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A TARDIS Full Of Braz

Brasil / Brazil

Following on from yesterday’s whingeing about South Americans behaving like North Americans, here’s an interesting linguistic side note from the same Instagram account. Sorry, I’ll get back to european portuguese soon, I promise!

My first assumption was that maybe this was some sort of racist graffiti in Portugal – after all, the hashtags talk refer to xenofobia and “brasileiro em Portugal”. So, I asked around, but it turns out to be something else entirely. They’re all in Brazil and the different spelling is down to the difference between people’s perception of Brasil and the reality for average Brazilians. Brasil is a very unequal society with a lot of poverty and a lot of social problems, but also with an amazingly wide variety of plants and animals, as well as indigenous cultures. Brazil is the international spelling used by the United Nations, so in this context it has come to represent some other version of the country. Some people in the discussion said it was a stand-in for “the international elites”, whereas others see it as representing outsiders’ view of Brazil: tourism, beaches and a big statue of Christ the redeemer. In BraZil all the men are sexy helicopter pilots and all the women are beautiful, tanned and interestingly waxed. So, spelled with a Z, it represents either the rich who are ruining the country or the fantasy that is eclipsing the reality. Either way, there’s a dichotomy between the real Brasil and this fake Brazil that doesn’t understand it, is killing it, and doesn’t deserve it.

The specific phrases come from a song by Elis Regina called “Querelas do Brasil”. Querela can be a libel, an indictment, a dispute or a sad song. I’ll let you make your mind up about what, specifically, she’s going for here. It certainly doesn’t sound like she’s railing against the one percent: it sounds very upbeat, but Brazil has its own rhythms so that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not serious. She spends a lot of time listing things she likes about the country. I must admit, I didn’t recognise half the words but there are a lot of wild animals in there, an indigenous hero, some places… So I get the idea that at least some of it has to do with Brazil the state not deserving Brasil the paradise on earth, but I’m sure there are layers to it I’m missing.

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TFW you’re being Microaggressioned

As a result of a recent conversation about racism (following on from a book I read – there’ll be a review here in a day or two) a Brazilian guy on reddit pointed me to an account on Instagram called brasileirasNaoSeCalam. It’s basically one of these accounts that seeks to ginger people up for a particular cause by telling you how absolutely terrible everything is. In this case, quite a lot of the posts are just quotations from Brazilians in other countries recounting times they were victims of racism. The vast majority of them are in Portugal.

It’s quite interesting from a sociological point of view because of course there are racists in every country and knowing what kinds of stereotypes people have about each other tells you something interesting about the country. There is definitely racism against Brazilians in Portugal. I’ve seen videos and I have spoken to people who have some really unpleasant views about them all being thieves and whores, but I’m a bit unclear about the extent of that racism and I’m curious to know more.

But just as there is racism in every country, microaggressions (ie perceived slights which are held to be evidence of a deep seated hostility) are everywhere too, mainly thanks to the steady creep of absolutely terrible ideas from the USA. And my sense is that a lot of these posts fall under that heading. And in a way, that’s interesting in itself because learning what people see as a microaggression can tell you something about the shape of paranoia in a particular demographic. Take this for example:

(I’m doing an online course and my teacher always turns up with two video options for us to watch: one in Brazilian and one in English “for anyone who doesn’t like Brazilian”

From the comments, the reason for the complaint is that some people find the use of “brasileiro” in place of “português de Brasil” to be evidence of hatred, and the fact that she thinks some people might prefer to hear a foreign language rather than a São Paulo accent just adds insult to injury. This seems a little over-sensitive, but more importantly, I think it’s pretty obvious that there are plenty of alternative explanations for why English is being offered alongside Brazilian. For example, Portugal has a pretty good record of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Venezuela and Ukraine, among others. It must be a hard transition for those people to make given how much harder it is to learn portuguese than English. Of course it’s not practical to have videos in every language, but English is practically a universal esperanto these days, and it seems very likely that someone who is still struggling to learn portuguese might find it easier to follow an English language video than one that is in a strong, unfamiliar accent.

The irony is I think the teacher is being unfairly accused of racism just because they are making the course more accessible for all immigrants, and not exclusively catering to the needs of oversensitive Brazilians. Quite a lot of the quotes on the site are in the same vein: they’re minor or open to more charitable interpretation or just frankly unlikely-sounding.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some real racist incidents on there, but I get the impression it’s one of those accounts where all the followers want to tell their victimhood story and the net effect is that it becomes a huge echo chamber and everyone inside is in a state of constant fear and rage, way out of proportion to the real situation. I’d love to find some good journalism on the subject though. When I say good journalism I mean (a) uses data competently and thoughtfully and (b) doesn’t pepper their narrative with the word ‘privilege’.

Posted in English

Divided by a Common Language: the plot thickens…

English, espanhol, português

I’ve mentioned a couple of times (here and here) now that I have had long, rambling discussions with Brazilians about whether the third person singular (the “we” form) in the past perfect tense is identical to the present tense. It is in Brazilian but not – or at least not normally – in european portuguese.

I actually ran into a portuguese guy from Beira Alta who says that, where he lives, they say the two words the same way (not surprising) and spell them the same way too (more surprising). We had a bit of a chat about it back and forth and he agreed that the accent in the written form was helpful (I agree 100%) but he wasn’t going to change the way he spoke (also agree 100%) and like a lot of Portuguese people, he felt like the Acordo Ortográfico was an annoying imposition from on high that he didn’t really buy into.

I feel like this was quite a useful conversation for both of us. For me because it’s good to learn about different accents and ways of speaking and I hope also for him because most people in most countries don’t really reflect on their own language until they hit something unexpected, and I like to think that by having this conversation he enjoyed thinking about his own language as much as I do. For example, I mentioned that the two versions (falamos and falámos, say) would both have the stress on the second syllable and he said no, they don’t stress the word anywhere. I guarantee you, there is no portuguese word that is spoken in a flat, robotic monotone. I made a joke about how most words in portuguese are either oxitono (stressed on the last syllable) or paroxitnono (penultimate syllable) and a few are proparoxítono (antepenultinate) but maybe there needed to be a new word “nenhuresitono” for words that are stressed nowhere.

I have learned a lot about my own language from talking to foreigners who were trying to learn it and I really hope his encounter with this confused British chap was helpful for him in the same way.

* I talked a lot about proparoxítono during my brief obsession with Chico Buarque’s excellent song Construção. If you haven’t heard it, I strongly recommend it because it is educational but more importantly its effing brilliant. Yes, I know it’s in Brazilian portuguese, but it’s worth making an exception for! My original post about it, complete with the video, is here and I’ve continued to bang on about it here and here

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Interested to see this meme pop up on a Brazilian Monty Python fan account.

What’s so surprising? Well, bravo is a false friend. It doesn’t mean corajoso, it means raivoso: angry in other words. Or rude and uncouth.

I asked around and found out that bravo means either “brave” or “angry” in Brazil. And of course they chose the word in this meme because they were dovetailing it with the English words of the song. It actually can mean brave in Portugal too but its very, very unusual, as you can probably imagine – it must be confusing as hell to have one adjective that can mean two different things and could plausibly mean either of them in a lot of everyday contexts. It’s the eighth meaning given in the dictionary, so it’s worth knowing, but probably best avoided in everyday speech.

Even weirder, there is a regional word, brabo, which means angry and is a synonym (but not a mis-spelling, apparently!) or bravo and means angry (but definitely not brave!) it’s the first I’ve heard of it and only one (brazilian) guy mentioned it, so although it is in Priberam, this seems obscure enough that you can probably ignore it.

Update: a few more replies have come in and reminded me that, of course, bravo can also mean “well done”, just as it does in English.

I mentioned “rude or um uncouth” as possible meanings but maybe I should have gone for something like “rough” or “uncultured” since it can be used in relation to food to mean something like “wild” – espargos bravos =wild asparagus, carne brava= grass fed beef, etc. A sea can be bravo of it is rough and stormy, and there’s a type of apple called Maçã Bravo de Esmolfe. Yes, bravo, not Brava, even though maçã is feminine.

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Divided by a Common Language: the Aftermath

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had been incorrectly corrected by a Brazilian tutor who had taken exception to my use of the word “ficámos”. History seems to have vindicated my position: I was right and managed to get this across without offending the fella who had incorrected me. The following day, I used a different verb in the same tense – declarámos – and was corrected by a different Brazilian guy. Bless ’em. I guess they’re new teachers, maybe being helpful as a new years resolution and I’m sure they’ll be a big help once they figure out how to differentiate between the European and Brazilian learners.

Posted in English

Divided by a Common Language

I wrote something the other day that included the word “ficámos” as a past tense of ficar, meaning “we stayed”, and a Brazilian guy has told me it should be ‘ficamos”. I’ve told him that I am pretty sure this is one of those differnces between PT-PT and PT-BR: Portugal uses an -ámos ending in the past perfect, but in Brazil -amos is used for both present and perfect (lol, no scope for confusion there!) but he’s insisting that no, his way is correct. I feel a little arrogant contradicting someone whose native language is portuguese but I’m pretty sure I’m right on this one so I’m just ignoring the bloke and carrying on regardless.

Priberam (portuguese) on the left vs conjugaçã (brazilian) on the right

As I mentioned a few months ago in my comparison of the two types of Portuguese, Brazil has a larger media and a more powerful cultural impact in the world so they don’t always notice the smaller group of people speaking the European variant across the atlantic. The same is true of the US media hegemony co-opting English. There’s no use complaining (*pauses to wipe away bitter British tears*), it just is what it is. So if you’re asking someone for advice or corrections, it’s best to say what variant you’re learning to avoid misunderstandings, but if someone tries to help and gets it wrong (like this bloke is doing, I think) you have to be sensitive in how you reply. Anyone who honestly tries to help someone online is a good person. If they get it wrong from time to time, that doesn’t make them bad: a gentle reminder should sort things out with no hurt feelings. I used to have a portuguese friend who would absolutely lay into Brazilian teachers who corrected European portuguese learners but I think she was being unreasonable and I’d always try to calm her down because it made me cringe to think that someone had tried to help me and was getting a verbal battering for their troubles. I definitely don’t want to do that, but I’m going to politely suggest that I think he’s mistaken!

Posted in English

New Year, New Uwu

Feliz Ano Novo, fellow slaves to the grammar. May 2023 bring us all the linguistic wins we so richly deserve!

We were in France for the new year. France is a country to the south of us where they speak a language that’s a bit like portuguese but not as good. We’ve only been here a couple of days to see in the new year and it has been lovely, but we’re waiting for the Eurostar to take us home. The announcer has just told us that owing to the bad weather, the platform is slippery and “please take special care of it”, which I just find delightful, imagining myself tucking the platform into bed, giving it some camomile tea and a foot massage and tiptoeing out of the room. Aww, so cute!

As usual, it’s hard work, communicating in French. I used to be reasonably fluent so long as the conversation didn’t get too heavy. Now, every time I open my mouth, portuguese verbs elbow their way to the front of my tongue, shoving French conjugations out of the way. Sometimes I can get pretty far into crazy mishmashes of the two and it leaves me feeling a bit awkward. My daughter is better but she is a bit self-conscious too. She does a great job in what she plans to say but doesn’t like to speak spontaneously. We have a competition of who can go longest without “getting Englished” – in other words, making the person we’re speaking to just start speaking to us in our own language because it’s easier.

There’s no reason to be self-conscious though. Speaking someone else’s language is absolutely a compliment to them. It shows you’ve made an effort, and it’s basically always appreciated, whereas just launching into English is arrogant and douchey, so just go for it, and if it doesn’t work out, well, no worries, try again. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, short of picking the wrong words and accidentally buying twitter or divulging your location to the Romanian police, the worst most people can imagine is being laughed at. Is that really likely though? Would you ever laugh at someone from overseas speaking your language? And even if someone laughs, is it going to be malicious laughter? Again, it seems unlikely. Sometimes you might just trigger someone’s delighted reaction at an odd combination of words, like the French train announcer who’s concerned about the wellbeing of the platform, but that’s ok. Keep a sense of humour about it, and you’re all good.

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Soa on Netflix

Acabo de ver um filme chamado Soa. É um dos filmes portugueses na Netflix portanto achei que seria fixe e também um bom método de praticar ouvir português. É um documentário que fala sobre o papel do som na vida do planeta e de nós, os habitantes.

Basicamente, acabei por desistir, desiludido. Embora o filme fosse português, a maior parte dos participantes eram anglófonos e havia também alguns japoneses, alemães e espanhóis.

Ainda por cima, não achei o argumento muito interessante. Não me agarrou a atenção. Não o recomendo.