How many times have you heard someone who doesn’t speak both Portuguese and Spanish say that the two languages are similar (enough)? Meaning if you speak one, the other isn’t that hard to use also. Of course the joke here is that he/she speaks “Portunhol” but if you look at a recent article (PT) in O Globo, you’ll see Portunhol is very different from people’s idea of it.
Focusing again on the reason for this post, I’d like to insert my quick opinion of both languages and their differences. Portuguese and Spanish are not the same and are not that similar. From the pronunciation to syntax to the grammar to the vocabulary and including the slang, it’s not right to confuse the two! Spanish-speakers won’t appreciate it and neither will Portuguese-speakers when you visit their countries. Additionally, there are enough differences to deal with when looking at European vs. Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish from Spain versus from Latin America.
If you want to look at why Brazilians speak Portuguese, it’s enough to look into a certain treaty.
“Technically, the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas divided the New World between Spain and Portugal. An imaginary line, running north–south from roughly the mouth of the Amazon to what is now Santa Catarina, was drawn on the map. Land to the east became Portuguese territory; land to the west fell under Spanish control.”- Source
And if you want to look at why Portuguese exists, here’s a brief explanation.
After the Roman conquest of the Iberian peninsula the Vulgar Latin replaced virtually all local languages. In the territories along the Atlantic coast it gradually evolved in what is technically known Galician-Portuguese language. Later, following the incorporation of Galicia into Spain and the independent development of Portugal, this language split in Galician and Portuguese branches. – Source
Now, what do they have going for them that helps one person learn the other? Mutual inteligibility, principally in written form, can be helpful due to the fact that the two langauges can be categorized under the same sub-family of languages called West Iberian. A perfect example of this can be found in the following paragraph,
Pero, a pesar de esta variedad de posibilidades que la voz posee, sería un muy pobre instrumento de comunicación si no contara más que con ella. La capacidad de expresión del hombre no dispondría de más medios que la de los animales. La voz, sola, es para el hombre apenas una materia informe, que para convertirse en un instrumento perfecto de comunicación debe ser sometida a un cierto tratamiento. Esa manipulación que recibe la voz son las “articulaciones”.
Porém, apesar desta variedade de possibilidades que a voz possui, seria um instrumento de comunicação muito pobre se não se contasse com mais do que ela. A capacidade de expressão do homem não disporia de mais meios que a dos animais. A voz, sozinha, é para o homem apenas uma matéria informe, que para se converter num instrumento perfeito de comunicação deve ser submetida a um certo tratamento. Essa manipulação que a voz recebe são as “articulações”.
On the flip side, the differences abound (and the list could virtually be endless). Here are a few examples of the Spanish term followed by the Portuguese.
– Tienda/Loja (store)
– Rodilla/Joelho (knee)
– Calle/Rua (street)
– Ventana/Janela (window)
– Borrar/Apagar (to erase)
– Olvidar/Esquecer (to forget)
– Manejar/Dirigir (to drive)
– Llamar/Ligar (to telephone)
The days of the week are also quite different with the exception of Saturday and Sunday. If we add the influence of regionalisms, colloquial speech and the differing accents, what results is something deep and rich on both sides. So let’s not confuse the two languages anymore please because with just a few weeks of preparation, you can give either language a more honest shot. Of course, if you wish to really seek out the true depth of both, you’ll need a good 10 years of study…for starters.
You can find a long list of additional differences here on Wikipedia, where I found some of the material.
If you’re learning Portuguese, check out my ebook, 103 Tricky Verbs in Brazilian Portuguese!