Rivalry: Spanish Speakers Flood Portuguese-Speaking Brazil

Most Brazilians speak English and Spanish with an accent. But Brazilians seem to take great offense to World Cup visitors speaking Portuguese with an accent.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, we're introducing you to a new word today. It's Portunol. It's a language - well, sort of. It's a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese and it is how many Spanish-speaking fans at the World Cup are communicating with their Portuguese-speaking, Brazilian cousins. The results are not always pretty. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has this reporter's notebook on South America's great language divide.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: At this World Cup, the soccer has been amazing. The parties have been epic. But for many Spanish-speaking fans in Brazil, the language barrier has been, well, really surprising. Julio Olivarez is from Chile. And he feels Brazilians should be speaking his language.

JULIO OLIVAREZ: (Spanish spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They understand us, he complains, but they don't speak to us in Spanish, he says. In my view, it's a laziness on the part of the Brazilians, he says, jokingly. I asked him if he understands them.

OLIVAREZ: (Spanish spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nothing. It's almost like communicating in sign language, he tells me, through hand gestures. But he says he's figured out a fix for the language troubles. He doesn't bother with Brazilians at all. If you look around us, he says, almost every visitor is a Spanish speaker.

OLIVAREZ: (Spanish spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I see a red shirt and hear chi, chi, chi, le, le, le. And we help each other out, he quips. Now if my name doesn't give it away, something else certainly does. I'm a native Spanish speaker. And I get a lot of messages like this one from native Portuguese speakers, saying they hate my accent, when I'm speaking their language.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lourdes, when you file your reports, you should avoid using the Spanish accent in annunciating names, words and places in Brazilian Portuguese. It is highly offensive to the ears of native speakers of Portuguese. And it is irksome that NPR assigned the Cup to someone who sounds Argentinean.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For the record, I'm not from Brazil's great rival, Argentina. And when I speak Spanish, I don't sound like I am either. But I understand that during the World Cup passions are running high. Now, highly offensive are pretty big words. I mean, I don't get offended when Brazilians speak English with an accent. So I went to discuss the issue with a linguist here.

ROBERT DE SOUZA: I think what's going on is really that Brazilians are extremely nationalistic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Rodrigo de Souza from Mackenzie University. He says there's a perception here that, especially the U.S., just lump all countries from the region together into one Spanish-speaking heap.

DE SOUZA: In many cases, Brazilians don't the like to be confused with other Latin American countries. I think that's the key issue there. We're different. So I think that will be the most significant reason why Brazilians feel upset with this, you know, butchering of language. I think that's how you would come across.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wait, what? Butchering the language? That's harsh. But the fact is while Portuguese and Spanish may appear to be similar, they are very, very different. And it's much harder for a Spanish speaker to speak Portuguese than the other way around. But make no mistake, they may not say it but both sides have a superiority complex.

DE SOUZA: For a lot of people, Portuguese and Spanish are not just similar languages. It's a corruption of the other. Like you speaking Spanish is bad Portuguese and vice versa.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He gives the example of the word embarazado. In Portuguese, it means embarrassed. In Spanish, it means pregnant - so lots of room for misunderstanding there. The really hard sound for Spanish speakers to pronounce, though, is the one included in Brazil's largest city. Can you say for me the city in which we live right now?

DE SOUZA: Sao Paulo.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Say it slowly.

DE SOUZA: Sao Paulo.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sao Paulo.

DE SOUZA: Sao Paulo.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm saying it right, right? Sao Paulo.

DE SOUZA: Yeah, you're saying it right. I can tell your accent, but that's - yeah, that's right. There's no other way of - for you to say it, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You can tell I've got an accent?

DE SOUZA: Oh, I can tell, yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think, it means I need to move to Rio.

DE SOUZA: Yeah, Rio's a lot more fun, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if you're wondering how my name sounds correctly pronounced in Spanish. It's like this - Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, somewhere in Brazil.

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.