Portuguese Language: before and after 1990

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Amigos, today we are going to talk about a topic that has caused a lot of discussion among natives of the Portuguese language. It has also caused some confusion among the students of the Portuguese language.


The Portuguese “languages”

Did you start to study Portuguese a long time ago or did you read older books? If yes, maybe you’ve already saw the same word written in 2 different ways. The difference is small, although even students can notice that.

The way we write correctly is also important, today we will explain you why it happens, how significant is this and some examples. Finally, we will share our point of view. In other words, we will say if we agree or disagree with the Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990 and why.

The New Orthographic Agreement

The Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990 is an international treaty whose purpose is to create a unified orthography for the Portuguese language. Consequently, it should be used by all the countries that have Portuguese as their official language.

On 16 December 1990, it was signed by official representatives of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and Sao Tome and Principe in Lisbon. In 2004, after regaining independence, Timor-Leste accepted the Agreement too.

This Agreement, also called “New Orthographic Agreement” (Novo Acordo Ortográfico, in Portuguese language) intends to establish a single official orthography for the Portuguese language. Therefore, this Agreement intends to end up with the existence of two official orthographic norms: one in Brazil and another in the remaining Portuguese-speaking countries. So it intends to improve the international status and prestige of Portuguese language.

As a motivating example was given the Spanish language. It has many variations, between Spain and Hispanic America, but it is under the same spelling norm, regulated by the Association of Spanish Language Academies. On the other hand, the opponents have pointed out that an English-language spelling has been subject to state legislative control.

What Changed

In practice, the New Orthographic Agreement establishes an orthographic unit of 98% of words, against about 96% in the previous situation. However, one of its side effects was to divide these countries, creating three orthographic norms: Brazil, Portugal and other African countries. Despite having signed it, the other African countries did not implement the Agreement.

In fact, its application has motivated to draw for technical reasons. Some persons say that the text of the Agreement has gaps, errors and ambiguities. Others simply consider certain spelling options unfit or unnecessary. For example, the suppression of the “silent consonants”, the accent in several words and the umlaut, and the new hyphenation rules.

Some examples

– Suppression of the “silent consonants”

Silent consonants are consonants which we wrote but didn’t spell. These consonants disappear now. For example, “óptimo” (great, in Portuguese language) becomes “ótimo” (as spelled). Exceptions are the words beginning in “H” (hotel, Holanda, hospital). In these cases, we don’t spell the “H”, but we write it.

– New hyphenation rules

  1. Prefix ending in vowel:

– No hyphen between different vowels: antiaéreo (not “anti-aéreo”).

– No hyphen in front of consonant (except R and S): semicírculo (not “semi-círculo”).

– No hyphen in front of R or S, but we double these letters: ultrassom (not “ultra-som”).

– Hyphen in front of the same vowel: micro-ondas.

  1. Prefix ending in consonant:

– Hyphen before the same consonant: inter-regional.

– No hyphen in front of different consonant: intermunicipal (not “inter-municipal”).

– No hyphen in front of vowel: superinteressante (not “super-interessante”).

  1. Exceptions:
  2. Hyphen after a word initiated by “H”: Homem-Aranha
  3. Hyphen after the prefixes VICE, EX, SEM, ALÉM, AQUÉM, RECÉM, PÓS, PRÉ e PRÓ
  4. With the prefix SUB, the hyphen is also used in front of a word initiated by R (sub-região). Words beginning with H lose that letter and join without hyphen (subumano, not “sub-humano”).
  5. No hyphen after the prefix “CO”, even when the second word starts by “O”: coordenar (not “co-ordenar”)

– Suppression of the accent

The change in the accentuation rules was one of the main changes that occurred with the New Orthographic Agreement. So the accent is no longer used in:

  1. “ei” and “oi” in the penultimate syllable: Tablóide → Tabloide
  2. stressed “i” and “u” in the penultimate syllable after a diphthong: feiúra → feiura
  3. words ending in “êem” and “ôo(s)”: vêem → veem, vôo → voo
  4. several words with similar pronunciation: pára (verb) / para (preposition) → para/ para

– Suppression of the umlaut

The umlaut was only used in Brazilian Portuguese. However, after the New Orthographic Agreement, the umlaut is no longer used. So words like “freqüente” (frequent in Portuguese language) becames “frequente” (as in the European Portuguese).

In any case, you can comfortably use the converter to New Orthographic Agreement

Our point of view

As a language school, we want to teach Portuguese in an effective way and as effective is the language, the easier is to teach it. The Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990 has some downsides, as we saw before.

Nevertheless, this Agreement was an effort to raise status and increase reputation of the Portuguese language. The suppression of the “silent consonants”, of the umlaut, and of the unnecessary hyphens and accents made the language easier to write. Consequently, the Portuguese language became easier to learn and easier to teach.

In addition, the New Orthographic Agreement unified the orthography for the Portuguese language spoken where the Portuguese is the official language.

So do not be afraid of the changes! Keep calm and do a Portuguese language course at Caravela School!

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