Brazil Considers Linguistic Barricade

Article excerpt

In Brazil's shopping malls, the massive consumerist shrines formerly known here as centros comerciais, windows that used to advertise a Promoo now trumpet "Sale." Descontos has become "50 percent off," and the upcoming collections that were once billed as primavera/vero are now touted as "spring/summer."

A hairdressing salon calls itself Exuberant; a watch store is named Overtime; a restaurant goes by the name New Garden.

In Brazil, the largest Portuguese-speaking nation in the world, English is taking over. And Deputy Aldo Rebelo says "Basta!"

"It is time to fight this disrespect of our language," says Mr. Rebelo, the author of a new bill designed to "promote and defend" the Lusitanian language.

"People feel humiliated and offended by having to pronounce words in a language that is not theirs. But they are obliged to, because shop owners or other people want to exhibit a false knowledge," Rebelo says. "This is the public domain; people need to buy things, to go into shopping centers, but people cannot communicate fluently because of the abuse of foreign expressions in our language."

Rebelo's tongue-lashing against linguistic invasion is a reaction to globalization's march. He is not alone in the defense of mother tongues. Poland recently passed a law to enforce language purity by banning foreign words from everyday transactions unless Polish translations are provided alongside. A Polish language council will catch violators, who could face stiff fines. Poland's campaign has been compared to the notorious French effort to stamp out "franglais."

With 178 million native speakers worldwide, Portuguese ranks seventh among most-spoken native languages after Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, English, Arabic and Bengali.

Rebelo's bill, which unanimously passed the first committee stage last month, rejects the increasing influx of English expressions and requires that Brazil's native tongue be used in business, formal, and social situations. While those strictures are laughed off by many as unenforceable - one envisions "language police" monitoring cafe chatter and the like - Rebelo's bill thunders that those not respecting Portuguese are "damaging Brazil's cultural patrimony."

The linguistic outlaws would face as yet undecided punishment - perhaps classes in Portuguese, Rebelo has suggested.

One goal of the bill is linguistic purity among government officials, Rebelo says, citing the offenses of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who recently used the English expression "fast track" in a speech.

The bill would particularly affect the worlds of finance and commerce, where throwing up a sign in English is seen as a trendy way of grabbing potential customers' attention. According to a recent study, 93 of the 252 stores in So Paulo's Morumbi shopping center featured English words in their names.

That would change under Rebelo's law. …