About this blog
Thrill of Brazil is a travel blog all about Brazil written by Moon Brazil author Michael Sommers. Michael blogs about Brazil travel, culture, and more. He welcomes questions, comments, and story ideas.
- Care for a Drink with your Film? (or a Film with your Drink?)
- Brazil’s Homegrown Tourism Boom
- Brazil's Best and Write-est
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part II)
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part I)
- The Dawning of Brazil's B&B Age
- Rio's Alternative Points of View
- Taxi Trouble in Santa Teresa
- Obamas Take to the Campaign Trail in Brazil
- Plans and Punctuality
- Reliving Tropicalismo - On and Off Screen
- Food and Lodging that Make the Grade
- The Making of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil
- U.S. is Number One Source of Immigrants to Brazil
- Best English-Language Blogs about Brazil
Rio's New Hotline for Grammatical Emergencies
It’s funny how one develops intimate relationships with languages.
English is my mother tongue; I was born with it and schooled in it. As a child, I read voraciously, and I went on to study English Lit at university, before becoming a writer. To me, English is as natural as breathing, and I love it for its flexibility, malleability, and streamlined simplicity, not to mention its no-nonsense practicality.
Then there’s Brazilian Portuguese, which from the outset completely seduced me. Its musicality, sensuality, and sonority easily threw me for a loop, while the unexpected poetry and offbeat humor of its many slang terms and colloquial expressions (liberally spiked with Tupi and dashes of Yoruba, English, and French) never cease to make me grin.
When it comes to grammar, however, I’ll take English over Portuguese any day.
Like any Latin-based language, Portuguese insists on masculinizing and feminizing every substantive and modifying adjective under the sun. It also delights in confusing one with strange verb tenses such as subjunctive and conditional. Then there are also those crazy accents: acute (‘), grave (`), circumflex, aka “the hat” (^), and the tilde (~). While the first three mark syllable stress and vowel height, the tilde is responsible for creating complex nasal sounds that make the articulation of words such as irmã (sister) and São João (St. John) into pronunciation nightmares.
It’s not just me and other gringos who complain about the baroque rules that govern the Portuguese language (especially in its written form); Brazilians themselves willingly, and eagerly, admit to the sometimes thorny nature of their lingua materna. In fact, errors – as well as doubts – are common, whether on the streets, in the press, and even, occasionally, on nightly novelas. Beloved President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva is famed for his butchering of the language. While for some Brazilians, the president’s frequent faux-pas are a source of embarrassment, for others they proudly reflect Lula’s humble origins; growing up poor in the interior of Pernambuco, Lula didn’t learn to read until the age of 10).
To make matters worse, in Portuguese the rules are always being rewritten. The most recent language reform – the officious sounding Acordo Ortográfico da Língua Portuguesa de 2009 – took effect on January 1 of last year in all countries in which Portuguese is the official language. Not only were a whole lot of accents abolished (seemingly a good thing) under certain circumstances (such as in the case of “open diphthongs”), but the trema (¨) was done away with altogether. Hyphens also took a major hit; they are no longer to be used in the formation of compound words. Amidst the expulsions, there were some additions as well: three new letters – K, W, and Y – were granted official acceptance into the alphabet, bringing the total number of letters up to 26.
Like other Portuguese speakers, Brazilians have until January 1, 2013 to get it together and master all the rules before they start getting marks taken off for improper usage. Although in theory, the new rules are supposed to simplify matters, in practice, they have served to multiply doubts in a linguistic realm that, for many, was already pretty nebulous.
In partial response to this situation, last week the state government of Rio de Janeiro passed legislation creating a Plantão Gramatical da Língua Portuguesa, i.e. a grammar hotline. From now on, anyone with a question regarding syntax, word formation, accents, or usage, not to mention the new rules, can call a free number and have their doubts cleared up by one of eight qualified language professors who will be on call from Monday to Friday.
Interestingly, Rio’s hotline – baptized Telegramática – isn’t the first of its kind. Municipal grammar hotlines already exist in several cities such as Curibita and Fortaleza. In fact, Fortaleza, capital of the Northeast state of Ceará, was a grammar hotline pioneer. On September 8, its Plantão Gramatical – operated by the municipal government, and manned by university professors armed with dictionaries and encyclopedias – will celebrate its 30th anniversary. To date, the service has received close to 572,000 calls (each of which last an average of 3 minutes). All calls are anonymous (in order not to embarrass callers), however, the grammar gurus claim that many of those who phone in are secretaries, lawyers, and people who work in advertising and PR. Many are repeat callers and, over time, the professors come to recognize the callers’ voices even though they never learn their names.
As for me, I was pleased to discover the existence of these grammar hotlines. Up until now, whenever I get into a grammatical glitch in Portuguese, I’ve usually just bothered my friends.