Originally signed in Lisbon on 16 December 1990 by delegations from all
of the member nations of the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries,
the Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement spent more than one
decade in limbo before finally coming into force on 01 January 2007.
Now that governments, media outlets, publishing houses and educational
institutions are gradually shifting to the new spelling, it is
imperative that all translators working into and from Portuguese, the
world's eighth most spoken language, are fully up to date with the
The Agreement was originally conceived as a compromise solution by CPLP
members to move towards a unified orthography on both sides of the
Atlantic in order to close the ever widening gap, most notably between
the variants spoken in Brazil and Portugal.
As the CPLP points out, "…Portuguese is the official language in eight
sovereign States, but it has two orthographies, both correct ones, one
in Portugal and other in Brazil. There are disadvantages in maintaining
this situation, and the greater its unified weight, the more important
it will be internationally".
The CPLP clarifies that the agreement is now fully in force "in the
international legal system and in Brazil, Cape Verde, Portugal and São
Tomé and Príncipe," nations where both the original agreement and its
two subsequent amendments have gone through all due ratification
However, ratification is still pending in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea
Bissau and East Timor, which means that the hoped for standardisation is
still some way from being achieved. In addition, the two biggest
countries within the CPLP, Brazil and Portugal, are taking different
THE ATLANTIC GAP
In Brazil, the government is showing plenty of enthusiasm. According to a
federal decree enacted in 2008, all changes envisioned in the Agreement
became official in Brazil as of 01 January 2009, though the old
spelling rules will remain valid until 31 December 2012.
The fourth estate was quick to follow suit. As of January 2009 most
major media outlets, including newspapers such as Folha de S. Paulo, O
Estado de São Paulo and O Globo and weekly magazines Veja, Época and
IstoÉ, have been complying with the new orthography.
In addition, a number of publishing houses are instructing their editors
and translators to observe the newly ratified spelling rules, which
means that these rules will be reflected in more and more books edited
in Brazil in coming years.
In Portugal, the agreement was ratified back in May 2008, but it is
expected that acceptance will be a lot longer in coming. There have been
conflicting messages from different government branches. In 2007, it
was reported that Portugal would need a ten-year moratorium to make the
shift, but now some government officials have given their backing to a
quicker schedule. In an interview with Agência Lusa during a visit to
Cape Verde, the Portuguese Culture Minister, António Pinto Ribeiro, said
that the official institutions in both Portugal and Cape Verde should
start implementing the new rules by the end of 2009.
Paradoxically, even though Portugal was originally the main driving
force behind the changes, it is also the source of the strongest
opposition to the Agreement. An opinion poll published by Correio da
Manhã found that 57.3 per cent of the Portuguese are against the new
spelling rules, and 66.3 of them say they are not going to use such new
Also, on the eve of the vote that approved the Agreement in Congress, a
petition criticising the changes, with 33,000 signatures, was handed to
the President of the Republic. The signatories included well-known
Portuguese figures led by writer, translator and MEP Vasco Graça Moura,
who called the Agreement "a scientific, economic and geostrategic
In short, whilst Brazilians have been generally uncomplaining and
accepting of the Agreement, a real power struggle is going on in
Portugal, which could eventually see the South American nation assume a
This has already been the case with the Brazilian Academy of Letters,
which in late March published a new, revamped 'Orthographic Vocabulary
of the Portuguese Language'. The 976-page Vocabulary contains 349,737
words and complies with all the rules contained in the Agreement, as
well offering clarification on various grey areas that were previously
not completely clear.
The Academy accepts that it may have to make concessions in order to
arrive at a common Vocabulary in future, but it is now likely that
Brazilian usage will end up prevailing in those grey areas.
In view of such rocky developments and different levels of acceptance in
academic, political and professional circles, it is no wonder that we
translators are now facing the difficult choice of whether to leap
forward and embrace the changes as a competitive advantage or to keep it
old school and hope that the Agreement will fail to materialise in
For those who, for one reason or another, are willing to apply the new
changes in their daily work, there is both good and bad news. The bad
news is that as of April 2009, Microsoft Office, market leader in office
suites, has yet to release a new Portuguese spell checker. The good
news is that work-around solutions can be found.
In a communication issued in January, Microsoft representatives informed
business partners that the company would be working on a new, updated
spellchecker, but not for the moment. "The expectation is to provide
users with a free online update in the second semester [of 2009]," said
Eduardo Campos, Microsoft productivity and collaboration manager in an
interview with Folha de S. Paulo.
Until then, however, there are third-party tools which can be used to
perform spell checks. For instance, the 7th version of Priberam's Flip
includes the option for the user to choose three different orthographies
– the new standardised system or the legacy spellings from either
Brazil or Portugal. The price for an individual licence starts at just
over 50 euros + VAT.
If you don't rely on Microsoft Office to do your word processing, you
may not even have to spend a thing to make the shift. The freeware
community has leapt ahead with the release of a Portuguese spell checker
for BrOffice, the Brazilian version of OpenOffice. It can be downloaded
for free as a patch or together with the full software programme.
As an alternative, major Portuguese publishing house Porto Editora has
developed a neat utility for those who just want to "convert" their
text. It is definitely not aimed at professional wordsmiths, but may
come in handy if you don't have any other spell checking solution.
And if you're worried that your huge translation memories may end up
compromised by the many spelling changes, you may want to check out a
small utility developed by Brazilian language services company Ccaps. It
can be used to convert translation units in SDL Trados TMs from the old
Brazilian Portuguese spelling to the new orthography.
Whatever your opinion on the matter, as a translator one should not lose
sight of the fact that the customer is always king. It is part of our
job to advise clients of the current legal status and actual usage of
the language. If the client opts for the new spelling you then have two
options – either to refuse the job or to use the new applications and
pay redoubled care not to leave any dangling trema.