Portuguese Diglossia – Part 2

In accordance with the article on diglossia within the Portuguese language the other day, here’s the second part.

Prestige

This theory also posits that the matter of diglossia in Brazil is further complicated by forces of political and cultural bias, though those are not clearly named. Language has been made, apparently, into a tool of social exclusion or social choice.

Mário A. Perini, a famous Brazilian linguist, has said:

“There are two languages in Brazil. The one we write (and which is called “Portuguese”), and another one that we speak (which is so despised that there is not a name to call it). The latter is the mother tongue of Brazilians, the former has to be learned in school, and a majority of population does not manage to master it appropriately…. Personally, I do not object to us writing Portuguese, but I think it is important to make clear that Portuguese is (at least in Brazil) only a written language. Our mother tongue is not Portuguese, but Brazilian Vernacular. This is not a slogan, nor a political statement, it is simply recognition of a fact…. There are linguistic teams working hard in order to give the full description of the structure of the Vernacular. So, there are hopes, that within some years, we will have appropriate grammars of our mother tongue, the language that has been ignored, denied and despised for such a long time.”

According to Milton M. Azevedo (Brazilian linguist):

“The relationship between Vernacular Brazilian Portuguese and the formal prescriptive variety fulfills the basic conditions of Ferguson’s definition [of diglossia]…[...] Considering the difficulty encountered by vernacular speakers to acquire the standard, an understanding of those relationships appears to have broad educational significance. The teaching of Portuguese has traditionally meant imparting a prescriptive formal standard based on a literary register (Cunha 1985: 24) that is often at variance with the language with which students are familiar. As in a diglossic situation, vernacular speakers must learn to read and write in a dialect they neither speak nor fully understand, a circumstance that may have a bearing on the high dropout rate in elementary schools…”

According to Bagno (1999) the two variants coexist and intermingle quite seamlessly, but their status is not clear-cut. Brazilian Vernacular is still frowned upon by most grammarians and language teachers, with only remarkably few linguists championing its cause. Some of this minority, of which Bagno is an example, appeal to their readers by their ideas that grammarians would be detractors of the termed Brazilian Vernacular, by naming it a “corrupt” form of the “pure” standard, an attitude which they classify as “linguistic prejudice”. Their arguments include the postulate that the Vernacular form simplifies some of the intricacies of standard Portuguese (verbal conjugation, pronoun handling, plural forms, etc.).

Bagno accuses the prejudice against the vernacular in what he terms the “8 Myths”:

  1. There is a striking uniformity in Brazilian Portuguese
  2. Nearly all Brazilians speak very poor Portuguese while in Portugal people speak it very well
  3. Portuguese is extremely difficult
  4. People that have had poor education can’t speak anything correctly
  5. In the state of Maranhão people speak a better Portuguese than elsewhere in Brazil
  6. We should speak as closely as possible to the written language
  7. The knowledge of grammar is essential to the correct and proper use of a language
  8. To master Standard Portuguese is the path to social promotion

In opposition to the “myths”, Bagno counters that:

  1. The uniformity of Brazilian Portuguese is just about what linguistics predicts for such a large country whose population has not generally been literate for centuries and which has experienced considerable foreign influence, that is, this uniformity is more apparent than real.
  2. Brazilians speak Standard Portuguese poorly because, in fact, they speak a language that is sufficiently different from SP so that the latter sounds almost “foreign” to them. In terms of comparison, it is easier for many Brazilians to understand someone from a Spanish-speaking South American country than someone from Portugal because the spoken varieties of Portuguese on either side of the Atlantic have diverged to point of nearly being mutually unintelligible.
  3. No language is difficult for those who speak it. Difficulty appears when two conditions are met: the standard language diverges from the vernacular and a speaker of the vernacular tries to learn the standard version. This divergence is the precise reason why spelling and grammar reforms happen every now and then.
  4. People with less education can speak the vernacular or often several varieties of the vernacular, and they speak it well. They might, however, have trouble in speaking SP, but this is due to lack of experience rather than to any inherent deficiency in their linguistic mastery.
  5. The people of Maranhão are not generally better than fellow Brazilians from other states in speaking SP, especially because that state is one of the poorest and has one of the lowest literacy rates.
  6. It is the written language that must reflect the spoken and not vice versa: it is not the tail that wags the dog.
  7. The knowledge of grammar is intuitive for those who speak their native languages. Problems arise when they begin to study the grammar of a foreign language.
  8. Rich and influential people themselves often do not follow the grammatical rules of SP. SP is mostly a jewel for powerless middle-class careers (journalists, teachers, writers, actors, etc.).

Whether Bagno’s points are valid or not is still open to debate (especially the solutions he recommends for the problems he identifies). Whereas some agree that he has captured the feelings of the Brazilians towards their own linguistic situation well, his book (Linguistic Prejudice: What it Is, How To Do) has been heavily criticized by some linguists and grammarians, due to his daring and unorthodox claims, sometimes even regarded as based on biased or unproven claims. – Source

About these ads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s