About Language Variants – European Portuguese

Let’s start with a commonplace: cheap can be expensive, and the result may fall far short of expectations and not meet the objective.

Why do I say this? Last year, a foreign colleague, whom I usually meet at the co-work where I go, asked me for a quote for translating a website from English into European Portuguese. Considering our relationship, I gave her the quotation with a special price. A few days later, she informed me that she had a cheaper offer and would opt for it. We continued our excellent relationship, and I forgot the situation because going any lower would disqualify my work and the investment I made in my training.

Recently, this colleague told me what happened: when she showed the site to Portuguese friends, they said all the texts were in Brazilian Portuguese. Mystery solved. There are no miracles.

With in-depth research on the topic, localization, and selection of keywords, translation is time-consuming and demanding.

So how can some translators practice low-cost rates? Even though I don’t pretend to generalize, I will make a wild guess: often, they don’t do the actual translation work; they just put the text in an AT (automatic translation) assistant, and that’s it!

Why does this method produce texts in Brazilian Portuguese? As I explained in the article “What are Statistical Machine Translation and Neural Machine Translation?” the automatic translation tools based on the neural system resort to documents available online and, as the number of PT-BR speakers is much higher than that PT-PT speakers, the results of these translations appear in the Brazilian variant.

For this reason, we often face this kind of problem at “PT-PT” websites.

The one that bothers me the most is the word contact. Due to the neural translation system, automatic translation tools (AT) translate contact into contato, but the correct spelling in PT-PT is contacto.

The Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990 created much confusion with double spelling words and the famous elimination of non-pronounced consonants. Suddenly, Portuguese people started making spelling errors that they didn’t make before and accepting as correct some forms that are unique to PT-BR.

The word “contato” is one of them.

I feel disappointed with this subject because people tend to doubt when you correct someone who makes this spelling error. After all, this is spread all over, even in the media.

The Orthographic Agreement, although controversial and debatable, intended to keep the way we pronounce words the same. If we say CONTACTO, why would we write CONTATO? If we pronounce the consonant, we can’t eliminate it while writing. There is a DOUBLE SPELLING, but this is justified to cover the PT – PT and PT-BR variants.

Here is what the Portuguese Language Portico of the Lisbon Academy of Sciences – Orthographic Agreement says on this subject.

The word contact in the Portuguese variety of the language continues to be spelled with c, because Portuguese speakers pronounce this consonant. In Brazil, as the consonant c is not pronounced, the spelling is contact, which already happened before the new Orthographic Agreement.

According to the new orthographic rules, the consonant sequences remain unchanged in the cases in which they are pronounced, for example, bactéria (bacterium), corrupção (corruption), egípcio (Egyptian), facto (fact), intelectual (intellectual), rapto (kidnapping).

In Portugal, the word contacto continues to be written with a c, while in Brazil, it remains without the c because Brazilian people pronounce it like that. It happens the same with facto (fact): an AT would translate it into the Brazilian option, fato, but in European Portuguese, fato is a suit. Do you see the problem?

Back to the beginning: paying someone to take your text and put it into an AT tool is not a solution, nor a translation. Translation involves:

  • Knowledge of the target language and culture
  • Knowledge of the topic
  • Research
  • Knowledge of L10N (Localization or adapting content to its country of destination).

The AT tools are handy for people to understand the general meaning of a text in a foreign language without needing to know that language.

However, when carrying out a text for public diffusion of an organization’s product or service, people must be aware of these issues; otherwise, they will be in the European Portuguese market communicating in Brazilian Portuguese, and I must confess, as a customer, I´m able to understand the message, but it sounds weird.