World Cup 2014 Coverage
2:24 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Rivalry: Spanish Speakers Flood Portuguese-Speaking Brazil

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right, we're introducing you to a new word today. It's Portunol. It's a language - well, sort of. It's a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese and it is how many Spanish-speaking fans at the World Cup are communicating with their Portuguese-speaking, Brazilian cousins. The results are not always pretty. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has this reporter's notebook on South America's great language divide.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: At this World Cup, the soccer has been amazing. The parties have been epic. But for many Spanish-speaking fans in Brazil, the language barrier has been, well, really surprising. Julio Olivarez is from Chile. And he feels Brazilians should be speaking his language.

JULIO OLIVAREZ: (Spanish spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: They understand us, he complains, but they don't speak to us in Spanish, he says. In my view, it's a laziness on the part of the Brazilians, he says, jokingly. I asked him if he understands them.

OLIVAREZ: (Spanish spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nothing. It's almost like communicating in sign language, he tells me, through hand gestures. But he says he's figured out a fix for the language troubles. He doesn't bother with Brazilians at all. If you look around us, he says, almost every visitor is a Spanish speaker.

OLIVAREZ: (Spanish spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I see a red shirt and hear chi, chi, chi, le, le, le. And we help each other out, he quips. Now if my name doesn't give it away, something else certainly does. I'm a native Spanish speaker. And I get a lot of messages like this one from native Portuguese speakers, saying they hate my accent, when I'm speaking their language.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Lourdes, when you file your reports, you should avoid using the Spanish accent in annunciating names, words and places in Brazilian Portuguese. It is highly offensive to the ears of native speakers of Portuguese. And it is irksome that NPR assigned the Cup to someone who sounds Argentinean.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: For the record, I'm not from Brazil's great rival, Argentina. And when I speak Spanish, I don't sound like I am either. But I understand that during the World Cup passions are running high. Now, highly offensive are pretty big words. I mean, I don't get offended when Brazilians speak English with an accent. So I went to discuss the issue with a linguist here.

ROBERT DE SOUZA: I think what's going on is really that Brazilians are extremely nationalistic.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Rodrigo de Souza from Mackenzie University. He says there's a perception here that, especially the U.S., just lump all countries from the region together into one Spanish-speaking heap.

DE SOUZA: In many cases, Brazilians don't the like to be confused with other Latin American countries. I think that's the key issue there. We're different. So I think that will be the most significant reason why Brazilians feel upset with this, you know, butchering of language. I think that's how you would come across.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wait, what? Butchering the language? That's harsh. But the fact is while Portuguese and Spanish may appear to be similar, they are very, very different. And it's much harder for a Spanish speaker to speak Portuguese than the other way around. But make no mistake, they may not say it but both sides have a superiority complex.

DE SOUZA: For a lot of people, Portuguese and Spanish are not just similar languages. It's a corruption of the other. Like you speaking Spanish is bad Portuguese and vice versa.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He gives the example of the word embarazado. In Portuguese, it means embarrassed. In Spanish, it means pregnant - so lots of room for misunderstanding there. The really hard sound for Spanish speakers to pronounce, though, is the one included in Brazil's largest city. Can you say for me the city in which we live right now?

DE SOUZA: Sao Paulo.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Say it slowly.

DE SOUZA: Sao Paulo.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sao Paulo.

DE SOUZA: Sao Paulo.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm saying it right, right? Sao Paulo.

DE SOUZA: Yeah, you're saying it right. I can tell your accent, but that's - yeah, that's right. There's no other way of - for you to say it, right?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You can tell I've got an accent?

DE SOUZA: Oh, I can tell, yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think, it means I need to move to Rio.

DE SOUZA: Yeah, Rio's a lot more fun, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And if you're wondering how my name sounds correctly pronounced in Spanish. It's like this - Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, somewhere in Brazil.

GREENE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.