mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

The Brazil Effect

Languages are interesting things. Shared by many, they live and they grow, powered not by some architect but swaths of people using the language. Different countries and different people share the same language but separated by borders, geography, and time, a single language will grow many branches.

There are 280,000,000 Portuguese speakers in the world. A large portion of those speakers live in Brazil. You’ve got an ocean between Portugal and Brazil and a single (albeit very large) Brazilian city – São Paulo – has a population larger than the entire country of Portugal itself.

I speak continental (from Portugal) Portuguese. In college most of the other Portuguese speakers I ran into were Brazilian. We all spoke Portuguese albeit with a different accent, but beyond the accent there were some bigger differences that cropped up.

  • Rapariga - I would use this word to refer to a teenage girl, but for Brazilians this is a prostitute.
  • Bicha - I would use this word to refer to a line/queue like one you’d find at a grocery store, but for Brazilians this is a derogatory word for homosexuals.
  • Future verb conjugation - If we were going for run in the future I’d conjugate the verb to run into the future tense: “Nós correremos.” Brazilians opt for a system more akin to Mandarin (with 要, yào) where the verb is left in the infinitive and a modifier word is added to indicate we are going to do something: “Nós vamos correr.”
  • Tú vs. você - When referring to someone you can use the word tú or você. In Portugal, tú is commonly used but você can be used to show respect. In Brazil, você is used exclusively.

What happened after I graduated college? I stopped using the words bicha, rapariga, and used você with both continental Portuguese and Brazilian speakers. I always used the future verb conjugation trick because I hate Portuguese conjugations so that didn’t change.

The other day I got to thinking about the relative numbers of Portuguese speakers in the world. Portugal may be the origin country of Portuguese but it will never be the home to the majority of Portuguese speakers. Spanish (from Spain) and English (from England) live with the same fate. For science, I took a bunch of European languages and compared the population of their countries of origin to speakers around the world.

I went in expecting English or Spanish to have a large portion of its speakers living outside England and Spain but the relatively large populations of both countries (59 million and 46 million respectively) help bring that ratio down significantly.

If there needs to be any moral to this story: I’ll continue avoiding using rapariga and bicha because chances are I’m more likely to offend someone than not in this world!