Translation, Translation Culture

Portuguese Translation: Differences Between Brazilian and European Portuguese

difference between brazilian Portuguese and european portuguese

You may be forgiven to believe that Portuguese is spoken only by those from Portugal, but it is the fifth most common language in the world. Portuguese is the main language in Brazil, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau. It is also a co-official language in Macau and in East Timor.

Just as English has variations in the United States, Britain, India, Ireland, and so forth, Portuguese has its variations as well. This is quite important to remember when translating documents into Portuguese, since some of the linguistic variations and cultural differences could cause issues in understanding, relevance, and interpretation.

The two main types of Portuguese are European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese. While European Portuguese is often considered to be the standard, only 10 million of the roughly 200 million Portuguese speakers follow the European Portuguese standards.

Let’s take a look at a few of the differences between the European and Brazilian Portuguese languages.

Initially, the two Portuguese variants have been influenced by different languages. Brazilian Portuguese has been impacted by the customs of the native peoples of South America and their “Amerindian” languages. This is noticeable in many of the names for food, music, and city structures. European Portuguese received great influence from the Italians, French, and Spanish.

The word for “bye” in Portugal is the same as it is in Italy: ciao. In Brazil is is written and pronounced tchau. The word for “Ice cream” in Portugal is almost the same as it is in Italy: Gelado (Gelato in Italy). Pineapple in Portugal is ananas just like it is in German and French. In Brazil, the pineapple is called abacaxi. There are many other vocabulary differences such as driver’s license and bathroom ( carteira de habilitação e banheiro in Brazil; carta de Condução e sala de banhos in Portugal). A few of the other differences include:

  • Pronouns used in Brazil and Portugal are different. In Portugal, você and tu are both used for the second person “you”. Brazilians rarely use tu, and in all official texts você is always used.
  • There is not just a difference with the pronouns but in the conjugation of the verbs that go with você and tu as well. Brazilians prefer the você conjugation because it is the same as it is for the 3d person he/she.
  • European Portuguese often puts object pronouns after the verbs while in Brazilian Portuguese they are generally placed before the verb.
  • Syntax is often different, especially with articles and when choosing prepositions.
  • Gerund phrases are also different. For example, Europeans use the simple model “a + infinitive” such as estou a falar (I am speaking). In Brazilian Portuguese, you add “ndo'(gerund) after dropping the verb’s “r” resulting in estou falando.
  • While not as important as the pronouns and conjugation, spelling variations are common. The spelling would stand out to a Brazilian  or European and let them know that the text was not localized for their region. An example is the word “truck”, which is spelled “caminhão” in Brazil and “camião” in European Portuguese.
  • Brazilian Portuguese readily accepts new foreign words and adapts them into their language. European Portuguese takes a much harder line on translingual borrowing. This is of particular importance in expanding industries like the tech field. In Brazil, a computer mouse is a mouse. In Portugal, it is a rato.
  • Cultural references and styles are going to be different. This even includes things like capital letters. European Portuguese typically capitalizes the names of the months but does not capitalize many personal titles or words like rua in a street name. In Brazil, the names of months are not capitalized but the parts of street names are, as are titles such as Dona, Sr. and Dr.

Seven years ago, the world’s Portuguese speaking leaders got together and tried to come up with a plan to unify the language. Brazil agreed to add the letters k, w, and y to their alphabet while dropping many silent consonants from spellings so words could be spelled phonetically with more ease. The example often used is the word for “great,” changing from “optimo” to “otimo.”

The reforms have been around for seven years, and the Brazilian government officially stands by them. The practical use of the new standards does not exist, however, since the changes have not filtered down to the people. Even most of the news agencies refuse to implement the changes.

Why the Differences Matter in Translation

Most Portuguese speakers will be able to figure out what the text says regardless of which variation a text is written in, so why does it matter? For one reason, remember that all official texts use the word você and not tu in Brazil but not in Portugal, and when dealing with official documents you need to ensure that the language is specific and forms do not get rejected because of word choice or spelling issues.

When dealing with contrasting cultures, you want to ensure your examples are relevant to the people reading your information. You also want to make certain that formalities are followed in accordance with local customs so as not to offend.

Brazilians and Portuguese peoples take their countries very seriously. If in doubt, go to a football match. While instructions for a coffee maker might not make that much of a difference, the advertisement for one just might when it comes to sales. Academic and professional papers might be viewed differently, too. After all, if you were preparing to give a presentation in Brazil, you would not want to give your attendees copies of your material in European Portuguese; that would be bad form.

What You Can Do

The best thing you can do is have a candid discussion with your translation service provider about your expectations for the translation. Be clear about your goals and objectives, the use of formalized language, localization, and plans for distribution. You may even want to consider European and Brazilian Portuguese as two different target languages depending on the specific project and the intended use of the materials.

Share your thoughts