss" for IPA|/s/ between vowels, but "s" otherwise. King Diniz, who was an admirer of the poetry of the troubadours and a poet himself, popularized the Occitan digraphs "nh" and "lh" for the palatal consonants IPA|/ɲ/ and IPA|/ʎ/, which until then had been spelled with "ñ" and "ll", as in Spanish.

During the Renaissance, appreciation for classical culture led many authors to imitate Latin and (Romanized) Ancient Greek, filling words with a profusion of silent letters and other etymological graphemes, such as "ch" (pronounced as "c/qu"), "ph" (pronounced as "f"), "rh", "th", "y" (pronounced as "i"), "cc", "pp", "tt", "mn" (pronounced as "n"), "sce", "sci" (pronounced as "ce", "ci"), "bt", "pt", "mpt" (pronounced as "t"), and so on, still found today in the orthographies of French and English.

Contrary to neighboring languages such as Spanish or French, whose orthographies were set by language academies during the Enlightenment, Portuguese had no official spelling until the 20th century; each author wrote as they pleased.

Orthographic standardization

In 1911, the newly formed Portuguese Republic, concerned with improving the literacy of its citizens, charged a commission of philologists with defining a standard orthography for Portuguese. The result was what has come to be known in Portugal as the orthographic reform of Gonçalves Viana. The new standard became official in Portugal and its overseas territories at the time, which are today the independent nations of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, and East Timor, as well as the Chinese S.A.R. of Macau and Indian territories of Goa, Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. In 1938, Brazil set up an orthography of its own, with the same general principles as the Portuguese orthography, but not entirely identical to it.

Basic principles

The authors of the first spelling reform of Portuguese, imbued with the modern ideas of phonology, rejected the etymological spellings current in the previous centuries, preferring a more phonetic orthography, like those of Spanish and Italian. On the other hand, considering that the period of Galician-Portuguese troubadorian poetry had been a golden age of Portuguese literature, they aimed to keep the new orthography as close to the medieval spelling as possible, in spite of some phonetic changes which the language had undergone. The resulting orthographic standard was essentially a compromise between these intents, on one hand, and common traditions, on the other: in a few cases, spelling conventions which went against etymology but had long become customary were made official.

Thus, the reform kept the ancient distinctions between "z" and "s" (IPA|/dz/ and IPA|/z/ in medieval Portuguese, but now reduced to IPA|/z/ in most dialects), between "c/ç" and "s(s)" (IPA|/ts/ and IPA|/s/ in medieval Portuguese, but now reduced to IPA|/s/ in both cases), and between "ch" and "x" (originally IPA|/tʃ/ and IPA|/ʃ/, now just IPA|/ʃ/ in most dialects). The unstressed vowels "e" and "o" were also retained for etymology when they were pronounced as "i" or "u", respectively, and the digraph "ou" was differentiated from "o", even though most speakers now pronounced both as IPA|/o/. These etymological distinctions have close parallels in the orthographies of other West European languages.

Since word stress can be distinctive in Portuguese, the acute accent was used to mark the stressed vowel, in the cases where its position could not be predicted from a word's ending, more or less as in the orthographies of Spanish and Catalan. For example, the verb "critica" "he criticizes" bears no accent mark, because it is stressed on the syllable before the last one, like most words that end in "-a", but the noun "crítica" "criticism" requires an accent mark, since it is a proparoxytone.

Since the height of the vowels "a", "e" and "o" is also distinctive in stressed syllables (see "Portuguese phonology"), high stressed vowels were marked with a circumflex accent, "â", "ê", "ô", to be differentiated from the low stressed vowels written "á", "é", "ó". The choice of the acute for low vowels and the circumflex for high vowels went against the conventions of other Romance languages such as French or Italian, but it was already commonplace in Portuguese before the 20th century. (In many words, Portuguese "ê" and "ô" correspond to the Latin long vowels "ē", "ō".)

Nasal vowels and nasal diphthongs usually appear before the orthographic nasal consonants "n", "m", in which case they do not need to be identified with diacritics, but the tilde was placed on nasal "a" and nasal "o" when they occurred before another letter, or at the end of a word. Although the vowel "u" can also be nasal before other vowels, this happens in so few words ("mui", "muito", "muita", "muitos", "muitas") that marking its nasality was not considered necessary.

The acute accent was used also to mark the second vowel of a hiatus in a stressed syllable, where a diphthong would normally be expected, distinguishing for example "conclui" "he concludes" from "concluí" "I concluded", "saia" "that he leave" from "saía" "he used to leave", or "fluido" "fluid" from "fluído" "flowed".

The orthography set by the 1911 reform is essentially the one still in use today on both sides of the Atlantic with only minor adjustments having been made to the vowels, consonants, and digraphs. Where there have been substantial changes since then, and there are still presently significant differences between the Portuguese orthography and the Brazilian orthography, is in the use of diacritics and silent consonants.

Portuguese orthography vs. Brazilian orthography

Brazil was never consulted about the orthographic reform of 1911, and so it did not adopt it. In the decades which followed, negotiations were held between representatives of Brazil and Portugal, with the intent of agreeing on a uniform orthography for Portuguese, but progress was slow. In 1931, Portugal and Brazil finally signed an orthographic agreement, on the basis of which Brazil established its own official orthography, in 1938.

Soon after, however, it became apparent that there were differences between the spellings being used in the two countries. Even though both were based on the same general principles, phonetic differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese had led to divergent spellings in some cases. Various attempts were made in the remainder of the 20th century to bring the two orthographies closer to each other, sometimes with modest success, other times without success. To this day, they do not coincide completely.

Problems with the original orthography

Notwithstanding its traces of etymology, the 1911 orthography aimed to be phonetic in the sense that, given the spelling of a word, there would be no ambiguity about its pronunciation. For that reason, it had certain characteristics which later produced inconsistencies between the European and the Brazilian orthographies.

In unstressed syllables, hiatuses were originally distinguished from diphthongs with a trema. For instance, writing "saüdade", "traïdor", "constituïção", so that they would be pronounced "sa-udade", "tra-idor", "constitu-ição". But the pronunciation of these words is not uniform. Many speakers say "sau-dade" and "trai-dor", especially in fast speech. Furthermore, there are no minimal pairs that distinguish a hiatus from a falling diphthong in unstressed syllables. For this reason, marking unstressed hiatuses came to be seen as unnecessary, and these tremas were eventually abolished.

The trema was also used in the words where the letter "u" is, exceptionally, pronounced in the digraphs "gue", "gui", "que", "qui", rather than silent as usual; e.g. "agüentar", "sagüim", "freqüente", "eqüidade". However, there is regional variation, with for example the "u" being pronounced in a few Brazilian Portuguese accents "qüestão" (though it was never accepted as a possible writing), but not in European Portuguese "questão". Although the number of words with such divergent pronunciations is small, they have been seen as an obstacle to the orthographic unification of the language.

Unstressed vowels are usually high, but there are exceptions, including a few pairs of homographs in European Portuguese which vary only in having either a low or a high vowel in an unstressed syllable. To distinguish these, the grave accent was at first placed on unstressed low vowels: cf. "pregar" "to nail", where the "e" is pronounced IPA|/ɨ/ in European Portuguese, with "prègar" "to preach", where "è" is pronounced IPA|/ɛ/, or "molhada" IPA|/u/ "wet" with "mòlhada" IPA|/ɔ/ "bundle". But in Brazilian Portuguese both words in each example are pronounced the same way, so the grave accent is not used: "pregar" IPA|/e/ "to nail/to preach", "molhada" IPA|/o/ "wet/bundle"; the intended meaning is inferred from context. The grave accent was eventually abolished, except in a small number of contractions.

In other cases, where an unstressed low vowel was the result of the elision of the consonants "c" or "p" before "c", "ç", "p", the consonant was kept in the spelling, to denote the quality of the preceding vowel. For example, in the word "intercepção", which is stressed on its last syllable, the letter "p" is not pronounced, but indicates that the second "e" is pronounced IPA|/ɛ/, as opposed to the second "e" in "intercessão", which is pronounced IPA|/ɨ/. Other examples of words where a silent consonant was left to lower the previous vowel are "objecção" and "factor". In Brazilian Portuguese, the vowels in question are pronounced just like any other unstressed vowels, and, since there is no phonetic ambiguity to undo, the words are simply spelled "objeção", "fator", and so on.

The orthography distinguished between stressed "éi" and stressed "ei". In Brazilian Portuguese, these diphthongs are indeed different, but in most dialects of European Portuguese both are pronounced the same way, and "éi" appears only by convention in some oxytone plural nouns and adjectives. This led to divergent spellings such as "idéia" (Brazil) and "ideia" (Portugal).

The Brazilian spelling has "a", "ê" or "ô" in several words where the European orthography has "á", "é" or "ó", due to different pronunciation. For example, cf. "pensamos", "gênero", "tônico" (Brazil) with "pensámos", "género", "tónico" (Portugal). This happens when the vowels are stressed before the nasal consonants "m" or "n", followed by another vowel, in which case both types of vowel may occur in European Portuguese, but Brazilian Portuguese allows only high vowels.

A Timeline of Spelling Reforms

* 1911: First spelling reform in Portugal.
* 1931: Orthographic agreement between Portugal and Brazil. Silent "s" abolished from words such as "sciência", "scena", "scéptico", etc, and spellings like "dir-se há" and "amar-te hei" changed to "dir-se-á" and "amar-te-ei".
* 1937: First proposal of orthographic reform in Brazil is mentioned by the Constitution but not enforced.
* 1943: First orthographic reform of Brazil is delineated in the "Vocabulário Ortográfico da Língua Portuguesa", by the Brazilian Academy of Letters.
* 1945: Sweeping spelling reform in Portugal eliminates the trema, and differential circumflex accents in most pairs of homographs such as "acêrto" and "acerto", "cêrca" and "cerca", "côr" and "cor", "fôra" and "fora", "dêsse" and "desse", and so on.
* 1946: The Constitution of Brazil makes the orthographic reform of 1943 official and mandates that all books published in the country use the official spelling.
* 1971: Sweeping spelling reform in Brazil eliminates the trema in hiatuses, most differential circumflexes, and accent marks on vowels with secondary stressed syllables in compounds, such as "ràpidamente", "ùltimamente", "cortêsmente", "cafèzinho", and so on. This reform was mockingly nicknamed the "Remington Reform" because it reduced dramatically the amount of words bearing accents (the reference is to Remington Rand which manufactured both typewriters and rifles in Brazil, either because the reform made typewriting easier or because it "executed" a large number of diacritics).
* 1973: Portugal follows Brazil in abolishing accent marks in secondary stressed syllables.
* 1986: Radical reform which would eliminate the acute accent and the circumflex accent from all words except oxytones (as in the orthography of Italian) is proposed, but ill-received by the Portuguese media and public, and subsequently abandoned.

In the early 20th century, Brazil and Portugal started talks on spelling reform to end the etymological writing system. Because of delays, Portugal adopted the reform alone in 1911, resulting in a split between the orthographies of the two countries. In 1924, the Portuguese and Brazilian academies settled on an International Agreement. In 1931, a preliminary agreement adopted the new orthography in Brazil. But there remained many differences, leading to the new orthographic agreement of 1943, which would have removed the remaining differences; however, Portugal made another reform in 1945, which restored some silent letters as in "acção" or "óptimo", which are spelled "ação" and "ótimo" according to 1943 reform. In 1956, Brazil adopted a simplification in accentuation rules. In 1971, some more differences were eliminated. In 1986, Brazil invited the other six Portuguese language countries, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and São Tomé and Príncipe, to a meeting in Rio de Janeiro to address the remaining problems, but the proposed reform was met with fierce opposition by the Portuguese media and public opinion, because it was seen as too radical.

The Orthographic Agreement of 1990

In 1990, an orthographic agreement was signed between the seven Portuguese language countries (not including East Timor, which was under Indonesian occupation at the time), with the intent of creating a single common orthography for Portuguese. This spelling reform was meant to go into effect after all signatory countries had ratified it, but at the end of the decade only Brazil, Cape Verde, and Portugal had done so.

At the July 2004 summit of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (including East Timor), São Tomé and Príncipe ratified the agreement, and a modification was made to the text, allowing the reform to go forward in those countries which have already ratified it, and accepting both orthographies as legitimate in the meantime; however, this was to happen after a transition period which has yet to be defined.

The old orthographies continue to predominate in their respective countries until three countries ratify the change to the agreement. As of January 2005, only Brazil has fulfilled the requirements. As of 2005, Portuguese has two orthographic standards:
* The Brazilian orthography, official in Brazil.
* The European orthography, official in Portugal, Macau, and the five African Portuguese language countries.
* In East Timor, both orthographies are currently being taught in schools.

The table to the right illustrates typical differences between the two orthographies currently in use.

The orthographic agreement proposes the elimination of the letters "c" and "p" from the European/African spelling whenever they are silent, the elimination of the diaeresis mark from the Brazilian spelling, and the elimination of the acute accent from the diphthongs "éi" and "ói" in paroxytone words. As for divergent spellings such as "anónimo" and "anônimo", "facto" and "fato", both will be considered legitimate, according to the dialect of the author or person being transcribed. The agreement also establishes some common guidelines for the use of hyphens and capitalization.

The changes were easily accepted by Equatorial Guinea, which adopted Portuguese as one of official languages on July 13, 2007.

In Portugal the change was passed into law on May 16, 2008. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7405985.stm BBC News (2008-05-16): Reform spells change for Portugal] ]

Galicia was invited to take part in the reform but the Galician government ignored the invitation, since it regards Galician and Portuguese as different languages. However, an unofficial commission formed by Galician linguists who support the unity of the language attended the meetings as observers. [ [http://www.lusografia.org/ao/index.htm www.lusografia.org] ]

The following table makes a comparison between the two orthographies currently in use, and the one proposed by the 1990 Agreement:

{| border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="0" align="center" width="800" class="wikitable" class="wikitable"Current orthography in Portugal, Africa, and Asia1Current Brazilian orthography1Reformed orthography2

De facto, o português é actualmente a terceira língua europeia mais falada do mundo.De fato, o português é atualmente a terceira língua européia mais falada do mundo. De facto/fato, o português é atualmente a terceira língua europeia mais falada do mundo.

Não é preciso ser génio para saber que o aspecto económico pesa muito na projecção internacional de qualquer língua.Não é preciso ser gênio para saber que o aspecto econômico pesa muito na projeção internacional de qualquer língua.Não é preciso ser génio/gênio para saber que o aspecto económico/econômico pesa muito na projeção internacional de qualquer língua.

Não há nada melhor do que sair sem direcção, rumando para Norte ou para Sul, para passar um fim-de-semana tranquilo em pleno Agosto.Não há nada melhor do que sair sem direção, rumando para norte ou para sul, para passar um fim de semana tranqüilo em pleno agosto.Não há nada melhor do que sair sem direção, rumando para norte ou para sul, para passar um fim de semana tranquilo em pleno agosto.

Dizem que é uma sensação incrível saltar de pára-quedas pela primeira vez em pleno voo.Dizem que é uma sensação incrível saltar de pára-quedas pela primeira vez em pleno vôo.Dizem que é uma sensação incrível saltar de paraquedas pela primeira vez em pleno voo.

#Words in yellow will change spelling.
#Words in yellow will have two alternate spellings.



* Estrela, Edite "A questão ortográfica — Reforma e acordos da língua portuguesa" (1993) Editorial Notícias
* Full text of the [http://www.academia.org.br/abl/cgi/cgilua.exe/sys/start.htm?sid=20 Pequeno Vocabulário Ortográfico da Língua Portuguesa] ("Abridged Orthographic Vocabulary of the Portuguese Language") published by the [http://www.academia.org.br Brazilian Academy of Letters] in 1943.
* [http://www.academia.org.br/abl/cgi/cgilua.exe/sys/start.htm?infoid=2453&sid=19 Text of the decree] of the Brazilian government, in 1971, amending the orthography adopted in 1943 (no updated version of the PVOLP was published).
* [http://www.iilp-cplp.cv/pdf/iilp/acordoOrtografico.pdf IILP — Orthographic Agreement of 1990] (PDF - in Portuguese)

ee also

* Portuguese orthography
* Academia Brasileira de Letras
* Wikipedia in Portuguese: Ortografia da língua portuguesa
* Wikipedia in Portuguese: Acordo Ortográfico de 1990
* [http://pt.wikisource.org/wiki/Categoria:Ortografia_da_Língua_Portuguesa Wikisource in Portuguese - Ortografia da Língua Portuguesa]

External links

* [http://ciberduvidas.sapo.pt/pergunta.php?id=16617 Ciberdúvidas — O Acordo Ortográfico, de novo] (in Portuguese)
* [http://www.portaldalinguaportuguesa.org/index.php?action=acordo Portal da Língua Portuguesa — Acordo ortográfico] (in Portuguese)
* [http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/wportref.htm Portuguese spelling reforms at International Writing System Reforms and Revolutions]

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