A frontier language, Portunhol is both a means of hybridizing cultures and identities, as well as social and economic integration. Its ancient heritage and its avant-garde potential make Portunhol a true reflection of our place in the world. In time and space.
Portunhol can be defined as an informal mix of linguistic elements of Portuguese and Spanish. A composition that provides a broad and flexible communication environment, rather than a unified framework, with clear and definitive rules. A living and constantly evolving language, its speakers alternate lexical registers and syntactic rules depending on the social context experienced and the content to be transmitted or discussed.
Strictly speaking, we should not speak of a singular and standardized “portunhol”, but rather of a plurality of “portholes”, various, regional, contextual and circumstantial. Pronunciation, expressions, metaphors and other figures of speech can change considerably depending on the national, ethnic and regional origin of the speakers, their relative knowledge of the two original languages and the frequency of their speaking practice. hybrid.
A common code
A language is a system of linguistic signs which makes it possible to represent reality and to codify – or decode – the informative data of this same reality. Its main objective is the exchange of information, by means of graphic or vocal signals, between individuals of the same human group in a determined social and historical context. In other words, there is no way to describe the world around us and communicate its characteristics, in an understandable way, without the use of a common linguistic code.
Language, however, is not limited to conveying information in a neutral, automatic or impersonal way. A language contains and reflects the worldview, expectations and fears of the people who use it. Metaphorical expressions such as “things are dark” to demonstrate pessimism or “it’s something Indian” to describe something messy, for example, offer symbolic evidence for the cultural and psychological origin of Eurocentric bases. and racist social discourse that rules mind.
In addition, each language adapts and evolves according to the natural, social, cultural and political environment in which it is born and develops. Language has a history and an origin which bear witness to the morphological and syntactic transformations it has undergone. Spanish and Portuguese, for example, shared common roots for thousands of years before branching out, a few centuries ago, into two different but still very close lineages.
Languages and borders
Today, there are some 7,000 languages spoken in the world: only 230 in Europe, against over 2,000 in Africa, also over 2,000 in Asia and over 1,300 in Oceania. In the Americas, over a thousand languages are spoken; there were 1,700 in the 1950s. Here, we speak of all the languages spoken, not necessarily written or recognized as official languages.
In the Americas, the absolute majority of these languages belong to indigenous peoples, compared to five European languages (Spanish, English, Portuguese, French and Dutch) and a dozen Creoles.
The 440 million inhabitants of South America are divided, almost equally, between Portuguese (in Brazil) and Spanish (in other countries). This does not mean that the areas of influence and use of each of the two languages are delimited according to the administrative boundaries and their line on school maps.
On the contrary: when it comes to cultural practices, such as language, borders are not only more porous than one might imagine, but also demonstrate their full potential for conveying subjectivities, imaginaries and visions of the world. A social, cultural and economic ecosystem which could only favor the mixing of spoken languages and the consolidation of the daily practice of Portunhol.
Remember that Brazil’s land borders are nearly 17,000 km long, connecting it to all the countries of South America – with the exception of Ecuador and Chile. Of the 5,565 municipalities that make up the Brazilian territory, 588 (more than 10%) border and 33 are classified as twin cities. In other words, these are municipalities crossed by one or more border lines, where we generally observe a high level of human mobility, exchanges and integrative dynamics.
In terms of population, this cross-border space totals more than 2 million people – on the Brazilian side alone. If we add this amount to the population across the border, as well as the flow of merchants, tourists, migrants and students, perhaps the region’s Portuguese-speaking group is closer to three million.
The language that comes closer
From a strictly linguistic point of view, Portunhol can constitute an “interlingua” (intermediate stage in the process of learning a new language), a dialect (as is the case with the Riverense variant from the former Portuguese-Brazilian presence in Uruguayan territory) or even a simple “contact language” intended to compensate for the lack of mastery of the same language by the two interlocutors.
Portunhol, in this sense, is neither unique nor unprecedented in the global linguistic landscape. The contact between different languages, their mutual influence and the emergence of a configuration allowing the mutual understanding of peoples sharing the same social space seem to have been recurrent in the distant past and close to Humanity and still are today. Swahili or Maltese, for example, provide a historical illustration of the formation of new languages of different origins. North American Spanglish and Yanito, its European equivalent spoken in Gibraltar, are contemporary competitors to our regional portunhol.
The big difference, however, is that unlike the examples mentioned above, Portunhol originates from two “sister” languages, coming from the same linguistic branch and sharing a long common past. Indeed, if Spanish can be considered a new and original language, the linguistic form of Portunhol has actually existed for a long time and is still found in the current and living Galician style.
In other words, at the same time as it expresses the current reality of our region and points to its social, cultural and economic future, Portunhol does not fail to recall the common linguistic roots of the South American populations. Thus, the Portuguese language not only brings together the peoples of the region, but also brings them together – again – around a linguistic archetype that surprises with its ability to reinvent itself.
It is to be hoped that as the economic, social and cultural integration of our region progresses, Portunhol will grow stronger. And vice versa.
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