One of the most common misconceptions about languages is concerning language variants. American and British English, European and Latin American Spanish are some examples. Portuguese is no exception and it is not unusual for people to believe one version is adequate to all Portuguese-speaking countries (Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal, and São Tomé and Príncipe). While that may be true regarding the African countries, where the European version is spoken, Brazil is a completely different case.
Can a Portuguese and a Brazilian understand each other in a conversation? Most likely, yes. Even though there are significant differences in pronunciation, (some people find Brazilian Portuguese to be phonetically pleasing with its open vowels, but think that European Portuguese sounds somewhat mumbled and doughy*), it is possible to understand each other while speaking in their own variants.
Can a Portuguese and a Brazilian understand each other in a written conversation? Despite the difference in spelling, grammar and syntax, it is possible to have a written conversation (by e-mail for example) about general subjects and have the messages conveyed entirely.
However, when it comes to:
- producing a technical text, using correct European Portuguese terminology that will be clearly understood by users in Portugal;
- translating creative copy in a way that is appealing to Brazilian readers, including wordplay, puns or idiomatic expressions;
it is important to create different versions adequate to the target countries.
But what are in fact the differences between these two variants of the same language?
Due to its geographic position, while European Portuguese has been more influenced by Latin languages such as French or Italian, Portuguese in Brazil has benefited from the influence of the Amerindian languages as well as American English. As a result, there are lots of words that are used by the Brazilians in their English form, such as “mouse” in a hardware context or “esporte” or “mídia”, which were borrowed from American English words “sports” and “media”.
The spelling reform ended some of the differences, especially those concerning mute consonants, that had not been used in Brazil for a long time and now were also removed in the European Portuguese spelling, such as:
- Acção >Ação (action)
- Exacto >Exato (exact)
- Óptimo>Ótimo (great)
- However, there are still significant differences in spelling that should be considered, for example, with accents:
- eletrónico/eletrônico (electronic)
- metro/metrô (underground railway)
- milénio/milênio (millennium)
Apart from phonetics and spelling, there are some words that are completely different in these variants.
- autocarro/ônibus (bus)
- castanho/marrom (brown)
- aterrar/aterrisar (to land)
- telemóvel/celular (mobile phone)
This can take on particular importance when it concerns technical terms:
- ecrã/tela (screen)
- folha de cálculo/planilha (spreadsheet)
- cartão de cidadão/carteira de identidade (ID card)
- canadiano/canadense (Canadian)
- americano/estadunidense (American)
- polaco/polonês (Polish)
One of the biggest differences is that Brazilians tend to use the gerund form a lot more than the Portuguese.
Eu estou a trabalhar > Eu estou trabalhando. (I am working)
Also, in Brazilian Portuguese, the object pronoun is preferably placed before the verb, while in European Portuguese it is usually placed after the verb.
Ele ofereceu-me um café. >Ele me ofereceu um café. (He bought me coffee.)
These are just some of the differences between these two language variants. Contact me if you’d like any additional clarification regarding the differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese or to find out the best solution for reaching these markets.
*Note from the reviewer (a native English speaker, translator, and editor, living in Portugal for quite a long time): I do not agree at all!