Among the most spoken languages in the world, Portuguese is the official language in 8 countries: Portugal, Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Timor-Leste (often spelled East Timor). It is also a co-official language in Macau.
That makes for two legal orthographic norms, two official systems: one in Brazil, known as Brazilian Portuguese and another in Portugal and the remaining Portuguese-speaking countries, known as European Portuguese or Portuguese from Portugal.
With the purpose of standardizing and unifying the spelling in the Portuguese-speaking countries and bringing the written word closer to the spoken word, the Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement was signed in Lisbon in 1990 by official representatives of the Portuguese-speaking countries. To date, it has been ratified by most countries, exceptions made to Angola and Mozambique. In 2009, it went into effect and began being implemented in official documents, schools, the media, etc. In order to give people time to adapt, a transition period was set. During that time, as long as six years in Portugal, both spellings were valid and could co-exist. The adaptation period has ended in early 2015.
The aim of the agreement is to strengthen the role of the language across borders and to assure linguistic uniformity among all the countries where Portuguese is the official language. But, despite intentions to simplify the language to all its speakers, the validity and legal value of the agreement has been and continues to be questioned by some linguists, philologists, and scholars, who see it as a threat to the Portuguese identity.
Writing according to the new spelling does not cause readers who are unaware of the changes any misunderstandings, however. After all, only 1.6% of words of the European Portuguese norm are impacted by the orthographic agreement (OA). Yet, it has been the object of disagreements and objections across the Lusophone world.
Changes introduced by the OA involve:
As a linguist, I am well aware of all changes and I make sure to keep myself knowledgeable of both spellings. This way I can always meet client’s preferences and needs. Because Angola and Mozambique have not yet ratified the agreement, all these spelling changes are left out of translations intended for these countries.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know in the comments’ section below.